New research highlights challenges to using ESNs

Fewer than 50 per cent of communicators believe the implementation of internal social media tools in their organisation has been successful.

Does that include you?

ESN PR AcademyThat’s one of the findings from a new PR Academy survey of internal communication, PR and digital communication professionals about the use of enterprise social networks (ESNs).

Despite the challenges to the successful implementation of ESNs identified by respondents, 66 per cent of them agree they’re having a positive impact on internal communication practice.

The report explores the challenges of using ESNs, as well as their benefits and impact on internal communication in the context of other recent studies.

It also includes interviews with ESN specialists and concludes with some pointers for effective implementation. I’ve included the pointers at the foot of this article

What stands out for me is a quote from a respondent when thinking about ESNs: “It’s social, but social with a purpose.”

I think the purpose is often missing for organisations. They roll out a shiny new tool without thinking through what they want to achieve. This makes it hard to quantify and measure as you have no sight of what good looks like or what you’re aiming for.

Is that you? You’re not alone! Research I conducted in 2012 and 2013 about How comms pros use social media revealed the same.

Key challenges

The research shows key challenges to the successful implementation of ESNs mainly relate to the culture of organisations and their readiness to embrace two-way communication.

These challenges include encouraging employees to post comments on blogs (68%), getting managers to reply to comments (64%), and gaining buy-in from senior management (62%).

ESN research

About the research

The ‘Implementing Enterprise Social Networks (ESNs): Challenges and Benefits’ report is based on a questionnaire that was completed by 81 respondents in May 2016 and interviews that were conducted with experienced ESN managers in June 2016.

Most of the respondents to the questionnaire work in internal communication (56%), PR (10%) and social media/digital communication (10%), which reflects the demographics of the PR Academy alumni network. However, some respondents work in an IT department, in marketing or in human resources.

ESN management skills gaps

The results show ESN management skills gaps. This provides evidence of a further barrier to the successful implementation of ESNs.

Skills gaps

The top five skills gaps cited by respondents include measuring the impact of using ESNs (53%), engaging senior managers to use an ESN (45%), integrating an ESN with other internal communication channels (44%), technical knowledge (42%) and community management skills (36%).

Does this match with your experience?

Benefits of using ESNs

Given that most respondents believe that ESNs are having a positive impact on internal communication, it is perhaps unsurprising that the greatest benefits of using them highlighted by respondents centre around communication and collaboration.

ESN research

The benefits include making it easier for employees to share information with each other (92%), enhancing collaboration across the organisation (82%), enabling senior managers to use a more informal communication style (79%) and making it easier for employees to express their views (75%).

Exploring ICDr Kevin Ruck, author of the study, director of PR Academy and editor of Exploring Internal Communication, said: “ESNs are often discussed in terms of their benefit, how they can be used to enhance decision-making and improve business strategies, and the prediction that they will supplant email as the dominant form of workplace communication.

“However, as our study shows, there are many significant challenges to their successful implementation. These challenges, including the current skills gaps, need to be addressed before the full potential of ESNs can be realised.”

Nick Crawford, Independent Enterprise Social Consultant and report contributor, said: “This insightful report accurately portrays the reality of current enterprise social maturity.

It is clear that organisations have barely started unlocking the huge potential ESNs can bring, and that for many this is because they are still not carrying out the fundamentals.

“The report highlights what relatively simple action needs to be taken, backing up what many of us in this space are encouraging businesses to do each and every day.”

You can read the whole report online.

What do I think?

I regularly advise clients on using enterprise social networks. I’m not surprised by the findings in the PR Academy report as they underline my experience and conversations I’ve had to date with clients and contacts.

Measuring the impact is something many communicators struggle with – for all channels, not just when thinking about ESNs.

Investing in skills and ensuring communicators are equipped to succeed is critical. Our roles are visible and we’re looked to as trusted advisers by employees and stakeholders.

If you are studying communication, the PR Academy report is an excellent resource to read for access to research and theories around ESN use.

I’ll leave you with these excellent pointers from the study, which are important for good ESN practice:

    • Establish a clear purpose for the ESN at the outset
    • Secure leadership buy-in and role modelling
    • Provide training and ongoing support
    • Ensure that strong community leadership is in place
    • Use whatever data that there is available for ongoing monitoring and evaluation of adoption

What’s your experience? You can comment below or Tweet me @AllthingsIC.

Learn about communication

All Things IC consultancy is proud to offer professional communicators the chance to sign up for Masterclasses.

Masterclasses_websiteThese one-day courses have been designed to help you achieve communication excellence through face-to-face learning.

An All Things IC Masterclass enables you to invest in your career, improve your knowledge and meet other communicators.

They’ve been created based on feedback from communication professionals. You’ll leave equipped with ideas, information and inspiration.

Masterclasses combine theory with practice and are a confidential environment where you can get answers and advice to help you succeed.

If you are a CIPR or IoIC member you can earn CPD points for attending.

They take place in London at the fabulous Wallacespace venue in Covent Garden and start from £399+VAT per person.

Upcoming courses include:

Find out more via the Masterclasses website.


Post author: Rachel Miller

First published on the All Things IC blog 21 July 2016.

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