Build a private social network that employees will actually use

Company social networks can drive collaboration and innovation -- or they can wither on the vine. These tips can help make yours a success.

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The social network gives a voice to individual contributors, King says. "In the past it was people in the corner office who had power in a company. But with this, people anywhere in the company can give input that can be influential."

One young developer was fresh in the company and in his free time was building applications for Chatter, King says. Other users saw them, downloaded them and used them. That creativity and success bubbled up to Salesforce's chairman and CEO, Marc Benioff, who invited the young developer to a closed-door leadership session with company executives about innovation. "That 24-year-old junior employee makes this huge impact and now leads one of our Apple iOS development teams."

Information sharing

Santa Cruz, Calif.-based Plantronics launched a pilot of the Jive Social Business Platform in March for 150 beta testers, with plans to roll it out to all 3,500 employees later this year, says Barry Margerum, the company's chief strategy officer. Jive was brought in to modernize communications among employees, deliver a framework for integrated knowledge management and to encourage crowdsourcing the company's informational assets, he says.

"Crowdsourcing information benefits a company by opening up information to everyone," Margerum says. "You find out people are very smart who you didn't know about. That changes things for everybody."

Margerum says Plantronics chose Jive because of its extensive search capabilities and its good integration with desktop applications from other vendors, such as Microsoft, that Plantronics is already running.

"It has a Facebook-like approach," he adds. "It's clearly not 'what I did yesterday' or 'what I did on my vacation.' It's about a news article someone saw or someone asking a question about a particular idea. You might mention that a competitor brought out a new product and ask people what they think about it."

The end result is real-time idea sharing that benefits the company, Margerum says. "You're trying to get a conversation started that's going to elevate this knowledge to everyone in that community. It's sort of like a brainstorming session."

It's still too early to point to specific successes in the company, he says, but participation has been very strong and is showing clear benefits. "Jive is emerging as a frictionless way to share expertise and opinions with the enterprise pool," he says. "It seems to be motivating employees to share more of their knowledge than we've seen before."

Margerum wouldn't disclose how much his company spends on Jive for its employees, but Jive says that pricing for its Jive Social Business Platform for internal corporate use begins at $12 per user per month.

Introducing and reinforcing company culture

At BMC Software in Houston, internal social networking has been used for a year, with some 7,000 employees creating 965 groups in which they collaborate and share information, said Hollie Castro, senior vice president of administration. The company uses Chatter from Salesforce and has found that it enhances communications with and among employees in several ways, Castro says.

BMC uses Chatter to introduce new employees to the company before they start their first day on the job. Here the company onboards new workers and shares HR information, company procedures and more in a social place where the new employees can ask questions and meet co-workers immediately.

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