Why a new social network won’t save your company

Workplace by Facebook is reported to have 30,000 customers worldwide with some high profile global brands on the list including Virgin Atlantic, Volkswagen, and Starbucks. It’s recent deployment to over 2m employees at Walmart has sparked renewed interest in Enterprise Social Networks (ESN), prompting many companies to question if they have the right technology, whether they need something different, and which bots they’ll add into their channels first. But here’s the thing, a shiny new ESN won’t save your company — your people will.

Collaboration doesn’t change your culture, it reveals it. Heck, your people will still upload a picture of their kids as their profile picture because that’s what they do on Facebook. That’s not useful to Sheila, who’s stuck with images of 5-year-old superheroes and playful pets, as she tries to identify colleagues arriving for a meeting.

Your CEO isn’t essential for success and most of them don’t realise that virtual leadership is a new skill that must be learned. However, the financial and emotional investment from leaders is essential. As Wael Ghonim says; ‘the power of the people is greater than the people in power’, and so most of the energy must focus on grassroots, bottom-up activities. Selling new ways of working is much more effective than senior leaders posting content that’s been drafted, proofread and revised ten times by the internal comms team until it’s deprived of all authenticity.

People are the brains of an organisation, they know where the issues are, they just haven’t had a platform to share them before. Think of your ESN like granting everyone permission to have their say. And just like the Arab Spring, they’ll bring the change you wish to see.

ESNs won’t replace the intranet, just as Twitter didn’t replace the company website. Internal comms shouting into the abyss doesn’t add a single ounce of value to the company on its shiny new ESN. Mission statements and ‘our new values’ often sound hollow and flat to their audiences. They can feel as contrived and artificial as the language of an 18th-century French novel — they no longer speak to anyone. So stop running silly competitions and actually engage and speak to your people.

ESNs shouldn’t replicate what’s on a four year old and out of date SharePoint intranet. People don’t need to see the policy for updating the company Blackberry in new jazzy lights with an added like button. Who even uses a Blackberry anymore? Sorry Kim Kardashian, I know you love your Curve.

In the same way that mature organisations prefer people with strong customer service skills, rather than social media experts — to handle their social media customer service — so should they recognise that ESN adoption needs new skills that are different from those of traditional managers, internal comms teams, dyed in the wool HR people or interns thrown in the deep end.

New community leadership skills can be learned from the people who really ‘get it’. Those people who change practices, culture and mood — one conversation at a time.

This blog initially appeared on Sei-mani.com