By Gloria Lombardi

When the enterprise social network (ESN) Jive Software first came about, their early customers were looking primarily for a collaboration solution. Yet, very soon another use case started to rise. “Many organisations wanted to adopt the platform for internal communications,” says Kathryn Everest (pictured below), Strategist for Collaboration and Communication at Jive.

At that time Everest was helping organisations to implement the technology from a business perspective. “The advance of the internal communications use case was very interesting. Practitioners started to realise that employees were on the network. Hence, their messages needed to be there too. And they figured out new ways to make that happened. And we at Jive learned so much from these pioneering customers!”

That observation resulted in Jive’s development around integrating collaboration and communications. “We were discovering that people didn’t want their intranet to be just about finding corporate news. They wanted it to be a digital workplace, a space where to meet other colleagues and get work done.”

That was also the time when the internal communications profession started to be ‘disrupted’. From an employee perspective an ESN was given them a choice: “The choice of how, as an individual, I receive communication as well as what I do with it.”

Indeed, rather than being passive receivers of information, staff members had the opportunity to be active participants by voicing their opinions and sharing content across levels and departments. “They had a voice.”

ESN and the changing role of internal communications

With social media inside the enterprise the first challenge for internal communicators is around process. “In the past, they were used to think about delivering information. They worked on a piece of content and the process ended when they published it. Then they moved on to the next job.”

But now, ‘putting something out there’ is just the beginning; it is the very first step toward the creation of a potential dialogue. The opportunity is big: “To really engage with the workforce.”

Now you might expect communicators to be happy and willing to embrace that change. However, it appears that paradoxically the profession is not very comfortable with that.

“Most of the time they are not pleased with that dialogue. They freak out when they receive comments. They seem not to appreciate that those inputs are an opportunity for having honest conversations as well as a chance to understand more about their colleagues’ needs.”

Especially when it came to executive communications, some would still say to Everest ‘The executive doesn’t want to know more. They just want their message to be sent.’ But, the reality is that communicating on the network doesn’t work like that. “Sometimes I have the impression that they are asking me in a subtle way: ‘How do I make it look like the executive cares?'”

Making the transition

Surely it is not about blaming. Rather it is about understanding how the profession can make a transition to become the catalysts of positive change. “Interacting on the network requires a new perspective on the way we communicate. This can be difficult to accept for the many who have been trained for years to control the messages.”

The good news is that the transition can be made, and be fruitful too. “Internal communicators can be very successful in their role without controlling the conversation. Once they make that mindset shift, working on the network can become very rewarding for them. They can interact with their organisation more than in the past.”

Learning from the external world

Everest believes that there are a variety of ways for internal communicators to find support. “For example, the many reporters and bloggers out there, who are natural storytellers. Practitioners should follow and join their conversations – they do not need to always be the conversation.”

There is also much to be learned from colleagues working on external communications. “Think like a marketer. The traditional intranet is dying. Yet, many practitioners still think that the employee is a sort of captive audience.

“Look at all the new digital trends that are happening in marketing and how external communicators engage with their different audiences. Internal communications should apply the same rigour and active experimentation inside the organisation.”

Let’s not forget analytics

The whole subject of analytics is also promising. How can internal communicators make the most of it on an ESN like Jive? “This is actually a huge opportunity,” Everest says confidently.

“One of the things that we have never had before is the listening capability allowed by the ESN. Listening to what people are talking about, and finding out where the energy is.”

On the platform internal communicators have access to the whole company, different regions, markets and business units. And, they can see not just what colleagues are reading but what they are engaging with. “They can understand what is happening in the back channel. For example, how many people are sharing a piece of content and who is talking about it – not just on the public corporate feed, but behind the scene too. It helps you know not only what happened but how it happened, and when it happened.”

Jive can also go down to the individual level, providing the single employee with all the metrics that are relevant to them. “They can see who is looking at their own blog post, who is sharing it, who is talking with other colleagues about what they have posted, and so on.” Ultimately, this is empowering everyone to be a better communicator and improve their job.

One workstyle doesn’t fit all

Another insight that Everest describes is Bringing Your Own Workstyle (BYOW). Jive has developed a framework that helps individuals to understand how they work at their best; how they like to think; relate to others and how they get work done. The exercise tells people which is their first and secondary ‘‘WorkType’ among eight: Explorer, Planner, Energizer, Connector, Expert, Optimizer, Producer and Coach.

“Everyone has a unique workstyle, which includes their favourite of digital platforms and devices. Someone may like to use Gmail, Chrome, and have an Android. Another person may prefer to use SharePoint and their Blackberry. Others may find it more comfortable to work with Office 365, Box and iPhones.”

Indeed, one workstyle doesn’t fit all. Hence, Everest suggests figuring out how to meet people where they are. “Each person has their own strengths and weaknesses and it is equally valuable. Successful organisations understand the value of each of them. They are intentional about creating an environment that supports every employee’s workstyle.”

Digital transformation

Digital transformation has started inside many enterprises and in a lot of different ways. “Sometimes it is led by IT; sometimes it also comes from Marketing.”

So, internal communications is not always the chief buyer. But, wherever the decision comes from, Everest’s recommendation to internal communicators is to be very tight with their colleagues.

“Work with them. Give your voice. You don’t want to take just whatever tools they give you. Make sure that the business case is well defined and understood. Also, be very clear on how you are going to achieve it.”

In the digital age internal communication has the opportunity to become more influential and show their relevance to the entire company. If they understand the need for change and embrace it exceptionally well, “then, like many disruptive situations, both IC professionals and your organization will be better off as a result.”

This article originally appeared on simply-communicate