#TipTuesday – Integrate Your ESN Where People Do Their Work

|   Oct 27, 2015

This is part 8 of a 12-part series on tips for building a successful enterprise social network (ESN) for your business.

Tip #8 is an extremely important one if your ESN is to really make a difference in how your company gets work done. Here’s the tip:

Integrate your ESN where people do their work.


There are two aspects of this integration to consider:

  • Integration into the software and tools people use daily in their work;
  • Integration into the processes by which that work occurs.

First, let’s consider integration into other software and tools.

It’s likely that most workers in businesses prior to the launch of an ESN have established places where work happens – software applications, email inboxes, intranet resources and more that they switch between during the course of the day to perform their various tasks. If an ESN is introduced as a completely separate destination which they must go to outside the workflow to which they are accustomed, then there is likely little motivation – much less need – to go there. If I can still accomplish everything that is expected of me at a level of proficiency acceptable to my manager and myself without using the ESN, then why should I bother unless there are other non-work advantages to going there?

If an ESN is being promoted, for example, on its merits of improving communication or simplifying processes, then it needs to be readily available where I’m doing my work and not something that takes me away from my primary applications in order to use it effectively. That is why it’s vital to integrate the ESN into places like the intranet landing page that users see multiple times daily, or into those internal sites where teams store documents and manage lists throughout the day (such as SharePoint). The ESN can be embedded into other specific applications where ESN communication can serve a purpose such as in providing user assistance or approval processes, or even integrated into the long list of email inbox folders for those still holding on to the inbox as the way of managing their work (shame of you if that’s what you do).

At my company, we currently have over 300 integrations of our ESN into other sites and tools where people do their work. It is deeply embedded into our intranet landing page – a giant leap forward in ESN exposure which doubled the rate of growth for months compared to the growth rate that existed prior to that integration. Every article on the intranet has a corresponding discussion thread in the ESN along with icons to like or comment on the article from the intranet home page. Does it work? One question by our CEO in one of those articles resulted in over 100 comments in the corresponding ESN discussion within a day. Also, the link to the ESN main application is one of the very first work-related site links on the Intranet home menu.

In addition, we have over 300 SharePoint sites with embedded discussion streams from the ESN, mostly tied to particular interest groups created on the ESN, although sometimes based on hashtags or the posts of specific people. We regularly live stream the video/audio of leader town halls where the video consumes half the screen and a Buzz Town Hall for open Q&A and discussion fills the other half. We have two other major web-based internal applications used by thousands that embed the relevant user group ESN stream into those products so that users can ask their questions and get live assistance directly from within those applications. Thanks to the API available with the Socialcast software we use, various areas of the business have also created a number of custom applications to integrate our ESN (called Buzz) into how and where they do their work. We simply point them to the API resources, help them register their app with Buzz, and they’re on their way.

The point is that you don’t want use of the ESN to be available only as another destination, although many companies (mine included) will still see the bulk of ESN activity from the primary web app. So the first and a very important aspect of integration which must be planned and continuously executed and improved upon is embedding those discussions into where people are already doing their work daily.

The second aspect of integration has to do with processes. This is where we change our ways of working to intentionally use the ESN in processes that replace or improve previous ways of doing things. For example, instead of those ungodly reply-all email chains that clog up inboxes and branch off into unruly email tree branches, why not post the question or discussion topic on the ESN? That way you can share the discussion link with stakeholders so they can participate in the discussion if they wish, and then you have at most one email that goes out – none if you do the notification solely via the ESN. Those who want to participate in the discussion can do so without clogging up the inbox of others not interested.

Or consider the various approval processes that occur with different work tasks. How complicated do those tend to be? How many tools are involved? How many emails are involved? Why not have a simple discussion in an ESN – private if it must be – where stakeholders can easily discuss and document their approval without unnecessarily complex, time-consuming sequences taking place elsewhere?

Of course, ESNs are a natural for leaders who are progressive, open, transparent, and who want to lead their people to be aligned around a common purpose, values and strategy, engaging in two-way conversation regularly with employees at all levels of the organization. You can’t do that reasonably via email or top-down, controlled communications. You can only accomplish that in live, in-person settings or the online equivalent of those via ESNs, virtual town halls, etc. Leaders who make good use of an ESN to change the tone and process of communication will have a strong, lasting impact on the satisfaction of employees and their consequent success together as a team.

If you have not yet invested in an ESN solution with a vendor, then make sure any solution you consider provides flexible ways of being integrated into many other kinds of applications where people do their work. It will be critical for adoption and for making the ESN pervasive throughout the organization. Always keep working to find more places, more business areas, more tools and applications where the ESN can be embedded so that its use becomes an expected, normal part of daily work life.

In terms of processes, keep your eye out for opportunities to improve the way work happens by changing archaic, complex, confusing, time-consuming processes into simpler discussions that happen in one easily accessed place via the ESN. Don’t just tack on the ESN to existing ways of working. Take advantage of its functionality to replace and improve the way work happens.

Unlike some of the other tips in this series, tip #8 is one you will continuously need to have in mind and work toward. You will never completely arrive and be done with this process. There will always be room for improvement, but being the advocate and change agent around this integration effort will leave a significant mark on the organization as work is accomplished by people throughout the company more efficiently and effectively.

Tip #8 is Integrate your ESN where people do their work.

[This post has been modified from the original version first published at jeffrossblog.com.]

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What is Socialcast?

Socialcast by VMware (NYSE: VMW) is a social network for business uniting people, information, and applications with its real-time enterprise activity stream engine. Behind the firewall or in the cloud, Socialcast enables instant collaboration in a secure environment. Socialcast is headquartered in San Francisco, California. www.socialcast.com