22 Dec

Fear And Enterprise Social Networks

By in Tips & Guides on December 22, 2011

“The only thing to fear is fear itself” – Franklin D. Roosevelt

Enterprise social networks are gaining mainstream acceptance, but to some companies they still remain shrouded in mystery with “What If”s popping up like mushrooms after rain. If you are launching an enterprise social initiative, a big part of your job is going to be answering these questions and helping manage these fears. As you do so, please realize that the folks who are giving you resistance can become allies instead of impediments, and it’s up to you to turn the conversation around. It’s also important to realize that the most significant sources of fear are: loss of control and lack of understanding. You can minimize the former by underscoring that bringing things out into the open helps guide the conversation and fix the underlying problem. You can change the latter with proper education. Let’s take a closer look at how to navigate these myths, so that you can disspel them:

Myth 1: Enterprise social networks are timewasters

One of the most frequently voiced social network fears is that everyone will socialize all day and not work. One key point that I think is relevant for all social media – internal or external – is that social is a manifestation of who you already are. If you are an unproductive member of your team, at some point people will realize it, with or without a social network. If anything, social networks put you on your best behavior because… well… anything you say is preserved in writing. If you are indeed a timewaster, everyone will know it – including your boss. This is an interesting implication for employees as well as managers; employees can use this as an opportunity to showcase their expertise, while managers can find expertise.

Myth 2: People will post inappropriate content

Let’s face it – if you don’t know what’s appropriate and what isn’t, you are probably going to have a tough time in any professional situation. If you are a walking HR time bomb waiting to explode, this explosion can happen anywhere, whether or not you are on Yammer. Although social media can accelerate your public faux pas, it’s never going to be responsible for it. As the network community manager, make sure you know the difference between slightly cringe-worthy and wildly inappropriate. There’s no use overreacting and alerting everyone for a slightly off-color joke – have a private conversation with the offender, and reserve serious punishment for an appropriately sized crime.

Myth 3: People will post confidential information

Your legal and IT teams will want to review your social network for security and compliance if you plan to discuss sensitive information on it. It’s important to realize, though, that any secure software is only as secure as the human factor. A disgruntled or uneducated user can potentially grab a screenshot of your internal communication – whether it’s cloud, on-premise or even an e-mail. Your best strategy to prevent these situations from happening is through education and creating and enforcing policy. Additionally, you should take a look at any cultural shortcomings that may be ailing your organization (see below) and proactively eliminate any impetus for disgruntled employees to go rogue.

Myth 4: It will become a negative environment

Negativity will happen; humans never feel happy 100% of the time. When it happens, just be prepared to deal with it, but the real goal is to nip it in the bud. The mood in your network will reflect the mood in your organization, and if things get overly negative, you have problems that are far, far greater. You may be suffering from a debilitating deficit of trust, employee buy-in, passion, “brain drain,” innovation stagnation, among other unpleasant characteristics. If your employees aren’t engaged, they will not see much value in contributing to a shared creation space. If they feel like their ideas get shot down and mocked, they will look for an organization that appreciates them. If they feel like management isn’t honest, they will disengage and eventually defect.

But don’t take my word for it! Check out this recording of the Yammer webinar, in which Forrester’s Rob Koplowitz and Tieto’s Juha Krapinoja discuss these fears that fail to materialize (this specific discussion starts at around 41:00, but the entire webinar is worth a listen). In his Yammer network, part of Juha’s mandate is to ensure that no confidential information is shared and “no unpleasant tone happens.” Here’s a remarkable nugget of insight from Juha: your early users are going to establish community norms for the future, so make sure you are inviting the right people.

Net-net: what you fear will probably not happen, and if it does, you will be able to respond because you planned ahead (you really should!)

To ease your organization’s fears of things that may go wrong, make sure to follow these steps to success:

  • Accountability – A network like Yammer is open, transparent, and links to employees’ real profiles. Transparency increases accountability. People want to do their best because everyone is watching, including the CEO, their boss, their teammates and direct reports. The physical equivalent of digital embarrassment is being “that guy” at the holiday party; however, while the egg-nog induced haze fades, your digital identity is forever (or until your company keeps it).
  • Your culture: Your internal community simply reflects your culture, while also helps build it. If you have a high-producing, highly curious culture, which inspires constructive dissent, discussion and creation, you will get the most out of a platform like Yammer. If you have a customer-centric culture, your employees won’t put customer and partner relationships on the line by disclosing private information for personal gain.
  • You have a goal: If you are clear about your goals, the vast majority of your employees is going to support the objectives you outlined. It pays to have a solid vision for your network and education that helps people understand their roles and direct benefit to them.
  • Create policy and educate: When you create your policy, give HR, IT and legal a seat at the table, but avoid “voting by committee”. A good social media policy is going to extend your existing electronic policy that already covers email, while taking into consideration intricacies of human networks and how content spreads. Educate your users on how-to’s, best practices of engagement, as well as do’s and don’ts of your policy. Make sure to differentiate between major and minor infractions.
  • Activate the community to take action: Properly educating employees not only ensures that individual contributors have a chance to shine, but also allows the entire community to regulate itself. To echo Juha’s point, your early members can serve as models for the rest of the users. Make sure you have share the same vision and give them the tools to be successful.
  • You have a response plan: In the unlikely event that your worst fears are realized, do not panic! Your ability to handle any crisis situation is going to hinge on the work you already did. Have an escalation process in place and define roles and workflows.

Back to you, reader! What are some of the fears you faced / are facing? How did you deal with them?

Photo source: Sara Fasullo

5 Responses to Fear And Enterprise Social Networks

  1. Concerned Consultant says:


    Nearly all of the descriptions I have found of Yammer’s functionality across the web is from the inside (of the enterprise) out. I have two questions from the outside in.

    I am a consultant with more than one client who would like me to join their Yammer External Network. Some of these clients are using Yammer partner applications (Box.net, Salesforce, etc.)

    I am concerned about your Ticker feature, which allows “everyone to see everything everyone is doing while they are doing it, including editing documents”.

    Question1: Can each of my clients (i.e., a Yammer using enterprise) see the documents I am working on for my other clients via Ticker? If so, is there any way for me to block that as a mere External Network “invitee” with no Administrator powers?

    Question 2: Will it help to secure a different email address (i.e., a gmail address) specifically to use for each one of my client’s External Networks? I am concerned about using my actual business email address for multiple Yammer External Networks as I have invested a lot in branding my business email address and cannot afford to end up with a messy situation between multiple clients who use Yammer.

    NOTE: Like all independent consultants, I have signed NDAs with all of my clients and I am legally on the hook for the security of every document I produce for my clients. The non-sharing (non-disclosure) of every document is an absolute requirement for me. If Yammer cannot guarantee to me (and other independent consultants) that any given client of mine will never be able to see any documents for any other client, regardless of the tool or application I am working within, regardless of whether I am logged into more than one Yammer Network account simultaneously, with or without identical email addresses for each account, I will need to inform my clients that I cannot join their Yammer External Networks and will recommend something much simpler (Basecamp + Skype or even Google Apps + Google+) as an alternative.

    Thanks in advance for your time and attention.

    • Maria says:

      Thanks for the question and apologies for not seeing it earlier. I wanted to address it nevertheless. Ticker allows you to see what other people in the network are doing, as well as let them see what you are doing. This can only be seen inside the same network, not across networks. If you upload documents into Network 1, no one in Network 2 can see it, and vice versa.

      Regarding your second question: Can you help me understand how having the same email address across several networks could provide a messy situation? Your memberships in these different networks don’t depend on each other, and if one is terminated, you still have the other ones.

      Hope this helps!

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