Still using email? FAIL!

When your employees want to know what is happening in their lives outside of work they turn off email and go to Facebook or Twitter. Back to work and they start using email again for communicating with other employees. Here are 8 reasons smart companies are offering internal social networks as an alternative to email for communication between employees.


1) To foster deeper (symbol HEWA) is a leading mail‑order pharmacy based in the USA and licensed to sell prescription medications in 43 states. They started using Social Media to handle requests from customers who were using Facebook and Twitter to contact the company. According to CEO Lalit Dhadphale, “we were using Twitter for external purposes only, but as we interacted with customers, we realized there was potential internally as well.” So some employees started using Twitter for internal company communications like tracking the number of orders. The convenience of using mobile devices has resulted in an increase in overall communication and greater collaboration between employees that respond immediately to a Tweet as opposed to an email that can be left ignored in the inbox.

2) To help new employees become a part of team. Even the most socially confident of us get a little anxious about being accepted by a new team, and most of us will go through this experience more than a dozen times in our careers. Imagine logging into the company social network and seeing a wall full of warm welcome messages, each with the sender’s clickable picture next to it. As well as being able to the check out the photos from last month’s company rafting trip everyone keeps talking about. And if you are following the advice from the next point, new employees will be picking up on your company values as they are doing this.

3) Because your company has no values. At least according to much of your staff. Try this experiment: casually ask ten random employees something like the following. “I’m curious what you think the company’s values are. No problem if you don’t know and there are no wrong answers.” I’ll save you the time. Most will draw a blank and the rest have got it wrong. Why should you care? Because changing it will save you a lot more time. Employees with a clear understanding of company values have the confidence to act independently and to make decisions with less management input. You can use a social networking platform to better communicate these values and, maybe more importantly, to allow employee participation in the conversation. Employees that have a say in company values are more willing to live by them.  Express Employment Professionals, the fourth-largest staffing company in the U.S., recently launched an internal blog to replace the company newsletter. The goal is to provide a more interactive way of sharing company news that will encourage comments and questions. Some other ways you can use a social media platform to communicate values:

  • - Publish stories that praise employee actions aligned with company values and allow employees to rate and comment on these stories.
  • - Conduct informal on-line polls or contests about how a particularly difficult customer incident should be handled.
  • - Update your status. Answer the question “What are you working on today?” on a regular basis to show your activities and priorities reflect the company values.
  • - Use it to preach. Some people just need to be reminded what the team agreed to. If you do it in a humble way they will appreciate the reminder. Quicker than a staff meeting and no need to buy any pizza.

4) To identify critical paths of communication. Many custom social media platforms allow you to look at the social graph. Who is connected to whom and even more importantly, who is communicating on a regular basis. If all communication between the shipping department and the legal department only ever goes through Sally you could consider getting others involved to avoid a communication breakdown when Sally leaves the company.

5) Because it’s fun and addictive. One way to get employees off Facebook is to ban it. But then you aren’t allowing them to build up the social capital we all need in order to be successful in our professional and private lives. And as reported by the Chicago Tribune , fifty-eight percent of teens say the freedom to use social networking sites at work could influence their future job decisions. So consider giving them access to Facebook and LinkedIn while also providing a more interesting alternative: the company social network. If you do it right your employees will feel like they are playing on Facebook while they are actually learning the little details about all the people who are making the big things happen at your company.

6) So they don’t do it first. As news came out that BusinessWeek would be sold, long time BusinessWeekreporter Steve Baker set up a private Ning network to keep current and former employees in the loop about what was happening with the sale. BusinessWeek was eventually acquired by Bloomberg in October 2009, yet the alumni private social network still remains. With tools like Ning that make creating a social network as easy as the press of a button you aren’t going to stop employees, especially those worried about big changes, from forming their own private social networks. But if you already provide a social networking platform for employees you reduce the need for them to create their own. In other words, what is stopping you from going to Ning and pressing that button yourself first?

7) To create a “Reciprocity Ring” as described by Clara Shih in The Facebook Era. The more people in your network the more chance you have of finding someone who can help you with a small favor that allows you to complete your project. You probably will not help that same person back, but you will help someone else. This circle of people exchanging favors is a reciprocity ring. Using email I am limited to my address book. And I have to shoot out a spammy email to everyone with the annoying “Does anybody know someone…” With a social network I can instead search the entire company skill set and even verify the person’s expertise by searching for relevant wall posts and conversations. So I go to the Java expert who is really answering all the questions, not the accountant who wrote a couple of Java games in his free time. This creates new value within your company because the cost of helping someone is usually much less than the benefit it provides. There is also the nice side-effect of the stronger social bonds created between employees that exchange small favors.

8) You will make more money. I guess I could have included this first, but I couldn’t resist including the bottom line as, well, the bottom item. According to a survey by Towers Watson, a leading global consulting firm, “companies that are highly effective communicators had 47 percent higher total returns over the last 5 years compared with the least effective communicators” and “more than half of highly effective communicators have increased their use of social media for employee communication”.

Are you one of the smart companies using or planning to use social media for internal employee communication? What motivated you? Anything from the list above or something completely different? Or are you one of the companies still not convinced? I would like to hear from both sides as well as hearing from employees about their experiences at companies using social networking for employee-to-employee communication. All comments are welcome below.

6 Responses

  1. I think the key thing that Facebook (the de facto social utility, popular because of its rich hosted experience), and far-less-mainstream Twitter (the de facto microblogging network, popular because of its API that allows users to pimp the otherwise plain experience themselves), have done, is to popularise content feeds in a way RSS readers could only dream of (due to the limitations of the content/feeds coming into them from external services and so not in real-time, which is finally set to change once PubSubHubbub gets more popular), and which sites like LiveJournal pioneered at first (by showing all your friends’ blog posts on a single merged feed homepage) but did not manage to really draw mainstream success from/capitalise on.

    A lot of people claim Facebook is slowly being ‘Twitterfied’, but in respect to the home page feed, all Facebook have done is shift from just showing you roughly one post from the feeds that you subscribe to (i.e. the people you have as friends) each hour, as determined by their own algorithms for what you may find most important, to giving you a choice between that or a feed of all them listed, the most recent first (‘live feed’). It just happens that Twitter displays individual feeds and your merged ‘master’ feed in a similar way. Twitter only started supporting lists (which are essentially tags/labels) in 2009, while Facebook has had this much longer.

    In any case, I think that’s the fundamental shift here. Instead of simply maintaining private conversations between different friends and/or groups over e-mail, Facebook and Twitter let us throw our news/activity/thoughts/links/photos/videos/music out there to anyone who’s signed up to read them, and they can then tune in and engage if/when they want.

    Is e-mail dead? No, not at all. I’ll bet there are still more people with e-mail who are not on Facebook and Twitter (or not using them more than once a week) than who are (although I suppose worldwide lots of other services come into the mix). The game changer for e-mail – i.e. primarily private messaging, if there is to be one, will be something like Google Wave, which incorporates the centralisation of messaging threads on a server (but the decentralisation of that of a proprietary social utility/network due to federation, much like existing e-mail, Jabber IM, or the web itself), a real-time distribution system (XMPP), a contacts book with self-maintained dynamic profiles (just like Facebook or Twitter), as well as rich/dynamic content embedding, proper parallel message threading (which can have different privacy rules per ‘wavelet’), the option to embed the content on any web page (public or private), and complete logging to allow full conversation reviewing.

    But I do think the case for Facebook in the workplace would be strengthened if our work activities were posted too – if we were working on a project together with others, we could see our various contributions to it via a news feed, to keep up on progress. Some project management apps already do this – even MediaWiki has a basic ‘update’ page. Facebook should really consider resurrecting their Networks features as they could easily sell these to companies that are happy to outsource their intranet to the service.

    Lots of good points though, Todd.

  2. [...] This post was mentioned on Twitter by Luc-Olivier and Lorenzo Cassulo, lorenzograndi4. lorenzograndi4 said: Still using email? FAIL! [...]

  3. Todd Chaffee says:

    Dave, I like your way of thinking about this. I agree that email will be around for a long time and will never totally go away. The big shift I see happening is that a lot of conversations between employees which should really be public are happening via private messaging. So yes, if we could use Facebook internally we would even be willing to pay for it and I’m sure other companies would too. For now what I am hearing from companies is they are using either 1) something like Drupal with social media modules, or 2) an SaaS solution like Ning, or 3) a custom-built internal solution.

  4. First off Todd, great post, I see why the ASDA Green room was attractive to you. I’m currently in the process of trying to do away with the corporate intranet and replacing it with an corporate social network. Something like Ill definitively be forwarding on this posting to powers that be.

    Dave, I agree that email is not quite dead but it is changing and it has to, there is so much unstructured data floating about that trying to make sense of it all is near impossible and then trying to make sense of it in context?

    Google wave is good, it adds that contextual spin on things. However, I think the social media connector add on for Microsoft outlook is a great response to it, I did a posting about it here

  5. Todd Chaffee says:

    Hi Johan, thank you – I am glad you liked the post. I did not know MS Outlook had a social media connector and if I still used Outlook I would check it out. Thanks for sharing your posting. Let us know how your experiences with OSC develop in a follow-up article.

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