More and more companies are seeing and accepting the advantages of social networks to help promote their businesses. A few have even ventured past the line, harnessing social network functionality to boost internal processes and communication. These internal social networks are taking on the role formerly assigned to corporate intranets, but with the added element of high levels of engagement typical of external social media networks.

Corporate Intranets were all the rage just before the advent of the so-called “Web 2.0” era, but never really caught on with the majority of corporate users, mainly because these early Intranets were little more than inward-facing websites that required a high degree of technical proficiency to set up and maintain.

Enterprise users, it would appear, have learned a thing or two from social media’s landscape-defining success out in the marketplace, and have aimed social network technologies and concepts inwardly to supplant Intranets and move forward from where these early initiatives fell short. Global food giant Nestlé is one of the most aggressive in pursuing this particular path.

They are also quite vocal about their experiences in this initiative. Pete Blackshaw, the company’s global head of digital marketing and social media identifies three major attractions of social media that are of value to his company: efficiency, collaboration and engagement.

Nestlé is by no means alone in this; other global tech companies such as Dell, IBM, Google, Yahoo and Microsoft each have their own approach to implementing internal social networks, as does digital marketing agency Possible Worldwide. Nor is the agenda exclusive to global corporate entities.

Companies with offices nationwide and even local ventures with geographically dispersed assets and business partners also take advantage of new, inexpensive and user-friendly apps that provide them with social networking capabilities. Regardless of the size and reach of the company, internal social media offers the following advantages and benefits.

  • Social networking tools help employees remain focused on and aligned with corporate objectives.

  • These tools flatten the corporate hierarchy, empower individual employees at all levels and provide a direct path to decision-makers and executors.

  • Internal social networking encourages people to connect and communicate with each other, cross pollinate ideas and develop valuable insights.

  • The ability to communicate issues, insights and solutions leads to generating new ideas.

  • News and information reaches people more quickly.

  • People can share resources and information easily and effectively.

  • The company can more easily and effectively search for and consolidate employee skill-sets to match specific project requirements.


Execution also varies, but generally falls in one of two categories: built or bought. The large, global corporations tend to favor building their own internal networks; they have the know-how, funds, manpower and assets that allow this approach.

For companies that may have limited resources, there are a number of inexpensive solutions that they can easily deploy.

  • Micro-blogging platforms let employees share messages quickly across the organization. They also help the company keep in touch with employees’ thoughts and feelings. These tools, like Yammer, SocialCast and Laconica let people from the company’s remotest locations connect on an informal and personal level.

  • Instant messaging programs allow employees to communicate with each other in real time. Digsby and Jabber are popular choices in this category.

  • Podcasting lets users use video and audio to prepare content such as training programs, information sharing, instructional videos and messages from officers.

  • Blogs allow employees to program the distribution of relevant content, while at the same time allowing audiences to provide feedback and interaction. Blogging software such as WordPress, Drupal and Joomla are freely available on the Web (but because they are “Open Source” I prefer to use Isis CMS).

  • Wikis allow teams and individuals to collaborate with each other by sharing information in a common space on the internal network.

  • Bookmarking allows employees anywhere on the network to organize, access and share information. Tools such as FeedDemon help make this possible.

  • Internal networks are like virtual water coolers; they provide space on the network for people to come together to communicate and share each others experiences and insights. Surprisingly, when set up correctly, Facebook can serve as an excellent internal networking platform.


Gagen McDonald, a strategy execution firm that helps companies turn their strategies into tangible results, and public affairs and communication firm APCO Worldwide developed a five-step process to build social media within the business enterprise.

The complete white paper can be found at http://www.apcoworldwide.com/content/PDFs/ISM_FactSheet.pdf, and following is an overview of the process.

Assess

  • Prioritize your business objectives

  • Map your communication

  • Determine your cultural stance

Align for Design

  • Identify issues and limitations

  • Develop guidelines and metrics

  • Align leaders around your goals and limits

Implement

  • Choose your tools

  • Execute with excellence

Ensure Sustainability

  • Train for social media literacy

Measure and Adjust

  • Benchmark and measure your progress

  • Keep what works, tweak what doesn’t