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Get the most from social tools

Tim Mara

Social tools can benefit your business in a number of ways, but if you want your employees to use them effectively you must clearly define their purpose, write Paul Leonardi and Tsedal Neeley for Harvard Business Review.

It’s likely your company is already using social tools – Slack, Yammer, Chatter, Microsoft Teams or JIRA, for example. In a McKinsey Global Institute study of 4,200 companies 72% reported using them. So you are not alone.

But research into why companies use social tools conducted by the authors suggests “few of the rationales were based on a solid business case”.

Instead business leaders admitted to introducing social tools simply because it is what the competition were doing and what had to be done in order to attract young talent.

Leonardi and Neeley conducted a six-month experiment at a financial services company, splitting its employees into two groups: one who used an internal social platform called Jive-n and one that didn’t.


Employees who had used the social tool were 31% more likely to connect with coworkers whose expertise could help them meet their goals and 88% more likely to be able to identify who could put them in contact with the right experts. The employees who didn’t use the Jive-n showed no improvement on either measure.

Further research showed that employees using social tools were more likely to collaborate and share knowledge between different departments, make faster decision, develop innovative products and services and become more engaged with their work and their company.


The introduction of social tools is not always a success. So if you are planning to ‘go social’, make sure you watch out for these four common mistakes:

1) Making assumptions about millennials. It’s fair to assume that young professionals will be more familiar with social media platforms such as Facebook, Twitter and Instagram than older professionals, but that doesn’t mean they will be your natural allies when it comes to introducing social tools at work.

For millennials, social media is personal not professional, and some might be uncomfortable with the idea of using social tools in a work environment. Leonardi and Neeley’s research showed that 85% of young professionals struggled with social tools at work while 90% of older professionals viewed social tools as useful modes of communicating with colleagues.

2) Failure to make it personal. Informal chat on a company platform might seem alien to both you and your employees, but Leonardi and Neeley’s research showed that curiosity about colleagues’ personal lives is what motivates employees to use social tools.

The sharing of personal information, e.g. hobbies and interests, on social tools enables employees to find common ground. It is easier to connect with somebody if you know something about them or, even better, have something in common with them.

3) Failure to recognise learning. Employees can gain both “direct knowledge” (e.g. solutions to specific problems) and “metaknowledge” (e.g. knowing who among their colleagues has the expertise they require or who knows somebody who does) from social tools.

“Unless managers explicitly highlight the potential for knowledge sharing and skill building when rolling out social tools – and have developmental conversations with employees – people may underutilise or even abandon them,” write Leonardi and Neeley.

4) Interpreting silence as underperformance. Be careful not to read too much into the type of knowledge being shared on your company’s social tools. Just because an employee doesn’t seem to be contributing to the discussion doesn’t mean he or she is not contributing to the company. It is your job to encourage everyone to contribute.


Now you know what you shouldn’t do. Here are four things you should do:

1) Define the purpose. Social tools can improve collaboration, enhance knowledge sharing, create a connected global company, prevent duplication of work, and increase innovation. Why is your company using them? You must be able to answer this question and articulate it to your employees.

2) Strengthen ambient awareness. Ambient awareness is being aware of what is going on around you even if you’re not directly involved. You must persuade all staff of the value of friendly interaction and encourage them to engage with people from other departments using social tools.

3) Spell out rules of conduct. Encourage informality while respecting confidentiality and managing visibility. “Leaders must be clear about which types of information and data cannot be shared broadly – client account numbers and revenue projection, for instance – and which can,” write Leonardi and Neeley.

4) Lead by example. If you want your staff to use social tools effectively you have to use them too. You can’t just post an occasional news update about the company, either. You have to use social tools in the same informal manner you expect your staff to use them.

If a member of staff posts a good idea, or even an interesting snippet of information that is not related to work, respond with enthusiasm and encourage wider discussion.


Social tools are cloud-based apps requiring little to no investment, so it is tempting to introduce them to your company just for the sake if it. But don’t just jump on the bandwagon and introduce social tools because it’s what the competition is doing. Leonardi and Neeley’s findings show the multiple of benefits using social tools effectively if you can avoid the “traps that ensnare even the most adventurous enterprise”.

Source Article: What Managers Need To Know About Social Tools
Author(s): Paul Leonardi and Tsedal Neeley