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Build a private social network that employees will actually use

By Todd R. Weiss
July 30, 2012 06:00 AM ET

The social networking system gives a "look into the hearts and minds of employees, where they can see a bit about the culture of the company and fellow workers. Especially if you are a work-at-home employee, I think this is really important," Castro says. "We can disseminate messages and hear from the employee base in a much more fluid and transparent way" compared to email and other communications.

The platform also helps workers share best practices inside BMC, she says. "It allows us to have dialogues on a topic from IT to HR benefits, and to support these policies and allow employees to ask questions and get answers."

Finally, it allows employees to follow topics that are relevant to them, rather than the company sending out information randomly. "This is a huge benefit," Castro says. "It's giving us another vehicle for internal communications that is more effective."

Castro wouldn't disclose how much BMC pays for Chatter, but the basic Chatter social networking service is free, while the paid service, which adds features such as workflow tracking and calendar integration, starts at $15 per user per month, according to a Salesforce spokesperson.

Getting employees on board

The success of any social network depends on user engagement. If employees aren't using it, even the most innovative internal network is a failure. Here are a few keys to success.

Start with the easy stuff

One of the lessons Salesforce executives learned, says King, was to do the easy things first to introduce users to the new system. "We started with a high-value process -- global account planning -- that was easy to implement from a change management perspective," he said. "It had been a total pain to deal with previously, then we put it into a Chatter group. It made everyone's lives easier."

One of the reasons we are
getting good use by employees is that we really engaged our user groups up front."
Hollie Castro, BMC Software

Next were other areas that could bring in quick wins with users, he says, including groups where employees could air grievances. Only then did the company begin to look at larger, more ingrained processes that would be harder to implement and take more time to finish. "Where we see internal social networking go wrong is when people start with those tough ones," he says.

Consult users early and often

BMC's Castro says her company started small with a pilot program so that feedback could be collected and an internal buzz could be generated among employees. "We worked with groups of employees around the world to get input," she says. "You learn along the way. One of the reasons we are getting good use by employees is that we really engaged our user groups up front."

Being responsive to employees' feedback -- and flexible enough to try out their ideas -- is vital, King adds. "What kills these things is when people bring in their own new ideas for how to make improvements and they get shut down by executives or legal or HR," he says. "Even when you're not sure, give things a chance. It's important not to manage it at an institutional level too closely. Inevitably what happens is that there are bright spots for users that pop up. You need to bring them in and encourage them."



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