Fast and transparent: how social network tools are changing internal communication (part 1)

We use WhatsApp and Facebook intensively in our private lives. Such tools can radically improve internal communication within a company – if everyone gets on board.

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WhatsApp and Facebook are standard in private communication. There are similar tools for companies that can change and improve communication within teams, departments, branches and entire companies. How well that works depends on a variety of factors – not just the right software.

Communication is not what it once was. Phone calls, writing letters, answering emails, meetings: all that still exists, but digitisation is vastly altering our habits and possibilities in this area, too. More and more companies are using social media and social network tools – which have been in widespread use for private interaction for some time – for internal communication. Consumer tools such as WhatsApp and Facebook, however, do not fulfil the requirements of companies. They need better security and data protection for discussions, different scalability for the number of group chat participants, document sharing, archiving options and many other functions, depending on the size, requirements and aims of the organisation. According to a Deloitte study, the demand for enterprise social network solutions has been increasing considerably since 2011. Many providers are still establishing themselves in this growth market, focusing on areas ranging from instant messaging, chat functions and micro-blogs to project management and teleconferencing. The most popular products include Slack, Yammer, Microsoft SharePoint, HipChat, Jive, Facebook Workplace, Chatter, SAP Jam and IBM ESN with Connections Cloud, to name just a few.

Interaction in real time and yet forever

Communication is important for employee satisfaction within a company, but also for the success of teams, solving complex problems, fruitful cooperation within projects, finding solutions more quickly, driving forward innovation, making knowledge available to all and designing processes in a transparent way – regardless of presence on-site. All of these are targets that can be achieved within a company through social network software.

The British cosmetics company Lush, for example, has introduced Slack to improve its internal communication – at the head office and between branches on six continents in 240 shops. Since then, email numbers have been reduced by 75%. Through direct exchange in topic groups, the information reaches everyone who wants to work with it. That leads to greater clarity within tasks and quicker coordination – despite geographical distances.

However, it is not only software that is required to make this work. Above all, it takes a corporate culture that permits this revolution. According to a global study by McKinsey, traditional corporate culture is the main reason that digitisation, including in internal communication, does not progress within a company. This is because digital tools make communication open, direct and transparent – for everyone. That includes the boss, the secretary, the field staff and the interns. Digital discussion does not recognise hierarchy: everyone reads everything, and anyone can say something to everyone. In real time. That saves a lot of annoying emails with long lists of recipients, and at the same time creates a knowledge store in which discussions, tips and problem-solving approaches can be archived and quickly found again when required.

Exchanging instant messages accelerates discussion between team colleagues who are on the go, working from home and in the office. The transparency makes clear how welcome contributing thoughts, commitment and interaction are in the project team – everyone is invited to get involved, to contribute, to present a problem for discussion. Video conferences with split screens, team teleconferencing, working on shared documents, micro-blogs, CEO chats, access to resources and company indexes are additional benefits of social network tools.

To what extent social network software is actively accepted is a question of corporate culture

Many companies have already invested in social network applications at the workplace. However, in contrast to other new software, social business cannot be implemented through instruction alone. It should be a component of the corporate digital strategy and there should be clarity in terms of what it is intended to achieve. Furthermore, it requires a corporate culture that allows open communication. In this regard, a lot depends on managers and the executive level: are they part of the groups and chats themselves? Do they react to discussions, answer questions and post content that is relevant to their employees?

In order to evaluate the team’s requirements, a group of pioneers can test the individual tools and vote on which is best suited to the project and the company. At the end of the day, this is about relevance and relationships, not just software and numbers. That is what makes the difference so considerable and the demand so diverse. But, of course, not only soft facts, but also hard figures, can be used to measure the level of success. According to a McKinsey study, up to 25% greater productivity can be achieved in knowledge-based project teams through a social business culture. That is highly valuable in the digital transformation process, where the pressure on companies to react quickly, be innovative, and generate and implement new ideas is growing.

What contributes to the successful introduction of a collaboration tool?

  • A strategy for digital communication – a holistic point of view: what is the aim? What do we want to achieve with it?
  • An open corporate culture – flexible and transparent: is everyone involved – from the boss to the intern?
  • A pioneer group – testing and deciding: what is important to us? What are the core functions?
  • Implementation – simple and fast: what support will accompany the introduction? What incentives are there for use?
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