Building a social network within an enterprise
Social networks abound in our virtual world. Social networking is not new to the human race. Technology has helped over the years to evolve the tools we use to communicate and to network socially. Social media networks allow for two-way communication between participants, thus fostering and encouraging relationships. Whether in the real or virtual world, we use the same behavior patterns to socialize that have evolved over thousands of years.
Typically, social networks build on the following concepts:
An enterprise is a business organization characterized by the fact that it embodies the outcome of an individual or group who sets up, invests and runs a business to generate income and employment for itself and others.
The difference between social networks in the enterprise as compared to the outside world, is the way in which the abovementioned concepts are utilized. For the sake of simplicity, let’s call the social network in the enterprise EnterWork©. Once you “enter” the enterprise, you enter “work” and the socializing that gets effective in EnterWork© is the one that helps you work better.
Before we establish the EnterWork© platform that can be used for social networking in an enterprise, we need to understand the enterprise’s need to foster communication and relationship-building. It is a well-known fact that the success of an enterprise lies in its communication strategy. Communication patterns in an enterprise are either hierarchical (top-down), centralized (decision-maker at the center) or decentralized (everyone talks to everyone). Each communication pattern builds relationships in different ways. Successful relationship-building in an enterprise is about adapting communication patterns to the needs of individuals and the work assigned to them.
Before setting up the EnterWork© platform several factors for effective communication need to be considered. For example, deciding whether there should be a discussion forum or an instant messenger for support depends on some key factors. The determining factors for successful relationship-building are based on:
- The other person and their relationship / position in the enterprise
- The nature of content being communicated
- The criticality of a response or decision to be taken
- The level of privacy required
Who then, in an enterprise, is best-suited to understand human behavior, interact with multiple and changing relationships, simplify technology, decipher communication patterns, design an appropriate communication strategy and foster relationships to ensure healthy business growth?
This is where the technical communicator (TC) role can lead.
The TC acts as a bridge between the content, its creator and its consumer. It is therefore imperative that the TC has a thorough understanding of human behavior as well as the content. Without the TC these vital connections will not form. The differentiating attributes of an effective TC are:
- Fearlessness to face technology to either use or explain it
- Ability to write precisely and concisely for the required EnterWork©
- Ability to detect content patterns and aggregate them for appropriate audiences
- Ability to design information
- Patience in problem-solving/troubleshooting
- Interviewing and listening skills
- Usability and testing skills
The TC is best suited to generate, organize, publish and strategize content, and suggest an EnterWork© in an enterprise. EnterWork© is the platform used to foster the needs of an individual in the workplace and the needs of the enterprise to ensure maximum business benefits. In an enterprise, it’s significant to understand the type of relationships that are most important to encourage and design the EnterWork© tool accordingly.
EnterWork© is meant to encourage the free-flow of communication within an enterprise. This adaptive pattern is possible only when there is a well-thought out, researched and targeted communication strategy.
When users within the enterprise want to take informed decisions, they face the problem that there is limited access to information. As a result users rely on other users to help take decisions. Certain enterprises have some advanced systems for data presentation and compilation. However, these tend to be discrete and scattered across domains and teams, again impacting the user experience.
Since TCs are skilled content administrators and aggregators, they can distill and make available content effectively, thus influencing decision-making within the enterprise. This also enhances establishing any kind of communication pattern – hierarchical, centralized or decentralized.
The EnterWork© should ideally show connections between individuals in an enterprise (up to three degrees) thus establishing identities, positions and connections. This in itself influences user’s behavior. Showing many opinions may result in few of them being influential.
In the enterprise, just as in the outside world, network users care a lot about how they appear to others. They think about how their communication or updates reflect about them. The most important thing to recognize and understand is that in an enterprise, users have multiple professional identities.
Research has indicated that status updates on social media sites support important communication and social functions. Users have four primary reasons for updating their information:
- to shape how others perceive them
- to maintain and grow relationships
- to share content that others might find valuable
- to source information
One profile does not fit all the roles users play in an enterprise. They appear differently to different teams and to different domains, due to their extensive multi-tasking and multi-impacts. Because EnterWork© allows users to personalize how they appear to others, it helps build their professional identity.
The TC’s inherent understanding of human behavior helps in designing profiles that appeal to individuals. His usability skills help operate the EnterWork© in such a way that users feel appropriately identified in the avatar they choose to work under, while still using the same EnterWork© identification.
Privacy is a process of managing boundaries in the outside world. This is even more difficult in an enterprise considering intellectual property laws and enterprise-specific guidelines on sharing and privacy. While privacy in the social media context is about controlling how much other users know about you, in the enterprise, it turns out to be a problem of transparency - how much needs to be shared, even when all the required data is available within the enterprise.
The EnterWork© needs to be absolutely transparent and it is critical that TCs accommodate for this invaluable user need. Users need to fathom the impact of their actions in the EnterWork© clearly. And as content designers, TCs need to do their best to make these things clear.
Privacy and trust are two sides of the same coin. If users trust the EnterWork©, they’ll contribute to it, they will use it to be more effective with their tasks and they will feed it with reviews and data to make it even more powerful and trustworthy.
TCs are best suited to understand behavior, not technology. And EnterWork© is more effective when its users start understanding that the EnterWork© designer cares about the communication that technology enables, and not just the bells and whistles technology brings.
In conclusion, the technical communicator seems to have an edge over other domains in the enterprise in designing and implementing EnterWork©. Ensuring social network attributes like relationships, influence, identity and privacy are best suited for their enterprise, can be a TC’s core competency. And the direct goal of the TC should be to ensure that every professional’s answer to the question “What are you doing?” is “I’m EnterWorking”.