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Internal Social Networks

One common public relations platitude is “A company is only as good as its employees.” It’s why employee relations is a clearly defined segment of PR, and it’s why Southwest Airlines is often used as a case study for outstanding business leadership.

Several tools — including memos, email reminders, shared Google Calendars and bulletin boards — can help the internal communication process, but the larger the organization, the harder it is to keep everyone equally informed. Luckily, though, we live in the 21st century and can take advantage of the Internet. There are several social media platforms that form a group called “Enterprise Social Networks” or ESNs. The specifics differ from program to program, but an ESN is a social media platform for specifically for your employees.

How do I use an ESN?

There are several ways to use an ESN to streamline the communication process and strengthen your team:

  • Link employees with common interests: Because employees can post interests and hobbies to their profiles, an ESN can provide limitless conversation starters. It’s perfect for the awkward breakroom small talk. Imagine the team building that could happen when your employees figure out who likes to read, who likes to run, who is a political junkie, who is obsessed with professional football, etc.
  • Increase communication about ongoing projects: One common downside to a large organization is a lack of transparency about projects. Employees are usually so busy at completing the next report or design, that they don’t have the time to update their teammates until they’re done. Most ESNs come with a “Project” function that will keep all employees up to date on every project. Instead of having to send two follow up emails to finally obtain the status of the new logo design, you can just hop online and check your ESN.
  • Help new employees adapt faster: I’ve been the “newbie” several times in my career (either in internships or jobs), and one of the most frustrating things is the lack of information about who’s in charge of what or who knows how to do Task X. I would have relished the idea of an ESN on which I could search for “Design” and figure out exactly who to ask about that logo. That sounds far better than getting ping-ponged through the office for what ends up being a very simple answer (which is often the case).
  • Unify communication processes: Instead of requesting meetings through Google Calendar, posting announcements on the break room bulletin board, and hosting meetings through phone conferences, a company can use an ESN to centralize all communication. Many ESNs have all of these functions, which means you’ll have fewer Internet tabs to worry about. That alone sounds reason enough to me to look into it!

What are the best ESNs?

Like any program (social media, analytics, accounting, communication, etc.), the best choice is ultimately going to come down to your specific needs. However, below are the four best programs I found, with some pros and cons of each:

Jive: Jive refers to itself as “LinkedIn for your enterprise,” and claims to boost employee productivity by 15 percent. This is largely due to the benefits listed above. One Jive’s most useful features is its “Recommendations” feature, which connects employees based on interests and skills. Need an expert on SEO? With a simple search, Jive will point you to the right person. Several large companies use Jive, including Wells Fargo, HP and Citrix.

  • Best for: Companies with large and diverse teams.
  • Not good for: Because the most useful benefit of this program is encouraging connections, a small business (in which everyone knows the strengths and weaknesses of everyone else) doesn’t need Jive, even at $12 – $18 per user/per month.

Yammer: Owned by Microsoft, Yammer boasts an 8 million user base divided among 200,000 companies. It’s designed to run on both desktop and mobile platforms, and the company offers a free set of webinars and white papers for best practices on how to use the software. A large number of organizations use Yammer, including Xerox, Penn State and Red Robin.

  • Best for: Companies that want to encourage spontaneous teamwork. Yammer’s status update feature (similar to Facebook’s) allows employees to post questions or updates about a project they’re working on. Then, anyone in the company is free to comment and help move the project forward.
  • Not good for: Companies that have already established a working method for internal communication. Yammer is extraordinarily comprehensive, and there’s no need to learn it if you’ve found a workable communication plan. Otherwise, at $8 per user/per month, the value is excellent.

Convo: Convo includes many of the basic ESN features, such as individual profiles, status updates and project collaboration tools. What sets it apart is its ability to store more than 33 file types and a feature that allows employees to highlight specific parts of an image or link for comments. The popular website TechCrunch uses Convo.

  • Best for: With the ability to talk intricately about a design and store many different file formats, Convo could be quite helpful for companies that market visual products. Also, since the basic package is free for up to 20 users, Convo may be perfect for a very small business.
  • Not good for: Non-visual companies. On the flip side, if much of your employees’ work doesn’t revolve around images, you might be better off using another program with more extensive features.

Chatter: Like all other products created by Salesforce, Chatter is very comprehensive and works very well to encourage online teamwork. Similar to Google Plus’s “Circles,” Chatter allows employees to divide relationships into groups. Companies that use Chatter include Bayer Pharmaceutical and Canon.

  • Best for: Companies that already use Salesforce. Chatter integrates with Salesforce, and it’s easy to add the service. Also, if you already have a CRM license, you can use Chatter for free for up to 5,000 users.
  • Not good for: Smaller companies. Salesforce products are best for medium- to large-sized businesses. There’s no need for it if you own a small business. 

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