Ten lessons from introducing an ESN

Much has been written about introducing an enterprise social network (ESN), you can find a plethora of case studies online from comms pros and suppliers all offering advice and guidance.

Jess_BullBut what’s the reality? What can go wrong? What works?

Today Jessica Bull, @JessicaBull50, Corporate Communications Manager at Parliamentary ICT shares her experience in the form of a guest post.

Jessica has worked in communications for a decade, for Parliament, local government and museums.

The illustrations on this page are by the talented Virpi Oinonen, @voinonen. I’ll include a link to more thoughts from her at the foot of this article and recommend checking out her blog.

Over to you Jess…

Implementing an ESN: The 10 most important things I learnt

If you believe the hype, there’s nothing simpler than achieving success with an enterprise social network. Just light touch-paper and retire, right?

I’d love to believe this can sometimes be the case, but if you’re managing communications in a large, risk averse, change resistant, hierarchical and/or public sector organisation, you’re likely to find it a lot more complicated.

Here I share the 10 most important things I learnt from leading the pilot of an ESN, so you don’t have to learn them the hard way…

1. Be clear what you are aiming to achieve and how you are going to measure success.

If you can’t clearly articulate your objective, it will also be easy for others to dismiss participating in your ESN as a frivolous waste of company time.

We went for an increase in visibility of the senior leadership team (were they posting? How often? Did this impact our staff survey results?).

2. Dont try to mandate what people can and cant talk about.

Every successful social media channel has an element of the unplanned to it. Mumsnet was originally conceived for discussing family friendly holiday destinations – am I being unreasonable to think it has evolved into something so much greater? Our utmost “unplanned success” was that our LGBT network found real value in our ESN and, as one of our corporate objectives is to support diversity, this was fantastic.

3. Find and nurture your champions.

Yammer championsInvest time in engaging those who can help you make your ESN a success. You’ll know who they are, they’ll be all over your Facebook wall and trending on Twitter. Tell them how much you’re relying on them for support. You’ll need role models who can demonstrate to others how to behave on social.

4. Don’t ignore your detractors.

There will be some who see social as a threat. Hint, these people are often responsible for managing information. Perform a stakeholder analysis and put the effort into engaging those who have influence over as well as interest in your project. Co-creation is often the key, work out with them how you are going to mitigate any risks.

5. Get your leaders involved.

This can be difficult, especially if your senior people are used to delivering well-rehearsed speeches or 20 page board papers. Behaving in the impromptu way social requires can be a real challenge for many senior people, who have not experienced this behaviour in their own peers or leaders.

I tackled this by persuading the one member of our board I knew was comfortable using social for social to be the first to lead a business discussion on our ESN.

6. Integrate your channels.

esnSocial is just another channel, not a magical panacea which removes the need for everything else we do. Your ESN needs to be part of your IC strategy, supporting and aligned with your other channels.We ran lunchtime sessions for staff with inspirational speakers.

I set up hashtags and found people were discussing what was being said, with each other, as it was actually being said. This increased the participation in events and raised the quality of discussions on the ESN.

7. Get your technology right.

Nick Matthews (@NickOMatthews), former Principal of Customer Engagement at Yammer, states social media success depends 10% on technology, 40% on culture and 50% on leadership – but that 10% is still important.

Is your ESN attractive and easy to use? How does it render on mobile? Can it integrate with your intranet? Is it expensive to maintain? Does it fit with your IT strategy? Is it secure enough? These are all questions you need to ask before you commit.

8. Find some role models.

yammer tipsBuild understanding by finding a similar organisation with a positive story to tell. I can’t thank Nick Keane (@NickKeane), Digital Engagement Business Lead with the (UK) College of Policing, enough for speaking at one of our lunchtime sessions for staff. If the Police can implement social successfully and achieve real value, there is hope for us all.

9. Celebrate your quick wins.

If you circulate real examples of how your ESN is adding value to your business, participation will increase exponentially. Our “eureka moment” occurred when people begin discussing the pilot of a new IT system online. This enabled our technical team to identify problems quickly and gather information in real-time.

It also meant lines to our service desk were kept free for calls from customers with unrelated issues. Using anecdotes like these in meetings with senior management really got our ESN pilot noticed and accepted.

10. Accept that you wont be able to reach everybody.

It’s the same for every IC channel – some people never read newsletters or look at the intranet, some teams boycott management cascades and there are even a brave few who appear never to read/respond to email.

Some people absolutely hate social and, despite all your efforts, they will never ever ‘get’ it. But honestly, as long as you’ve got the majority of staff involved and can prove where you’re adding value to your business, that’s okay.

Post author: Jessica Bull.

Further reading: 
Introducing Yammer in your organisation – top tips from Virpi Oinonen @voinonen

What’s your advice for organisations who are thinking of introducing an enterprise social network? What would your tips be?


Post author: Jessica Bull.

Published on All Things IC blog 24 November 2014.


  1. Great summary and very good points. Have to say No.5 is the biggie. Get leaders involved at some level. Heard an example recently where a country MD had no interest in a successful and growing global Yammer set up and therefore it failed to take off in that country.

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