Social Media from the Inside Out: Building Internal Networks for Employees Can Improve Processes, Generate New Ideas and Create a Greater Sense of Community

Article excerpt

Many companies today are considering social media strategies for external communication. From Twitter to Facebook, from blogs to online communities, social media are a pivotal and emerging part of business. But these strategies aren't just about marketing products and services from the company to the customer. There's a compelling case to be made for integrating social media into your business as an internal strategy, to improve and enhance communication, morale and solidarity around your vision, brand and purpose.

The role of culture

For many companies, adopting social media is as much cultural as it is operational. It touches on issues of changing roles and responsibilities, the evolution of skills, communication style, risk tolerance and trust--issues that may have gone untouched inside an organization for some time.

Developing social media strategies to be used inside the organization can highlight some of the potential cultural shifts and obstacles that could impede broader, external social media efforts. Whether it's fears over criticism, uncertainty over productivity issues, or concerns about breakdowns in communication or information flow inside the company, setting up social media tactics on the inside can bring issues to the forefront and make it easier to address them within your walls first.

A healthy organizational culture forms a strong foundation for external communication and engagement online. Best Buy knows this, and it has used internal social media to refine its company culture. The global retailer has encouraged collaboration on projects, opened lines of communication through employee social networks, and built wikis to empower employees to contribute ideas to improve the company, whatever their job may be. An internal strategy like this can prime your organization to identify communication obstacles, refine your sense of solidarity and purpose, and rally your troops around open communication and collaboration in new ways.

Where internal social media help

Establishing social media within your organization is about much more than sharing pictures of your kids with colleagues. There are important ways that an internal social media approach can improve your business.

* Internal branding: We don't always put as much effort into establishing our brand within our company as we do refining its external perception. But we should. Internal communities can provide a broader, more interactive forum for sharing and discussing the company's vision, goals and culture, as well as the fabric of the brand itself. And they can help democratize those discussions, involving people from all levels and functions in the organization, rather than leaving the brand discussions solely to the marketing department or executive suite. Team members can get a peek into the larger company strategy, and management can see the brand through the eyes of employees. And better understanding and consensus around what the brand stands for can uncover new and better ways for departments to work together.

* Knowledge sharing and collaboration: Internal social networks can provide a powerful platform for individuals and departments to share knowledge, exchange expertise and collaborate on solutions for internal processes or even product improvements.

Just ask GE. Its internal social network, SupportCentral, boasts more than 400,000 members across global business units where employees connect, chat, share information and expertise, document business processes--you name it. The network also has 100,000-plus internal experts answering questions on more than 50,000 communities they have created. And GE has devised "pinholes," where specific areas of those communities are open to vendors, suppliers and customers to collaborate on specific projects. GE says that despite its metrics-driven culture, the "many millions of dollars" in cost savings delivered by SupportCentral doesn't require submission of an ROI justification model in order to budget for the network. …