"Employee engagement is not just nice to have. It leads to ROI."
That was AT&T Executive Director of Emerging Communications Blair Klein's response to an audience member at Ragan Communications' Intranet Summit when asked how to persuade c-suite officers to fork over money for internal social media.
AT&T has proved that the return is definitely there. The company estimates it will save $80 million because of increased productivity over five years, Klein said, and that's just from improving employee profiles with information such as personal work history and areas of expertise.
Klein said the question isn't so much whether bosses know that becoming a social business is worthwhile, but how you can help guide them toward embracing it.
"It is hard to point to leaders of any business in America today who do not have social media on the radar," she said.
Setting up guides
There's a difference, however, between having social media on the radar and being fully behind it. Lots of people think executives don't fully embrace social media because of their age. Klein disagrees. Although social tools may be more a fact of life to employees under 30, they're not the only literate ones on that front. Most people, she argued, know how to upload a picture or click a "like" button.
So what creates the hesitation? People worry about embarrassing themselves, Klein said. They don't want to say something that makes them look clueless, nor wade into someone's inside joke. To get past that worry, you should give those leaders and other employees guides to help them. Those guides could be case studies of your social business "wins" or, perhaps, educational programs such as brown-bag lunch workshops.
At AT&T, the company set up a "reverse mentoring" program in which mid- to low-level managers would work one on one with company leaders to take them through the process of using the company's social tools.
"Having that hand being held when they went through it just made all the difference," Klein said.
For employees who don't work in the big offices, incentives really boost involvement, she said. At AT&T, those incentives have ranged from winning tickets to the NCAA Final Four (the prize in a profile contest) to simply being awarded a certificate.
Social media vs. social business
If the bosses need a little more convincing, it's a communicator's job to clue them in to the difference between wide-use social media and social business, Klein said.
"Social business will help any of those naysayers get past the notion that social media is just nice to have, when it comes to how we use it inside the firewall," she said. "It's more purposeful communications."
Social business tools share some functions with wider social media, Klein pointed out—they both enable sharing in real time and gain people online recognition—but there are big differences, too. For example, whereas people on social media sites are looking for friends, social business users are looking for experts. Instead of seeking "likes" or retweets, people are more likely to be looking for colleagues to rate or rank ideas. And people in social business build communities in and around silos, but have a sort of central courtyard where they can gather.
A move to being a social business is "a process, not an event," Klein warned. "There's a lot of people who I've spoken to who feel like they're behind. You're not."
It takes a while to shift from employees who feel like they're "drinking from the fire hose" to connected people who are "sipping from the glass." It takes a mix of collaboration and innovation, she said.
AT&T has implemented a ton of collaborative tools over the past few years on its intranet, tSpace, including comments on its news articles, blogs, bookmarks, file sharing, brainstorming, forums, and wikis. The company averages about 500 comments on its news articles every month, Klein said, but other collaborative features seem to have caught more attention.
Wikis, for instance, have grown "way faster than any social tool," said Klein. They help folks out in the field always have up-to-date information, she said.
The company's most popular blogs, surprisingly, come from inside employee communities. "For most employees, that dialogue has better context in a community that's already sharing information," Klein said.
On top of that, the company is trying to move past long blog posts as the standard. "Blogs can be three sentences," she said.
Employees love the company's badging system, she said. Offering badges not only gives employees something to compete for, but it also identifies those employees by their expertise.
AT&T is still working on a social-video platform, she said. The company's goal is to move from the meticulous process of making videos and getting them approved to the three steps of "shoot, upload, share."