Social Communication and Community: Until we see the whites of their eyes

Last week I had the opportunity to speak at length with Bruce Kneuer (@BKneuer), social media research and intranet communications director at Kenexa.

Bruce works remotely and virtually most of the year. That can be a tough gig for folks, especially when the edges fringe along the path towards Jack Torrance and the Overlook Hotel.

But not Bruce. He loves his job and social media and is of sound mind and body (he's a runner).

Bruce and I connected via Twitter a while back and then when he participated in my on-the-fly social media survey for HR suppliers in January, he made a very astute observation and shared another great blog post with me:

I am more and more convinced that the success in using social media/social networking tools and approaches inside a firm will be correlated with the success a firm experiences with social media externally.

The blog post he referred to was Intercomm: how internal + external communications integration will become the new frontier. In it, the author Rohn Jay Miller states:

Now that the era of the Social Internet is upon us, social media will effect internal communications in two very powerful ways:

  1. More and more people inside companies will be in contact with customers. We will see tens of thousands of employees talking to customers instead of hundreds. A lot of this will happen in what we refer to as real time– in-stores, online. This means all those employees need to be on the same page with each other. How does this happen?
  2. Communications inside companies will organically rely on more and more on social media frameworks for communicating within the enterprise—peer to peer, one to many, many to one. So the CEO may still send out a quarterly message, but it’s going to be in a much, much larger mass of social communications. This is also going to dramaticaly increase between companies that are strategic partners. How does this evolve?

I remember when I worked at another marketing firm in the late 1990's and one of our largest clients was Hewlett-Packard. At the time they had a very sophisticated intranet communications portal (I'm sure most high-tech companies did at the time), and any time there was an important company-wide message from Lew Platt, there was an Orwellian announcement over the loudspeakers worldwide and Lew's would be heard loud and clear. Unless it was pre-taped video, it was usually audio, but that was right around the corner anyway. Also, any associated materials would be delivered via the intranet and e-mail. If you didn't know what was going on at HP, then you either didn't work there or you lived under a rock in the gardens outside the buildings (and meant you didn't work there).

So that's what Bruce and I spoke about last week -- the fact that effective internal communication must be facilitated and nurtured before an effective and somewhat unified external social media communications strategy can be executed successfully.

Just read about what IBM has done of late. Pretty fascinating. At IBM, it’s about losing control.

What Works: IBM’s Culture for Social Media Innovation

  1. Stand back - Have guidelines, but don’t police from above. Employees tend to self-regulate.
  2. Involve employees in SM planning - Let employees write the guidelines and they’ll feel empowered.
  3. Give them the tools—and a green light - Not every company can create their own tools. Look for powerful social media tools and encourage employees to use them to do their jobs better.
  4. Use crowd-sourcing - Bring together employees, clients, partners and friends for powerful idea-sharing.

There are social media communication guidelines but the theme at IBM and other similar enterprises is personal responsibility, self-regulation and the ability to collaborate with others.

We should be learning this crap by the time we're in high school and college -- personal and social responsibility 101 -- but whatever the case companies big and small can also embed this corollary in their on-boarding curriculum and training materials.

I would say that most companies and human resource pros agree with the fact that effective internal communication increases employee engagement and retention, while effective external communication increases customer service value and overall business value.

The word on the street is that a few HR suppliers are working hard to roll-out social software in their suites, but even then, we'll be years from mass adoption and utilization.

According to Gartner Reveals Five Social Software Predictions for 2010 and Beyond:

Long term, enterprises will realize that social media is not a "hit or miss" activity naturally prone to high failure rates, and that a calculated approach to social media solution delivery must be an IT competency. At that point, post 2012, the social software market growth will accelerate as will the overall impact of social media on business and society.

Bruce and I agreed on all that. We also also agreed that at some point social media tools internally and externally must be able to connect individuals virtually, from anywhere in the world, in real-time...

Until we see the whites of their eyes.

Because in the end, that's what it's all about with you, your employees, your customers, your world -- fueling the face-to-face fire.

Post by Kevin W. Grossman (join me on Twitter, Facebook and LinkedIn - and now join HRmarketer on Twitter!)

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