By Gloria Lombardi

What does social media inside the large enterprise look like in Switzerland? This is the question I had to ask myself when interviewing Kamales Lardi, Social Media Strategist, Author and Speaker based in the Zürich area.

Lardi, whose background is in corporate strategy and business process optimization, has been consulting big organisations for about 15 years working with brands such as Bacardi Martini, Swiss Re, UBS and Zürich Insurance.

One of the things Lardi is very passionate about is the fact that social technologies have an enormous impact on the way we communicate with each other. “It all started in 2007 when working for Zürich Insurance. I was part of the internal strategy team for Switzerland, assessing the effect of technology on the insurance industry. This was an interesting exercise. Things like Second Life and social media were quite new at that time.”

“Based on that assessment I realised the huge potential of social technologies to change how people and corporations relate.

“In the past we were used to have one or two lines of communications for business interactions; today, we have numerous lines, formats and styles. And, that is here to stay.”

Social has become mainstream, yet not strategic

Since the early 2000s the use of social media in Switzerland has changed substantially. “At the beginning a significant part of my work was focused on proving that those technologies were business relevant. Over the last two years however, I have seen social media increasingly becoming a part of the mainstream business environment. Companies understand that they need to use it as part of their business communications because this is the way their key stakeholders want to interact.”

Yet, Lardi believes that the strategic element is not there yet. “Most organisations that I have had experience with use those channels mostly for Marketing and PR, whereas I see their potential across the entire business value chain.”

I want my own channel

Another growing trend that Lardi has seen since the end of the last year pertains to the companies that are more mature in social media use, “the enterprises with large Facebook or Twitter communities, for example.”

She notes that those businesses are now developing their own channels. “Instead of relying on third party platforms they want to have the community posting on their own environment.”

This applies both internally and externally. “I have been seeing many companies building customised employee applications as well as trying out new ways to channel customers’ interactions within the corporate domain.”

Internal communications still lagging behind

In the Swiss market, as in the rest of Europe generally speaking, the situation could be improved for internal communications. “The use of social technologies for employee interactions is still lagging behind.”

“Companies are willing to test out new forms of communications to build satisfaction with the customer, and eventually generate revenues. That is good. But, there is still the need to convince organisations that social technologies are also a great way to engage with staff.”

This is partly due to the culture and partly to the fear of change. “Traditional structures are challenged. There is an element of flattening the organisation for which staff have direct access to information and people as never before. Traditional management environments perceive internal social networks as a threat as opposed to an opportunity. There is a fear of loss of control.”

The good of employee advocacy

Lardi believes that there are many reasons for which engaging employees through internal social networks is crucial. “Firstly, it is a great training environment to familiarize employees with social technologies. As a result, when employees could become strong advocates for the company when they use external social media platforms, especially in times of crisis. For example, if customers criticise or complain about something on social media, if properly trained, employees can step in by providing the right direction and answers – ultimately – mitigating the issue.”

Employees can also provide invaluable feedback and innovative ideas for whatever new technology a company wants to implement. “There is a lot of potential in testing new solutions with groups of staff before officially launching them. I have seen plenty of examples when companies have made big mistakes online. Having had a group of staffers with whom to pilot and pre-test could have helped tremendously.”

And, indeed there is the crucial benefit of building a stronger culture. “Involving staff and making them feel part of the community increases the chances of engaging with them directly. Not so much to influence what they are doing or thinking but to establish a better understanding among each other and with the organisation.”

Swiss Re – when collaboration gets it right

There are great examples of the successful implementation of social technologies inside Swiss enterprises. One of them comes from the reinsurance company Swiss Re, where Lardi helped with the launch of their Jive-based platform back in 2008.

“At that time the environment was very siloed. Departments were not collaborating with each other. They were hiring a big number of external consultants like myself. There was not full awareness and visibility of their people’s skillset.”

Lardi was tasked with launching a business strategy to ensure better communications among staff of the different functions. “As part of that exercise we looked at implementing a collaborative environment. The challenge was to identify exactly what employees wanted.”

The team created a temporary discussion forum on Swiss Re intranet. “We posted open-ended questions such as: ‘What do you wish for to improve internal communications? What are the things that are working well? What other things you need to communicate better with your colleagues?'”

All employees were invited to give their answers. As a result Lardi collected over 300 pages of inputs. She then used a technology provider to do an unstructured text analysis to find out key words and themes, which ultimately formed the basis for defining the user requirements for the new collaborative space.

Find your influencers

But, there is something more about the Swiss Re story that Lardi is particularly enthusiastic about. “The whole piece about engagement.”

Once the company had identified the requirements, evaluated the platforms and come up with a solution for collaboration, they had to find a creative way to help their people getting on board. “Key influencers were identified to support the platform adoption. It did not matter what role or position they had within the organisation. They would be ‘normal’ employees, but very popular and with large networks across the business.”

Those influencers were ultimately invited to try out the Jive space. And, if they liked it, they were asked to sign up a short agreement for which they would be starting to promote the network among their colleagues.

“Because the requirements were so well defined, the use cases were business relevant and employees liked the platform as soon as they tried it up, they began promoting it.”

So, it was almost a grass root approach. “It was compelling to see different types of staff going to the management teams saying that they wanted to start working on that virtual environment officially.”

Don’t underestimate the power of competition

Another useful way to boost adoption was by creating a sense of competition between the different Swiss Re departments. “Through elements of gamification we involved the various areas of the business with uploading useful content as well as creating groups on the platform. It was nice to observe how employees started to present themselves in the best possible way.”

At the end of the first year the company launched Our Space Oscars, an awards initiative that prized the departments with the best presence on Jive.

Since 2008, the overall results have been remarkable: “Seven weeks after the rather silent global launch of Our Space more than 61% of the potential users were on board, 600 had created content and 375 groups had been formed. Today, it is increasingly becoming a fully embedded part of their internal communications.”

The rise of mobile apps…

Switzerland has over 54% of penetration rate for smartphones. As such, companies are very likely to explore apps as an innovative way to communicate with their stakeholders.

Reflecting back to last year, Lardi remembers a project at UBS where she supported the activation planning. The bank decided to use a new approach to engage with customers by launching a game app called ‘Quiz and Fly‘. “The app was designed for having fun. Part of the game involved flight simulations; the other part required people to answer some simple questions.”

The brand message was embedded in a non-invasive way. “More than 70% of the questions were general knowledge, only about 30% were UBS related.”

Quiz and Fly ended up working very well and won the Best of Swiss Apps Bronze prize.

…inside the enterprise too. But, how?

The use of apps is not uncommon inside the enterprise too. “For example, the Swiss Radio and Television is using a mobile application for delivering corporate communications, latest news and trends to its staff who are frequently on the go.”

The internal communications app has meaning and value. “But as a next step, I would like to see companies move past pushing content to actually engaging with employees.”

Wearables at work

Wearable technology is another hot trend entering the Swiss market. “For examples, some organisations are using Fitbit at work.”

Lardi talks about an insurance company that launched a ‘Fitbit challenge’ to engage staff around health and fitness. “They created an internal campaign giving every employee the wearable device, together with access to an app and related website.

“The target for staff was to virtually climb Mount Everest within a couple of weeks. They would track their progress through the wearable technology and see it through the site. At the end of the program employees who did the bigger number of steps were given a prize. It was a simple idea, yet effective.”

Lardi appreciates the ability of such initiatives to create a sense of community while having fun and build positive habits. “For example, staff start getting together at lunch to go for a run or a walk.”

Ultimately, technology and community engagement need to go hand in hand. “The technology enables better and faster engagement. It amplifies the chances to communicate and interact with the community. Yet, you need a meaningful purpose, a common goal that members can relate to. That is the key.”

This article originally appeared on simply-communicate