Social business begins with employees

“A Social Business embraces networks of (engaged) people to create business value,” states IBM’s definition of a social business.
“A Social Business embraces networks of (engaged) people to create business value,” states IBM’s definition of a social business. The goal, says communications and technology consultant Shel Holtz, is “every employee engaged.”

Engaged employees are active ambassadors of the organization. And they’re valuable. Harvard Business School conducted and ROI-engagement study that revealed for every 1% increase in employee engagement, the return on investment (ROI) for a social intranet increased 1000%.

In social business, Holtz says employee engagement involves:
  • Problem-solving
  • Customer service
  • Publishing
  • Professional networking
  • Social selling (sales people maintain a presence in the networks where clients and prospects are)

“If you’re blocking social media sites you have a trust problem; you have a hiring problem because you’re hiring people you don’t trust,” says Shel, principal of Holtz Communication + Technology, paraphrasing a Tweet originating from Shift Communications.

In fact, if your company is blocking employees from social media, you’re missing an opportunity.

Shel relates a story of Fedex, who lost a package en route to him while working in Temple, Texas. Angry with the loss of his property, he vented his wrath on Twitter. And got a response via Twitter, from a Fedex manager who saw his Tweet, reached out to him, and helped find and redirect the package to him the next day. Ironically, Holtz also received a direct message Tweet from a UPS manager shortly thereafter who tried to convince him to switch to UPS. Neither were involved in sales, both were managers in communications who happened to follow him on Twitter.

Both employees are engaged employees: employees who are enthusiastically, actively looking to further the interests of the company. And in this case, using social media to do so.

More and more organizations are embracing and actively using social media to reach out, communicate, and even collaborate with their audience including employees, partners, and customers.

Delta Airlines uses Twitter to address customer issues. Delta Assist (@DeltaAssist) handles customer complaints and requests instantaneously via Twitter with dedicated Delta staff who monitor and respond via Twitter. In fact, Delta was the first U.S. airline to implement a formal customer service program on Twitter. Today, the DeltaAssist team includes 12 empowered reservations agents serving customers 24/7, using a triage system to respond to tweets. They can do anything a call center employee can do, except book a new ticket. To add a personal touch, employees sign their tweets with their initials, and their first names are listed on the airline’s Twitter profile.

Pepsi managers are using WhatsApp to send group text messages to employees who work on factory floors, and don’t have a desktop computer. And they’re not the only ones. There’s good reason behind Facebook’s US$21 billion purchase of WhatsApp (yes, that’s 21 billion dollars, U.S.)

Social business begins with employees. Those social businesses that are successful in using social media tools, have engaged executives and employees who actively use and promote the use of social computing technologies. And employees are using their own mobile phones to do so. These employees using social technologies tend to be more creative, collaborative, and productive.

“Employees will use these tools to improve their own efficiency, whether the organization lets them use these tools, or not,” says Holtz, speaking at the 2014 Intranet Global Forum in NYC.

Moreover, organizations with executives that lead the social media charge will reap the rewards. MIT (Sloan Management) found that when executives use internal social media (2014 Social Business Global Study) to build emotional capital and further the business and the work lives of employees, the benefits are numerous:

  • Workflows and collaboration improve
  • Turnover drops
  • Employees are more motivated
  • Communication improves horizontally, vertically
To achieve these highly desirable benefits, Sloan recommends a number of key steps to take:
  • Identify leaders who are authentic and whom employees trust
  • Help them develop social media skills
  • Ask them to (and help them) join and build communities where they can grow emotional capital
  • Deploy social media tools sequentially
  • Prepare leaders to see benefits only after emotional capital has been built 
McKinsey Global Institute estimates (The social economy: Unlocking value and productivity through social technologies) that by fully implementing social technologies, companies have an opportunity to raise the productivity of interaction workers—high-skill knowledge workers, including managers and professionals—by 20 to 25%. In fact, McKinsey has found (echoing the research of many others including Accenture and Prescient Digital Media) that most knowledge workers spend a majority of their time searching out and communicating information, which could easily be improved upon:

  • 28% spent reading and answering email – social media can increase value added time 7-8%
  • 19% searching and gathering information– social media can increase value added time 5.5-6.5%
  • 14% communicating and collaborating internally – social media can increase value added time 3.5 – 5.5%
  • 39% spent on role-specific tasks – social media can increase value added time 4-6%
Social technologies, according to McKinsey, “create value by improving productivity across the value chain, could potentially contribute $900 billion to $1.3 trillion in annual value across” just four sectors of the economy alone: consumer packaged goods, retail financial services, advanced manufacturing, and professional services.

For organizations to truly benefit from social media technologies, they must first seek to empower and engage employees. When they embrace social media and empower employees to do so as well, the business becomes social, from inside out. Of course, engaging employees also means recognizing valued employees. Effective recognition happens when the company values and publicly recognizes employees’ achievements, which supports most employees’ desire for intrinsic rewards.

Moreover, employees want to work for companies that excel at social business. Sloan found that some 57% of respondents say that social business sophistication is at least somewhat important in their choice of employer.

The results are clear: invest in social business, and employees will turn that investment into profit.