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by Professor Mohamed-Hedi Charki, Associate Professor of Information Systems, EDHEC

In recent years, many corporate leaders were attracted to enterprise social media platforms due to an outstanding number of expected benefits that include enhancing knowledge sharing, boosting cross-unit collaboration, improving creativity and advancing innovation. Consequently, corporate leaders, including Chief Human Resource Officers (CHROs) and Chief Communication Officers (CCOs), have been persistently encouraging their collaborators to engage on enterprise social media to achieve these highly desirable benefits. Statistics show that most Fortune 500 corporations have already rolled-out at least one form of on an enterprise social media platform and that the number of corporations making the move is still on the rise.

However, despite this enthusiasm, most of the surveyed employees declare their disengagement on these platforms. For the first time in history, waves of corporations are giving their employees a voice on enterprise social media and asking them contribute but only few play the game. What went wrong then and what corporate leaders can do to deal with this situation?

My research on social media networks shows that corporate leaders make three major errors that preclude the achievement of the expected benefits associated with investing in enterprise social media platforms.

  1. Going blind

Corporations spent a lot of fanfare to accompany enterprise social media rollout, to offer access to virtually the entire workforce and to recruit social media staff. Still, in most cases, corporate leaders do not have any particular enterprise social media strategy. For many, technical rollout of enterprise social media was a necessary and sufficient condition to reach the expected benefits. The lack of strategy becomes apparent notably when employees do not make sense of the role of enterprise social media in their day-to-day tasks nor do they see the rationale behind sharing their wisdom with their fellow colleagues.

  1. Not playing ALL the game

There is no doubt that corporate leaders have initiated the game correctly by investing in enterprise social media and encouraging their collaborators to play the game (creating/joining planned/emergent communities, posting, commenting, liking, etc). Still, with a few exceptionscorporate leaders do not take an active part in the ambient conversations occurring on enterprise social media. Many, mistakenly think, that getting the most out of enterprise social media is limited to getting the technical rollout right. However, since sharing someone’s wisdom on enterprise social media is a voluntary behavior, many employees do not see the rationale to invest their time on a platform where corporate leaders are absent.

  1. Old rules for a new game

Platforms of enterprise social media offer a new environment that potentially enables original and unprecedented employees’ behaviors. Employees can help their fellow colleagues by providing timely advice, sharing their wisdom with remote colleagues, asking someone’s request for help and taking unique initiatives such as teaming-up with dispersed colleagues or looking for advice around creative ideas. However, the rules CHROs use to manage their workforce have not evolved so far to match the growing opportunities offered by enterprise social media. Paradoxically, corporations still opt for the same set of old “offline” rules to manage their human capital that is expected to play the new social media “game” at work.

Now, how to deal with this situation? I make three main recommendations illustrated with concrete examples of corporations that took the right approach in getting the most out of their enterprise social media investments.

  1. Link enterprise social media to your operational strategy

Corporate leaders need to ask themselves one crystal-clear question: What are the operational goals that can benefit from the affordances enabled by enterprise social media? By doing so, social media will become organically embedded in employees’ daily operations. Take the example of Rema 1000 that is one of the biggest retailers in Norway. Over 80% of their 10,000 employees are engaged on enterprise social media. What happened is that corporate leaders integrated enterprise social media in the operational logistic strategy. For instance, Rema 1000 integrated enterprise social media for product recalls. Typically, when there is a product to be recalled, a message is instantly pushed out in the news feed on enterprise social media. This contributed to boost Rema 1000 operational performance.

  1. Play ALL the “social media” game

Corporate leaders need to take part in the ambient conversation occurring on enterprise social media. By making this move, leaders will not only show that they value their employees but that they also value the wisdom of their employees on enterprise social media. Take the example of IBM where leaders and managers use enterprise social media to empower their employees and to encourage them to share their wisdom with their colleagues dispersed across five continents and more than 170 countries. At IBM, taking part in enterprise social media and recognizing employees’ achievements is just part of leaders’ behaviors and have therefore become part of employees’ behaviors.

  1. Create new rules for the new game

Many corporate leaders introduced enterprise social media because they saw in it the spine of their internal digital transformation. I concur with this but wish to add that it is also the moment for corporate leaders to transform their human resource management (HRM) practices according to new social media rules. Old HRM rules do not recognize enterprise social media nor do they value employees’ engagement on this new digital platform. It is “money time” to change this situation and to reengineer HRM rules in a way to make someone’s engagement on enterprise social media an effort worth making. Take the example of Group Rocher who uses enterprise social media to accelerate new employees’ onboarding. Recently recruited employees are generally constrained by the psychical structure of their workplace and the scope of their job when they start forging ties that make internal networking constraining and time-consuming. Enterprise social media can change this as it helps weaving new ties and enhancing employees’ metaknowledge (who knows whom and whom and is connected to whom) which is believed to help employees’ integration and efficiency.

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