What is a enterprise social network? How do you introduce one to an organisation? How do you then encourage employees to use it and ensure it’s not misused? How is Coca-Cola Enterprises tackling these exact questions?

A few weeks ago I wrote about how accountants use enterprise social networks (note – the term can be written either way, Rachel) and also highlighted Forbes’ description of what one is.

My own preferred definition is that an enterprise social network is a way of connecting employees so they can communicate.

It’s most often achieved via high collaboration software (e.g. Yammer) and using social tools. Ideally done, it helps to enhance business within companies by bringing people together to communicate for the benefit of themselves and the organisation.

I asked a contact of mine, Neil Jenkins, to write for Diary of an internal communicator about his experience of introducing a social enterprise network.

Neil is Director of Internal and Digital Communications at Coca-Cola Enterprises and has also held senior internal communications roles at Vodafone and Siemens.

He is on the judging panel for this year’s Digital Impact Awards and you can follow him on Twitter @neil_jenkins. Over to you Neil…

Chatter that matters
In February we invited Coca-Cola Enterprises (CCE) employees to join Chatter, our new social enterprise network. We’re now approaching 6,000 users after just five months – or nearly 50% of our total workforce.

Their initial response has exceeded our expectations. But hang on, you might be thinking. They’re Coca-Cola. Biggest brand on Facebook. Of course they’ll get social media.

However, our business makes and distributes Coca-Cola products and most employees work in manufacturing or sales. Social media isn’t an automatic fit. So how did we get such an encouraging uptake?

A strong business case
It’s hard to launch a social enterprise network on communication merits alone. Whilst communicators would love a platform buzzing with free-flowing conversations, business leaders want to know how it supports their strategic goals.

For us, there were two clear drivers. First, we’re operating much more in the digital world – selling our products online is becoming as important as from your supermarket or café. Our employees need to be familiar with this environment and its commercial opportunities.

Second, we’d like them to be more productive. Like most organisations, we suffer from email overload. Many of our people are field-based and can struggle to keep up. We needed a way for them to share information more quickly and effectively, especially on the move.

Leadership buy-in
High-level support is critical. Digital communications at CCE is governed by executives representing all areas of the business, including members of our CEO’s team. Their endorsement gave our project confidence and credibility.

There wasn’t a silver bullet, but we came close when one of our field sales VPs spoke at our annual leadership conference about Chatter shortly after its launch.

It was powerful having a respected commercial leader explain how it helps his teams to share best practice, and him to visibly recognise their efforts. Find champions and help them sell the benefits for you.

Relevance
Don’t assume your employees use social media, just because you do. Our people work in different roles and countries, and access and attitudes to social media vary.

Even at grassroots level, we didn’t position Chatter as a sexy new way of communicating – it was about making their jobs easier, faster and better. This was an important message, especially for line managers who may have seen it as a time-waster – the opposite of what we wanted to achieve.

A journey, not a destination
Chatter has had strong uptake and minimal misuse, but there’s more to do. It’s alive with fantastic photos and experiences shared by our employees in Great Britain who are working on our Olympics activities. We need to make sure our people in France, Benelux, Norway and Sweden don’t feel it’s just for English speakers.

Using Chatter for collaboration with customers and between our manufacturing plants, where nearly half of our employees work and for whom access isn’t as easy, are priorities. And it doesn’t look after itself – community management is a growing capability for our digital communication teams.

So our work so far shows that Chatter matters – but that we can’t stand still.

Thank you for sharing your experience Neil. Too often communicators feel pressured to introduce a new channel into an organisation to be ‘seen’ to be communicating in a specific way, without stopping to think whether it is relevant, appropriate or needed.

I think this story demonstrates clearly the need to tie in business drivers and to have a strong business case for everything we do.

Thanks again Neil.

Like what you’ve read? Want to read more? I’ve published lots of guest posts on my blog and am always on the lookout for more case studies and experiences to share from comms pros. If you’d like to have your say and write for Diary of an internal communicator, do check out my guest guidelines and get in touch.

Feel free to comment below on what you’ve read today,

Rachel.

First published 7 August 2012.

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