Yammer, Slack, Facebook At Work… Billed as the future of companies, professional social networks have been adopted by an increasing number of organisations. They serve as powerful leverage for enhancing commitment and collaboration – on condition that they are put to good use.
Professional social networks were supposed to revolutionise working life, break the yoke of professional emails and shake up our habits. They were supposed to mark the dawn of a new era: The era of Enterprise 2.0, no longer based on a pyramid or hierarchical approach, but rather on networking, with a fully connected and collaborative organisation. The employee would no longer be a simple recipient and executer, passively implementing a corporation’s values; he would become a transmitter, infusing his own values, highlighting his own convictions.
The buzz was huge – so were the expectations. In 2012, Microsoft acquired Yammer, the pioneer of professional social networks launched in 2008, for the considerable amount of 1.2 billion dollars – proving the interest for potential represented by these new platforms.
Yet, 14 years since the launch of Yammer, it has to be recognised that the promised revolution has not yet taken place. Like a passing fad, businesses broadly and quickly acquired the tool, but neither the staff nor the managers adopted it. According to a survey, 58% of major French companies have a professional social network… But only 25% of managers use it on a daily basis (1). The same applies to the United States: Although installed across more than half of the companies, professional social networks were used regularly by a larger number of staff in only 25% of the cases (2).
Why such a lack of interest? Might corporate social networks finally be a fashion fad, a simple gadget without substantial effect? In reality, their implementation is hampered by two main difficulties.
The first difficulty resides in the reluctance of the management and the top management to put them to full use. Indeed, faced with the perspective of losing full control of information, and the resulting reduced distance between them and their teams, managers are concerned that they will lose their capacity to command and control. They insist on using these tools as an additional means of disseminating well-controlled information, and not as a forum for exchanging and collaboration. Yet, experience shows: for a collaborative organisational structure to be established, it is essential that the leaders participate. Employees are not fooled: If the management abandons corporate social networks and do not find it fit for regular and engaging use, the employees will equally abandon them.
The second difficulty is linked to the very implementation of professional social networks. They are often viewed as a “turnkey” solution, a magical tool, which once installed will dramatically enhance team commitment. As companies did not want to miss out on what seemed as a vital revolution, they felt the obligation to use these platforms, without incorporating them into an overall transformation framework, without even, sometimes, reflecting on their role or their effective integration into the organisation and day-to-day work. Yet, although corporate social networks can accelerate collaboration and commitment, they cannot create the necessary conditions by themselves. Let’s not forget that like any tool, its value depends on how it is put to use…
Indeed, whether in terms of agility, flexibility or performance, the added value of corporate social networks is demonstrated in organisations that already have a collaboration culture, or which have worked to establish such a culture. A McKinsey survey published in 2012 estimated that they served to increase the speed at which knowledge is accessed by 30%, reduced communication costs by 20% and above all, raised staff productivity by 20 to 25%. These social networks are equally in tune with the habits of generations Y and Z, who are joining the job market, and who grew up with interactivity and horizontality.
Whereas economical mutations, changes in work relationships and the aspirations new employees impose on companies to begin transforming into more collaborative and more transparent structures, professional social networks can serve as key elements of their success. But for them to be useful, in order for them to substantially deliver on the promised revolution, corporate social networks should not remain as an isolated initiative. They must be at the heart of a collective plan that addresses the need to further enhance collaboration, and as such be integrated in the change management policy of the company, so that each person, managers and employees alike, can adopt this tool, use it appropriately, and create conditions for a truly collaborative organisation.
(1) OpinionWay survey conducted by Lecko on 850 corporate managers and almost 5000 employees
(2) A survey by Altimeter on a panel of 55 companies and over 250 employees
By Erwan Nabat