To say it's important for companies to remain on the cutting edge of their market segment is a colossal understatement. To ensure that your staff achieves this objective, however, is a colossal chore. You might encourage them to read up on industry publications and reports in the hope that their knowledge will translate to their work. But they're busy people with scarcely an office moment to breathe, let alone scour the web for what they need to know.
Business owners, take heart. This is just one of the many ways social media -- the very same that's being used so fervently for business-to-consumer marketing purposes -- is being put to work in the workplace.
Social media's no newcomer to the office. Blogs have long held a coveted place, both the public-facing versions that offer consumers a more intimate view of a company and its employees, and the internal variety. Although the latter can be used for formal knowledge sharing purposes, its role is often primarily as a community hub where staffers can meet, share their collective intelligence, and troubleshoot their latest challenges.
This is essential in industries like our own, where staying abreast of news and trends is essential to producing cutting-edge ad creative and campaigns. My own agency uses its internal blog to post trade publication news, link to campaigns produced by our clients' competition, and highlight our own newest projects. This type of content allows us to ensure that our design and marketing work is always current and original, and also promotes solidarity among colleagues as they bask in their accomplishments post-crunch.
The next generation of this type of corporate blog comes in the form of Yammer, best known for being a sort of interoffice Twitter. With its private groups, corporate infrastructure flowcharts, and updates from fellow employees on everything from what they're working on ("QA on Project X will be done by COB") to what they ate for lunch ("The diner around the corner is a must"), Yammer is improving internal communication, positively affecting productivity, and boosting team relations.
Yammer also serves an important marketing role: it familiarizes employees with social media, particularly tools like Twitter. The more comfortable an enterprise is with microblogging, the more likely it is to adopt Twitter as a customer service and product marketing channel. This is bound to give businesses a leg-up on their competition as social media services continue to gain critical mass among consumers.
Just as there's a corporate social tool similar to Twitter, there's one that mirrors Digg. Pligg can be customized for corporate use to act like a walled garden of social activity related to your products and brand. Some businesses are building a Pligg site into their existing intranets to incite social bookmarking among their staff, particularly those who work in marketing and advertising. For these organizations, Pligg becomes a place where brainstorms can be propelled or quelled in an instant by the type of voting and ranking system that has made Digg such a hit among consumers. Ad agencies can use it to solicit campaign ideas from creative teams beyond planning and buying. Consumer packaged goods brands can harvest suggestions for new product marketing angles.
The ability to call on the workplace community, particularly those in adjacent departments, to proffer unique thoughts and voice their experienced opinions is considerable. It makes the most of social media and its ability to harness collective thinking and collaboration for a greater good. Of course, it can also be used for that aforementioned purpose of sharing must-read industry articles, data, and reports, and debating their significance with one's peers.
Also in the vein of marketing and knowledge management is Jive Social Business Software, or Jive SBS, which replaced Jive Software's Clearspace product earlier this year. This self-proclaimed "collaboration software" is like a social media mixing pot, combining the functionality of blogs, wikis, discussion boards, even instant messaging and personal profiles the likes of which you'd find on a social network (in fact Jive SBS looks a lot like Facebook, which makes the learning process a breeze and is speculated to improve adoption among younger employees).
The idea is to use this tool to tap into the knowledge that already exists within your organization, in the minds of your employees, and use it to propel your business forward. It has numerous other uses as well, including improving workplace productivity. Jive focuses on four central areas: employee engagement, marketing and sales, innovation, and support. The software acts as a virtual meeting room where users can interface with their colleagues, form project-specific groups, ask questions, post status updates, manage projects, create documents, and upload files. Companies can establish individual blogs for each department and use them to store market research or share insight on industry trends. A "spaces" feature allows users to create message boards on specific topics like "ideas," in which employees can share their inspirations and pontificate on existing suggestions.
Your human resources department will also like Jive for its ability to facilitate the onboarding of new employees. HR can create a moderated group and invite new hires to join, introduce themselves, get acclimated to the corporate culture, and follow coworkers to learn the intricacies of the workplace (more tips on this here). The product, it should be added, can also be used to connect and communicate with customers.
(Note: In May, Jive introduced Jive Express, a pared-down but also more accessible version of its Social Business Software. The platform uses Amazon Web Services and skirts the need for business customers to install software.)
For every consumer-facing social media service, there's an enterprise equivalent and a strategy for employing it improve your business. As you use these tools to tap workplace expertise to better market your products and create internal communities perfectly positioned to ignite big ideas, remember that social media is social at its core. I can think of no better toolset for the corporate space and the invaluable people occupying it.
Tom Beck is president of Enlighten.
On Twitter? Follow iMedia Connection at @iMediaTweet.