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Enterprise social networks: The power of sharing

13th Nov 2012
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How can new enterprise social networking applications benefit sales performance and what does the future hold for this emerging market? Andrew Hayward explores.

From email overload to endless meetings, information is coming at us from all directions. But how can companies and employees filter this ‘noise’ into meaningful and relevant conversations that can have a positive impact on their bottom line? By taking the successful principles of social networking websites but keeping the conversation strictly business, new enterprise social networking (ESN) applications encourage spontaneous interaction, collaboration and knowledge-sharing, within an internal business context to boost organisation-wide efficiency and profitability.
Analyst Gartner predicts that by 2014, social networking services will replace email as the primary vehicle for interpersonal communications for 20% of business users. It also believes that by the end of 2013, 75% of new business applications will incorporate social user styles, conventions and information feeds for the user experience.
So, if ESN hasn’t appeared on your radar yet perhaps it’s time it did?
According to a recent report by McKinsey Global Institute, time spent on email can be cut by 25-30% by introducing ESN communications into a business. That’s a staggering statistic. To put this into perspective, by reducing email ‘noise’ alone ESN can help to free up to 8% more of the working week for other tasks. Assuming an eight-hour day, that translates to about two hours, 14 minutes a day spent on emails. Imagine how much more productive you could be with all this time freed-up?
The benefits of ESN applications extend way beyond simply reducing email and can be felt throughout a business, from finance, HR, projects to sales and marketing. ESNs can help to successfully bridge geographical distance and departmental divides whilst enabling the creation of shared-interest groups. This in turn can foster improved employee recognition, greater knowledge sharing and skills transfer, provide valuable insight critical to closing deals faster and instant “out of office” interaction for mobile workers.
Since adopting ESN internally, we have witnessed a 16% improvement on sales performance, a 94% improvement in staff connection to others and a 90% improvement in breaking down knowledge silos. In addition, our finance and marketing departments are both saving two days each month that were previously spent on answering queries and processing administrative tasks which has freed them up to focus on more value-added activities.
Still not convinced about the value of ESN? Why not canvass the opinion of your colleagues?
Generation Y (or millennials as they’re sometimes known) has become the biggest segment of today’s workforce, so it’s increasingly important for businesses to provide them with tools to keep them engaged. One of Gen Y’s shared characteristics is that they don’t use email in the way that their predecessors do. This generation is more accustomed to broadcasting – it’s what they’re familiar with and what they expect at work as well as at home. ESN solutions therefore provide them with a familiar interface to interact with their peers and are rapidly becoming a ‘necessity’ rather than a ‘luxury’.
In the future, advancements in ESN technology will include powerful in-built analytics to enable organisations to scrutinise which information gives the best outcomes, improved talent spotting to identify leading contributors and previously hidden pockets of knowledge, and advanced searching functionality as businesses seek to combine their ESN across other internal systems such as intranet models.
ESN isn’t a magic wand for curing business inefficiency, however. Maximum results depend on senior management buy-in, inspiring and unambiguous communication of the benefits to potential users, and deep integration of the ESN platform with the core systems that staff use every day. To achieve this it’s important to choose a proven supplier who can work closely alongside you to tailor your ESN in line with your business needs, by clearly defining benchmarks for measurable success both before, during and after implementation.
A year down the line, organisations are likely to wonder how they ever managed before ESN applications, in much the same way that consumers already struggle to remember how they organised their social lives before the arrival of Facebook and Twitter.
Andrew Hayward is managing director of m-hance, the UK’s fastest growing provider of innovative business solutions to organisations in the mid-market.

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