This is an excerpt from my upcoming book, Social Media: Add Power to Your Innovation Efforts, which is due this fall.
Using social media internally for innovation can help lay the groundwork for taking your initiative to an external audience. The platform of choice for doing this for many businesses is Yammer, a popular social media platform that sets up private, secure enterprise social networks that can be used to drive innovation, especially idea generation/development within their company.
I will be using Yammer as an example throughout this blog post due to it’s popularity and since the advice I put forth work equally well for other kinds of social media tools and services used internally.
It can be fairly easy to recruit people for the Yammer platform. It is, however, much more difficult to keep the users engaged over time. So what kind of engagement drivers work for innovation initiatives on Yammer? I have divided these drivers into three key elements: Awareness, Facilitated content and User-generated content.
1) Awareness: Short, focused bursts aimed to build awareness of the Yammer initiative, make existing users more active and recruit new ones. This could be a two- to three-week challenge in which you ask the users for their input on a specific issue. Issues that need to be considered include:
• How should this challenge be framed? You’ll need to make it specific beyond the very broad “innovate how we innovate” issue. One possibility to have the challenge revolve around identifying future challenges. In other words, ask employees to propose a great challenge for the company to undertake. Post this in positive terms so that people know you’re looking for ideas on new directions the company can take to improve its competitive position.
• Should you reward people for their engagement and, if so, what is the best way to reward them? Remember, people value both intrinsic and extrinsic awards. Being acknowledged by your CEO in a company newsletter or at an event created around the challenge program, for example, can be just as motivating as a prize or financial award.
• How will you create buzz around such a challenge as well as the Yammer initiative in general? Work with your communications department to leverage all the communications vehicles the company has to promote your Yammer network. Consider creating a kick-off event and by all means have a celebration event at the end of your first challenge.
Then the job becomes to keep people informed of progress that is being made on some of the ideas that were put forth that are going to be explored further. The obvious way to do this is to establish Yammer groups where people can provide input on how to move ideas forward.
2) Facilitated content: This is about delivering quality content on a frequent basis so users become accustomed to getting value from their time spent in the community. This could be weekly posts that give a “how to” perspective and offers further insights (links to relevant articles). Beyond sharing insights, another key element for such content should be that it drives discussions. Facilitated content could also be something as simple as inspiring quotes about innovation or fun cartoons. Both have a high viral potential.
A good facilitator is key for making this happen. Choose the person who is assigned to this task carefully. The position requires a good understanding of corporate innovation process and thus corporate needs/assets/weaknesses/strengths, good writing skills and a good understanding of social media. Make sure this person is given adequate resources in terms of time and training to succeed.
3) User-generated content: This is where the community begins to become self-sustainable. I would suggest that it is a good sign of success once your community goes above 50 percent when it comes to user-generated content compared to the action driven by awareness campaigns and facilitated content.
Here you need to be aware of the 100-10-1 rule which states that out of 100 people, only 10 will follow the discussions and only one will post or write themselves. This will most likely be better in smaller, focused settings as you have with corporate Yammer initiatives, but it does imply that a certain critical mass is needed.
Hurdles and goal-setting
When it comes to implementation hurdles of Yammer initiatives, two in particular stand out. 1) a general lack of understanding of social media and 2) lack of commitment and engagement from top and middle management. Experimentation and the “small wins” approach is key to overcoming these hurdles.
When it comes to goal setting for Yammer initiatives, this might give you some inspiration:
• Short term: Create experiences to allow your company to develop social media competences relevant for innovation
• Mid term: Engage people on social media services and tools for innovation efforts
• Long term: Have social media as an important element in external innovation networks
IBM’s internal social network, called Beehive, is another example of how companies are using social media internally to support innovation. Employees use Beehive to get other people interested in their ideas and projects. The internal network also helps people build closer relationships with co-workers and to identify new people within the company that they want to bring into their personal network. They also are able to access expertise within the company more easily. All of these uses can be strong supporters of innovation.
Here’s how IBM describes just one function of Beehive that supports innovation:
“Users can create top-five lists, called ‘hive fives,’ to share their thoughts on any topic they are passionate about. For example, they can add a ‘hive five’ list that outlines their ideas about their project, and then invite their team members to ‘reuse’ the list and voice their opinions. Hive fives cover a lot of territory, from clearly work-related subjects to the kinds of personal exchanges that might only happen among collocated team members at the water cooler. Hive fives are a light-weight way to share ideas and a great way to keep in touch with remote team members.”