Enterprise Social Success: Internal Communicators Can’t Do It Alone

By February 11, 2014Blog posts

Has it crossed anyone else’s mind that we might be going about Enterprise Social the wrong way?

Anyone can point out the obvious problems such as ‘lack of senior leader buy-in’.  And I would agree of course that leadership lies at the heart of enterprise social (call it what you will) ‘success’.

But there is a more fundamental problem to getting Enterprise Social off the ground, (even once you have the leadership buy-in, the plan, the high value ‘use cases’…). And that is that we are looking at traditional org structure, traditional job titles, and therefore traditional accountability and responsibility models when defining ‘ownership’ of what is not a traditional way of doing things.

So generally of course tech teams are bringing in the technology (although in the case of instant access cloud tools the tech comes in through all sorts of back doors, not always helpfully). Then, as is traditionally the way, IT needs a ‘business owner’, and according to traditional org structure the obvious owner often seems to be internal communications (IC). So we (software vendors, consultants, comms agencies, colleagues…) are all targeting poor old Internal Communications with messages of ‘do enterprise social’ etc.

But let’s be clear, these new enterprise social platforms and tools aren’t very good ‘comms channels’ for Internal Communications people if no one is using them out in the business. How often do we have to refer to the fact that 10 year old Facebook wasn’t born a massive marketing machine. It grew because it was useful. The first ‘use case’ (the traditional IT word we continue to use and abuse) wasn’t to chuck advertising at its users. It’s only become valuable for marketing as a result of 1.2 billion people finding it adds value to their lives. Simple analogy, but surely the parallels to internal marketing are obvious.

Clearly if Internal Communications are going to be solely responsible for ‘driving adoption’ then they are going to have to step well beyond their traditional IC remit. And they are struggling with that, not least because they are not being given much extra resource to do it. In my experience the majority of Internal Communications directors don’t want ‘community management’, ‘collaboration’ or any of these things bolted on to their to-do lists. Only last Friday I had lunch with the Head of IC of a very large and complex corporate who made it extremely clear that they did not want to take on the “additional work”. They had too much communicating to do (that’s not a criticism, Internal Communications people are very busy, I’ve been there).

Indeed most comms people I know are busy trying to hone their many existing channels and events, and work with senior stakeholders, carefully crafting the strategic and operational content they need to send down said channels to their various internal audiences. Not a lot of space for community management.

So in part we should call on Internal Communications people to recognise that as natural owners of this new kit they need to change what they are doing. They need to fight for resource and budget. After all isn’t it a cop out to step away once the message has gone out? Isn’t that where the communication and listening process should really kick in? And as we all know life is never like that anyway. It doesn’t matter what you do with your channels, it’s always going to be a struggle to get everyone to ‘consume’ your push messages. And if we’re really honest would we want to see the equivalent of clicks and views on certain traditional comms channels? Might not be as high as we’d like…

But what I’m getting at is that this is never going to work if we just expect our already overburdened Internal Communications teams to go it alone. It’s about working together, across functions, in new ways (I’m avoiding the word collaborating in case anyone is playing buzzword bingo). First let’s get these tools delivering as work tools, and then Internal Communications can use them as additional ‘comms channels’. Try it the other way round and they don’t get off the ground. As we are seeing.  A lot.

After all, Mike Grafham, the very nice man responsible for customer success at Yammer makes it clear that their aim is to change the way work gets done (not just internal comms…)

Since when were Internal Communications about changing how work gets done?

Sure they are part of the mix, but they are not sole change agents. Internal Communications are just stakeholders like everyone else, let’s not put the onus 100% on them to ‘drive success’.

As someone who genuinely believes in (and has now seen on multiple occasions) the power of these tools, when brought in in the right way, with the right leadership and shared ownership, I call to those non-Internal Communications people who ‘get it’ to stop relying solely on IC.

They of course must be heavily involved, but they can’t do this on their own. They need to be part of the new collaborative way of working (there, I said it). IC, HR, OD, IT, Information Security, Marketing, Brand, you name it… we all have to work together to develop new ways of working.

This is the ownership dilemma that’s stifling success. In the absence of Chief Collaboration Officers, it’s time to help our internal communicators – they definitely can’t do this on their own.

Author: Nick Crawford


  • Adi Gaskell says:

    The thing is, no one had to tell people to use Facebook. People didn’t need training or anything on it. They used it because it was valuable and intuitive.

    There was a latent need, and Facebook provided the environment that enabled that need to be met.

    Our workplaces aren’t like that at all. I spoke to a couple of blokes at the culture event we went to Nick. One was from Goldman Sachs, the other from NewsCorp.

    Buying some software won’t make them collaborative. Getting IC to bang on about collaboration won’t make them collaborative. The problem is that the whole environment in those places promotes competition, not cooperation.

    Once organisations structure rewards, KPIs, appraisals, job descriptions, decision making and so on to encourage collaboration rather than competition then it’ll be the easiest thing in the world to get people using whatever software you choose to install.

    Until that point though it’s more like trying to pee into the wind.

  • Nick Crawford says:

    Thanks Adi. Exactly, that’s kinda to my point. All these things you mention tend not to be within the control of internal comms teams. The focus of this post was meant to be that we shouldn’t just expect IC to take on ESN as another ‘channel’, and that promoting it with posters and mugs ain’t sufficient. Totally agree with your points which are very in line with Morten T Hansen and others, including ourselves (and approach we took at Bupa with Factor A (personal) and Factor B (cross organisational objectives etc)

    The Facebook analogy was supposed to make the point that FB was first useful, then a marketing machine. And that similarly ESN tools need to be first useful, then IC people can use them as corp comms / internal marketing tools. Too often IC people just want to chuck messages down them before they have been embedded as ‘useful’. Does that make sense? Certainly wasn’t saying that adoption will just happen like with Facebook. If that were the case we wouldn’t have set up Betterworking ; )

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