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Gamify your enterprise social network? It depends

The best enterprise social networks are fine-tuned to corporate culture. Using gamification to spur employee adoption of ESNs will depend on your workforce and industry regulations.

Once a company decides to invest in an enterprise social network tool, how does it make sure it gets its money's worth? In this two-part SearchCIO feature, writer Christine Parizo discovers every company must find its own methods for leveraging these platforms.

Part 1 laid out how the San Jose Sharks energized far-flung employees with a cloud-based enterprise social software platform that dovetailed with its existing back-end systems. For global outsourcing firm Superior Group, whose workforce is worldwide, bridging geography was also important. Additionally, the firm wanted a platform that could be used to train and educate employees while reducing email and network file usage.

In part 2 (below), Parizo details how gamification was successfully deployed by both Superior Group and global consultancy Bluewolf to drive employee adoption -- and explained why their methods would not work at NorthStar Realty Securities LLC.

To select an enterprise social network (ESN) tool that would connect and help train employees, Frank Gullo, director of digital and mobile strategy at Superior Group, created a team that not only included executive-level management, but also stakeholders in IT, HR, legal and communications to review demos, conduct detailed comparisons and decide on a platform. Ultimately, the company chose IBM Connections, in part because Superior Group also was using other IBM software, Gullo said. Minimal customization would help get users on the platform faster; plus, the interface incorporated elements of popular consumer social platforms.

"Many of our workforce use LinkedIn, Facebook and Twitter," Gullo said. "We thought Connections was similar enough so that users could jump in and get started right away."

Of course, no implementation is without challenges, and the fact that Superior Group employs a multigenerational workforce, including old-school traditionalists, led to some initial user resistance. "Getting people to deviate from their comfort zone is a challenge," Gullo said.

Gamification and letting employees use the platform as a social forum proved key. The firm enticed employees to vote on ideas and gave them rewards for participating. To underscore the social aspect of the workplace platform, the firm launched an employee highlights section, interviewing people on hobbies and interests. For example, one employee confessed being enthralled by the Game of Thrones television series, and other employees flocked to the platform to share their opinions, Gullo recalled. "With initiatives like that, we're seeing more people jumping on Connections," he said.

Corinne Sklar, global CMO, BluewolfCorinne Sklar

Gamifying internal and external collaboration was also what got users at New York-based global consultancy Bluewolf on board with Salesforce Chatter, according to Corinne Sklar, global chief marketing officer. When the firm's consultants uploaded content that their peers and clients shared and engaged with, they would get points; the platform also helped the consultants build their personal brands, she said.

Not every employee has been receptive, but Sklar said the company continues to boost adoption by creating content and incentives that appeal to the different demographics, including recent college graduates and more senior consultants. The company also offered webinars and short videos on how to use the platform.

And, overall, adoption has been strong. "Everybody is looking for ways to communicate more effectively," Sklar said. Even the CEO has been using Chatter for Q&As, she added.

ESN, financial services-style

At New York-based NorthStar Realty Securities, enterprise social networking was implemented in the form of Salesforce Chatter for many of the same reasons the Sharks and Superior Group picked their platforms: the Chatter ESN integrated well with existing systems and would be easy for salespeople to use. However, because NorthStar operates in the financial space, a heavily regulated industry, content needs to be kept professional -- no cat PowerPoints for this company, according to Kristen Whealon, chief compliance officer.

In accordance with Financial Industry Regulatory Authority (FINRA) obligations, NorthStar archives all content on Chatter using Smarsh, which is why the company wanted to avoid personal communications on its platform, Whealon said. "We made it very clear that people need to think twice before adding things to Chatter."

Trey Killingsworth, NorthStar Asset ManagementTrey Killingsworth

However, that hasn't stopped NorthStar from using Chatter to enhance communication and build a knowledge base, said Trey Killingsworth, vice president of strategic accounts. Killingsworth tags his team members in posts to alert them to new information and uses hashtags -- things that can't be done in email. This creates an easier way to search for information.

"It's actually fantastic," he said. "If you put in any information, even without a hashtag, you can find it in your ongoing [Chatter] feed.

Virtualizing personal touch isn't for everybody

Enterprise social network tools don't differ much from their consumer counterparts, according to Forrester's Koplowitz. "Many of them are quite good," he said, noting that they are developed in the same way as consumer-grade social networks, using A/B testing. What makes it difficult for these ESN platforms to gain traction isn't the tools themselves, but how people work in the enterprise on a daily basis. "The piece that's constantly in the background is email," Koplowitz said.

Additionally, some companies fear losing the personal touch that has become part of their cultures. For Chicago-based air purification systems manufacturer Blueair, an ESN wouldn't help with its communication aspects, according to Justin Warren, customer service manager.

"We all sit out in the open in one giant office. There are no cubicles. If anyone has an issue, we are completely fine with them just asking it to the group and seeing if anyone can shout back an answer," Warren said. However, Blueair is a small company, which can have the luxury of simple emails.

Still, Blueair hasn't ruled out enterprise social networks completely. It may help as the company grows to have a way to field inquiries and provide customer service in different languages, Warren said.

Ultimately, companies with distributed workforces are finding value in enterprise social networking because it provides one place for communication and reduces email threads. It also provides knowledge bases and ways of getting to know colleagues across the globe. However, fast-adopters and experts alike agree that companies need to evaluate how they do business before choosing an ESN tool.

This was first published in July 2014

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