Understanding and building social influence inside the enterprise

Last week I presented with Derek Laney from Salesforce at a staff-only innovation festival at Commonwealth Bank, in Sydney – he asked me to focus on the question of influence within enterprise social networks:

  • Why build personal brand internally?
  • How can you use social networking internally?

Much of what Derek talked about in relation to external public social networks applies to internal social networks, with the key exception that within the workplace the dynamic of online social networking building takes places within the context of the organisational structure. Its also significant that within the workplace we typically know who users are – there are no pseudonyms or anonymous users.

Again, just like public social networks, enterprise social networks allow people to build and maintain strong and weak relationships that would not otherwise be possible in a modern, large organisation.  The reasons for individual employees to engage on an enterprise social network are:

  • To influence other people beyond the legitimate (or practical) influence of your role.
  • To create an internal network that can overcome inefficient information flow (including information gatekeepers).
  • To build and maintain social capital with weak ties – colleagues you do not know well or previously worked closely with.
  • Social support – organisations are made of people who want to connect with each other.
  • For career advancement, by demonstrating expertise or participation in a community of practice.

To varying degrees and with different motivations, these reasons for engaging are relavent to people at all levels in an organisation – top-down and bottom-up.

The key methods for engaging online with other employees are through:

  • Social capital – active engagement with others, showing reciprocity and working together online.
  • Connecting – Referring people to other people, information or resources that can help them.
  • Knowledge sharing – Demonstrating expertise.

If influence still sounds like an ethereal concept, tools like Saleforce Chatter provide automated tools that provide an activity-based indication of internal influence. We can also go a step further by using organisational network analysis to map influence and value flow both online and offline.

In the presentation I used our Institute of Executive Coaching and Leadership case study  to emphasis how employees can get value from the purposeful use of an social network (in this case, social learning benefits that flowed through to higher course completion rates).