Five skills that can make or break your ESN

When it comes to enterprise social networks (ESN), what skills do communicators need and what do you need to think through?

You’re in the right place to find out.

SilviaCambieSilvia Cambie @silviacambie (pictured) is a digital strategist responsible for helping major corporations increase adoption and get the most out of their investment in technology including enterprise social networks.

Here she writes for my blog to share the five skills she thinks you need that will make or break your enterprise social network.

I’ve included images by the super talented Virpi Oinonen @voinonen to illustrate the points she makes. Over to you Silvia…

Five skills that can make or break your ESN

Simplification seems to have become the new name of the game. A study just released by Deloitte has found that companies are having problems trying to simplify business processes. 66% of the respondents say that employees are overwhelmed by their work environment. 74% mentioned that workplace complexity is a serious problem.

The need to redesign work by integrating technology is widely recognised. However, only 5% of the execs surveyed say they have a “strong understanding of what computing will do to their workforce”.

Further reading: See the Human Capital Trends study from Deloitte

If you are about to launch an enterprise social network, this scenario will ring a bell. The top of the organisation knows that social technology is a must.

However many don’t really know how to go about it and have questions such as:

  • Which structures do we need to enable employees to talk to each other and exchange ideas?
  • Will the right technology do the trick?
  • Is that sufficient?
  • Or do we need people to move that technology along? If yes, which skills do they need to have?

From talking to a friend who works in recruitment I know there is still a lot of confusion around the job descriptions of people in charge of internal digital channels. It is often not clear which skills they are required to have.

Is external social media work, like having run a campaign on Facebook, enough? Is experience with animating an internal community essential? If someone is a Chatter expert, does that mean they won’t be able to work with IBM Connections?

When it comes to running an ESN, I believe there are five skills that can make it or break it:

1. Sustainable Community Management

Community ManagementThe launch of a strategy by a new CEO, an annual corporate conference, a CSR summit… corporate moments like these are often used to get employees to join an ESN, read content, leave comments, invite colleagues. They are natural catalysts of interactions. But what happens when they are over?

The communities set up to accompany them often don’t survive them by more than a few weeks. If we want to practice sustainable community management, what we have to do is use such moments to identify active contributors to the platform as well as conversations that can be continued in the future. (Tweet this)

We have to transform these contributors into champions. We have to ask them to get their colleagues on board and convince them to start using the platform for their projects. Also, we need to monitor the conversations that happen online during the event, as they will give us clues as to what employees want to discuss and how they are planning to use the ESN.

Further reading: Read this article on community management basics for IC pros I published recently – Rachel

2. Putting technology in perspective

We all know that enterprise social networking is about much more than technology. Yet… we often get bogged down in discussions about features, latest versions, the pros and cons of migrating to the Cloud, etc. etc.

Having to deal with vendors that don’t understand our requirements also doesn’t help. What we need is a good overview of the technology available and what it has to offer. When we talk to vendors, we want to be informed and able to express clearly what has to happen on our platform.

However, we have to look beyond features and think about the journey. (Tweet this)

What transformation is the technology we are choosing likely to undergo in the near future? Where will the vendor selling it be 12 months from now? Are they likely to be acquired by a software giant and disappear into another product in a Microsoft-Yammer-like situation? How serious are they about mobile?

Further reading: Discover who is using what for internal social media via my case studies – Rachel

3. Diplomacy

Virpi Nothing is likely to test our diplomatic skills like having to bring different stakeholders around the table and get them to agree on the role the ESN should play in our organisation.

This is the moment when we play the party-poopers. We have to curb everybody’s enthusiasm and spell out the work that each one of them has to do to get the platform adopted and used by their colleagues.

I have been at many of these meetings… It does not help to delay the pain and start reciting all the great things that Yammer or Jive can do… You need to get your hands dirty and step into your stakeholders’ shoes.

You need to figure out what their motivations are: 

  • Why would they want the ESN to succeed?
  • What is in it for them?
  • How can it help them reach their goals,
  • How can it help make their numbers?

Your role is to mediate between different interests.

4. Creating digital content

Virpi This is an exciting one… and I am not talking about coding or mastering html. At the core of digital content is the ability to curate what gets uploaded by colleagues.

It is about bringing together different voices, enabling conversations in a stimulating way without stifling them. (Tweet this)

Instead of compiling a conventional report about your annual corporate conference, you might want to consider using Storify Enterprise to curate your colleagues’ comments on a community stream.

5. Building a bridge between internal and external

Forrester expects branded communities to come back big time in 2015. We are talking about the online spaces set up by companies where customers can discuss products in a more “intimate” space than Facebook or Twitter.

In the US, vertical social networks are all the rage. Goldman-Sachs together with a consortium of banks has just launched Symphony, a social platform that traders on Wall Street can use to chat and instant message each other. More and more companies are extending their internal networks and creating communities on which they can share content with business partners and other external stakeholders.

Expect to be asked to set up and manage one these hybrid spaces in the near future. That’s where your experience with running external social media campaigns will come handy.

Post author: Silvia Cambie

Silva Cambie consults with organisations like Unilever, Diageo, the European Investment Bank, Royal Bank of Scotland, the European Commission and the UNDP. She blogs at and Tweets @silviacambie

Thank you for sharing your thoughts Silvia.

Want to know more about enterprise social networks?

First published on All Things IC blog 13 March 2015.

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