Experts say that they enhance the sense of belonging, favour a work environment, help generate and share knowledge, create matrices of mutual aid and stimulate synergies, promote distributed leadership and are useful to attract and retain talent, among other benefits. They are talking about corporate social networks.
In the session “Talent, people and equipment,” at Espacio Fundación Telefónica’s cycle of debates Empresa 2020 it was already noted that e-mail and intranets seem to have exhausted their cycle and that it was time to move from a mail-centred organization to a network based model. But more than a mere change of tool, corporate social networks involve a cultural transformation in organizations: going from static intranets with a closed structure based on a thousand compartments –some cryptic– to a new flexible relationship space that allows the prominence usually reserved for managers to be shared, and where interdepartmental conversations can arise spontaneously. They help to take advantage of “collective intelligence”.
The approach is much more in line with the new generation of “digital natives” who are entering the labour market and who are already predicted to impose a new, more democratic mindset in the way they communicate within organizations and that will encourage the implementation of less pyramidal and more cooperative control structures, and one where knowledge prevails over professional category.
Advantages of a corporate social network
The benefits of implementing a corporate social network are manifold because they help not only with content, but with contacts, conversations and collaboration. “It’s not what you know, but who you know”, as explained in PULSO magazine.
Because finding the right information depends on finding the right person to provide it. Knowledge workers increasingly solve more queries by searching their network of contacts. Employees can turn corporate social networks into a strategic tool to boost the value of their companies.
According to McKinsey, optimum use can double the potential value of a company and increase labour productivity by up to 25%. And Millward Brown argues that in Europe 81% of high growth businesses already use them. Moreover, 75% of executives believe that these networks will change strategies because they allow a geographically dispersed team to coordinate their ideas (79%), improve productivity (76%) and offer the ability to find information or experts with the speed necessary for decision-making (72%).
Learning and knowledge management in organization
A lot has been said about the importance of this type of networks for learning strategies and knowledge management in organizations, and it is clear that it contributes to them enormously. In this regard, Virginio Gallardo’s post is very interesting; in it he argues that the most efficient social environments for learning are not environments created for learning.
According to George Siemens and his theory of connectivism, learning stems from the diversity caused by connecting people (nodes) and the quality of their connections, where decision-making is itself a learning process.
Communities designed to improve processes, reduce costs, increase sales or analyze new products will be the communities where professionals learn more because the type of learning that will be encouraged in the future will not separate learning from work, nor theoretical learning from real decision making.
“We will learn as we learned when we were children: experiencing, sharing and creating collaboratively, making mistakes and correcting them, to achieve our goals,” said Virginio Gallardo.
As if all the benefits we have detailed were not enough, there is one factor that seems to favour the implementation of such networks: the rise of cloud computing. According to Forrester Research, the global software business for creating and managing corporate social networks will grow by 61% a year to reach about 6,400 million dollars in 2016. Some predict that in less than four years corporate social networks will be the main business communication tool.
But what is the situation in Spain? According to the study “How do Spanish companies exploit the opportunities of corporate social networks?” by IOR Digital in mid-2012, their use in our country is still emerging. Only 25% of Spanish companies used them and 83% of them had had them for less than two years. However, almost half the companies that did not have them already planned to implement them.
Success does not depend on technology
Some interesting findings from this paper are that successful corporate social networks do not depend on technology, but on people; that there is a large spread of technological tools, that people’s participation is essential and that a lack of communication and change management plans is a recipe for failure. The areas of Marketing and Communications (61%) along with HR (44%) have mostly taken the initiative to propose such networks; the departments that get most out of their use are Marketing/Products/Services (62.5%), HR (50%) and communication (43.8%). Among the objectives to be attained with these networks are an improvement in the image of the organization and in communication first, followed by others such as improved customer service, anticipation of market changes and promotion of innovation.