Microblogging inside an organisation provides staff with the ability to post short messages to everyone in the organisation or a select group. A variety of online tools can be used, for example Yammer, SocialText or an internally built solution.
Deploying microblogging involves more than understanding the technology, because it is really about providing opportunities for conversations between staff. The content of microblogging messages can vary widely, from accounts of what staff are working on, and questions for other staff, to updates about products, projects or situations.
The growth in microblogging is a relatively recent phenomenon and its success within organisations varies greatly. Where it has been successful, microblogging has been able to better connect staff, break down hierarchical structures and improve the sense of belonging felt by staff.
As with many of the social media tools, there is an impact on the intranet, particularly on communication channels and siloing of information. This article outlines:
- strategic considerations
- practicalities on how to set up microblogging
- how to drive adoption
Microblogging is a quick informal channel people can subscribe to with a low time commitment. It goes beyond Twitter-style 140-character comments but it is less structured and time-consuming than blogging. Ease of use and high levels of engagement make this a powerful tool to complement any intranet.
Create opportunities for staff to connect
How microblogging works
Enterprise microblogging tools allow staff to engage in online conversations. Some of the key characteristics include:
- the ability to post messages, which other staff can read or respond to
- chronological or threaded appearance of messages
- email notifications
- use of hashtagging on popular topics such as #demerger, #ea (enterprise agreement) allowing people to follow interesting topics
- notifications that remind users to invite others or complete profiles, driving adoption
- links to videos, images and documents
Generally messages are secure within the organisation, though this can vary with different technical solutions.
The main point of microblogging in the enterprise is to provide a tool that allows staff to engage, listen and learn.
Many staff will consume the messages as they are posted, in real time. Others may only refer to them once a week, or via email updates.
There are a range of microblogging tools on the market, some hosted ‘in the cloud’, others deployed within organisations. There are free and paid-for microblogging tools.
One of the most common solutions used at present is Yammer, which is shown over the page. Other enterprise suites increasingly incorporate microblogging capability.
Who is using microblogging?
Microblogging is being used worldwide in many different types of organisations from small to large. Success rates vary, but most take time to deliver true business benefits. Some examples include:
- Lingo24 is a company that spans three continents and has a network of over 4,000 professionals offering translation services. Microblogging is used to exchange ideas across different time zones. it has been especially powerful when preparing proposals and sourcing examples of past projects.
- NSW Department of Education and Communities is a large organisation with many different departments and reporting lines. Through microblogging they have been able to successfully break down hierarchical barriers and connect teachers from different geographic areas. Teachers have been able to share ideas and information about curriculum and teaching approaches.
- Framestore is one of the world’s leading visual effects and computer animation studios. They use an internally built microblogging tool called ‘Fritter’ to develop a sense of community and phase out less effective email lists. Microblogging is done via channels and is used for sharing news, tips and tricks. See example of Framestore from the 2010 Intranet Innovation Awards on page 3.
These are just some examples, and organisational usage is evolving all the time.
Like many of the social tools around today, microblogging can appear to be most used by people with strong personal passions and interests. Other staff, who appear less engaged, also benefit, though, as they observe and expand their understanding of issues that are discussed.
Many studies have been completed about online social tool usage and three broad patterns emerge:
- few people actively participate (generally less than 5 per cent)
- some people participate on specific issues related to them (estimated to be about 20-30 per cent)
- most people are passive in their participation.
Passionate staff enjoy the new avenues to connect with others
While few people actually participate, a larger percentage watch. Passive participation can be hard to measure but offers tangible benefits such stronger feelings of connection between staff and the organisation.
Forrester Research’s Technographics, based on studies of online behaviour, provides an interesting insight into social media usage patterns.
When deploying microblogging the strategic considerations need to be carefully considered. Pay attention in particular to:
- connection to organisational strategy
- senior management buy-in
- gathering business benefits
- pre-emptive approaches to common pitfalls
One of the primary results of enterprise microblogging is more engaged and informed staff. This can be transformational for an organisation, but it can be 18 months or longer before the bulk of the organisation is participating (actively or passively).
Like any undertaking within an organisation there has to be a real and tangible connection to organisational strategy. Any successful collaboration tool must have a defined purpose and a recognised community. This topic is covered in a previous article When intranet discussion forums work.
Leadership is crucial to adoption. If a CEO or director dives into microblogging, other staff will quickly follow. Senior management cooperation is important in establishing microblogging as a major communication tool, and should be part of any deployment strategy.
Organic growth can be unsustainable
Organisations need clear business reasons to adopt new tools, and intranet teams should document the benefits they expect. This should be realistic, rather than passionate, about the solution, and outline the way that microblogging tools might support communication strategies.
As a side benefit, staff microblogging discussions provide insight into how the organisation is operating, and additional research for intranet improvements.
Executives may be concerned about issues such as copyright, security and time-wasting by staff, so it’s sensible to pre-empt these worries by providing information about how problems will be avoided or minimised. A short briefing paper that distills the issues has been useful in many organisations.
In many cases, microblogging arrives in an organisation when one person signs up to a free service such as Yammer and the microblogging community grows by stealth and from the ground up. However, once microblogging gains attention within the organisation, there are three basic choices:
- Build — some organisations build internal solutions that are fully integrated into the intranet or other internal systems.
- Buy — there are many commercially available tools in the marketplace, such as Yammer, Socialcast and Hashwork. These are licensed in different ways, usually per user or per month. These tools can be integrated into existing systems or run as stand-alone applications.
- Free — the common commercial offerings also have solutions that are free of licensing costs. These generally have less functionality for staff and administrators, but are a great way to get started
When evaluating technology options, organisations also need to consider what interfaces will be supported. There are many different ways to consume and use microblogging, from desktop, mobile (BlackBerry, iPhone etc), instant messenger, sms, email or web client.
‘Community manager’ is a new role in organisations, and incumbents act as gatekeepers, guiding the strategic direction of social media use. A dedicated staff member is able to implement, nurture and police the new communities, and to evangelise and build acceptance.
Successful community managers balance the needs of their organisation and explore the cultural boundaries of staff and teams. Their job involves keeping up with discussions, identifying likely hotspots, moderating disputes and nurturing staff communities.
Long term sustainability of any microblogging solution is impossible without a dedicated community manager. Organisations that cannot provide an adequate level of support should reconsider deploying microblogging.
In the workplace staff follow acceptable norms
Many organisations are fearful of bad behaviour by staff, but this is rare in a work environment where people are known. In many cases staff self-moderate and there is very little need for formal intervention. For example, at one organisation, a person signed up and their first post was along the lines of "What the @*## is this all about anyway?" A peer immediately responded, noting that it was an organisation-wide tool and the same behaviours that apply in the workplace apply there, so that such language was not appropriate. The original poster apologised and removed their post immediately.
In the initial stages, staff can be unsure of what topics are appropriate and how formal or informal their comments should be. The tone will evolve over time in each organisation, but initial seeding of questions and comments can help staff understand the boundaries. Some organisations remind staff that they should only post things they are comfortable with the CEO reading.
All solutions need a purpose and adoption strategy
A formal usage policy is essential to provide staff with guidelines on appropriate behaviour. There are many examples available online of good organisational social media policies. Most of these policies also refer to the code of conduct already in place in each organisation.
More detail is available in an earlier article on Moderating internal discussion forums, blogs and other social media.
An excellent video introduction to social media policy has been developed and shared through Creative Commons by the Department of Justice in Victoria, Australia.
Like any internal system there are many basic housekeeping decisions and tasks that must be undertaken. These may include:
- Administration account — may appear as Admin when posting, or belong to a named person or role, such as John Smith, or Community Manager.
- Welcome message — each staff member who joins should get a welcome message, outlining the expected terms of usage
- When people leave — staff members who leave must be removed to keep the community current.
- Groups — may be created by anyone, or only by request to administration, following guidelines.
- External people — where relevant, external colleagues may be included, with appropriate security settings.
- Email notifications — email digests may be produced daily, weekly or on specific topics, for staff who do not have the time or desire to follow the conversations in real time.
Ensure widespread adoption of microblogging tools
Microblogging will not achieve any business outcomes without commitment to adoption. For microblogging to be successfully adopted it is essential to have:
- Senior management support — someone senior in the organisation that ‘gets’ microblogging. By actively using microblogging they set a positive example to others. They can also be useful in explaining to their peers and supporting deployment. This person might already be an active Twitter user.
- Exemplars — Gather and share examples of where microblogging has assisted the organisation in achieving its goals.
- Metrics — measurement is necessary, but needs to be designed with care. Basic free options will allow measurement of signups, messages and posts per person. But beware of measuring quantity not quantity, and remember that passive participation may also be beneficial. Relevant and useful measures need to be developed for each organisation.
A variety of techniques will be necessary to lessen staff resistance to a new tool. Some will be wary of new technology, others may think it is a fad, or just a way to look busy. Most organisations may have an initial burst of energy, but it might then take more than 18 months to deliver organisation-wide involvement.
Some methods to boost adoption are:
- seeding conversations on relevant topics, for example about product improvements
- running weekly polls, for example about services that can provided in the future to customers
- creating champions in business units
- identifying people who use Twitter on a regular basis, as they might be ideal champions
- running theme days on particular topics or having a bit of fun with avatar theme days
Many organisations have noticed increased usage on weekends, which might provide hidden opportunities to seed conversations and engage staff.
Microblogging within organisations is not just for the geeks in IT. It can be a useful tool for engaging many staff in the organisation in conversations and ultimately problem solving. Over time, deeper organisational benefits may develop.
Senior management leadership and a dedicated community manager are keys to success, along with recognition that active and passive participation are both useful.
Be prepared for ongoing commitment and learning in this relatively new field.