Steve Cooke is a marketing consultant with many years’ experience in marketing and market research. He currently works for a number of research agencies where he deploys a collaborative approach to defining and prioritising marketing activity in line with client needs. His background is in planning and implementing cost effective B2B marketing communications strategies.
Read the full biography here
The Internal Network
making sure that Facebook is not the only game in town
By Steve Cooke - 12th March, 2012
News of Facebook seeking to raise around $5bn with its planned stock market floatation, once again illustrates the staggering value of online social networks. They have become part of mainstream culture and almost seamlessly crossed over into our working lives. However, while they continue to grab the headlines, there are other kinds of social networks that we should perhaps be paying more attention to - Internal Social Networks.
While websites have become more interactive and social media enabled, old-school company intranets now feel increasingly defunct, almost prehistoric. Organisations striving for more efficient internal communications have discovered that developing a Facebook style social network in-house, has many significant advantages over the old standard intranet.
NationalField set an interesting precedent back in 2008, when it was credited with helping Barack Obama win his presidential election campaign though a social network set up for his campaign staff. It made perfect sense, a large network of people across different geographies and time zones needed to be able to communicate with each other and share constant updates. So an internal social network was developed for a big, mobile group of people who all had a specific mission in mind.
NationalField now has a large client list of blue chip organisations exploring the benefits of a private social network. Many high tech organisations have also documented their use of internal networks, particularly multinationals, such as Nikon, Dell and Symantec.
However it’s not just the corporate giants that are jumping on the band wagon. IT companies like Yammer and SalesForce (with its Chatter platform) are offering entry level networks for free and paid for versions with extra functionality. It would appear that it’s only a matter of time before having a private social network becomes the norm.
So what exactly are the benefits that internal networks bring to the party?
Control: This is probably the key driver for bringing a network in-house in the first place. Organisations large and small are always fearful of their staff being loose cannons on public social networks. There has been a litany of #twitterfails, career suicides and PR disasters prompted by individuals making inappropriate statements on social media sites. Those same sites then play an active role in fanning the flames when crass statements are made – often turning a local faux pas into a major incident. A private social network acts as a relatively safe ‘walled garden’; while members may be judged by their peers, at least they can get involved without the added concern that their opinions are being made in the public domain.
Productivity: There are increasing levels of dissatisfaction among CEOs about the amount of time wasted on internal emails. Last November, the CEO of information technology services giant, Atos, Thierry Breton caused a stir when he stated his intention to ban internal email and to have a "zero email" policy in place by 2014. His argument is that his employees receive a large number of unnecessary and unproductive emails each day. Instead he wants his staff to use instant messaging and an internal social network.
Efficiency: Private networks can improve efficiency in locating people and resources. In setting up project teams, for example, they can be used to search and find key employees, flatten hierarchies by removing the usual reporting lines from the process, and so allow the formation of virtual teams to set up and operate quickly.
News and Information: These social networks can also replace many of the functions that used to be provided by intranets. News and information can be housed and updated in one area – internal newsletters, press releases, employee news and company announcements can be made without internal email. Corporate strategy can be made clear to all so everyone can share the same vision. Equally the network can act as an internal library for housing training materials, tutorials, guidelines, marketing material and product information.
Virtual meetings: Using the latest technology in tandem with private networks can lead to improved running of virtual meetings, web and video conferencing.
Idea Generation: Private networks are not just top-down instruments to improve efficiency and drive corporate strategy (and this is where it gets a lot more interesting for market research specialists) they can also play a key role in the creative side of the business - stimulating idea generation and nurturing collaboration among employees. Not only can ideas be shared, developed and acted upon – it also provides a bonding experience for employees across different departments and markets. Much has been made recently about the increased use of co-creation – and how organisations have worked with customers to build upon their ideas and help to develop new products. Many employees also feel they have a voice that needs to be heard when it comes to new ideas so the internal social network is an ideal way to harness them and provide reward and recognition for the most deserving cases.
Leveraging online communities for the purpose of research is not an entirely new concept for the MR industry. Specialists have become more skilled in getting members engaged in online discussion groups and forums. And these techniques, coupled with video and other online prompt material, can play a greater role in researching new ideas and stimulating co-creation for product development. Online qualitative techniques used alongside private online communities for consumers, can be easily adapted for use among staff within an internal social media platform.
If the network or community becomes large enough, then research conducted within it can also be more quantitative in nature. And for companies conducting big employee surveys, this may be an issue that is both an opportunity and a threat. Organisations which set up private social networks have all they need to run their own employee engagement surveys and collate feedback. They also have the added advantages of an online community, in that they can top-up and ask additional questions to sub-groups when they want and how they want. New corporate initiatives can be tested and measured to see how they impact on benchmarked norms.
It will be interesting to see if internal networks become the new normal for organisations over next 10 years and whether they are generally used as a tool to cut costs, or to encourage creativity and genuinely drive innovation. If it’s the latter then research agencies need to ensure they can have a part to play in adding value to the internal creative process.
Comments on this article
Want to share your thoughts...?
NOTE: Please note that this board is moderated, and comments are published at the discretion of the site owner.