Social media and government contractors: Know your 4 pillars

How can your company best use social media to reap the greatest results? Check out these four pillars of social media, and see how your company matches up.

Social media continues to be all the rage for companies, and for very good reason; it lends itself to more efficient communication on micro and macro levels, thereby helping companies better achieve their missions.

No matter your brand of social media, it serves the same end: better business. Samantha Loveland, vice president of worldwide customer engagement at Yammer Inc., describes four pillars of social media:

  • Employee engagement
  • Team collaboration
  • Business agility
  • Social intranet

With employee engagement the question is “how do you engage your employees, and how do you get them more excited and feel connected to the company.”

This is the kind of question that every company asks itself, and social media often serves as an efficient means to this end. Take, for example, Agilex Technologies, who uses wikis to promote a sense of ownership within its employees.

“We really strive to have the team members have a sense of ownership and responsibility, versus a traditional command and control approach,” said Jason Ray, software developer, mobile health solutions, Agilex.

By using wiki spaces, you “enable the entire team to be able to work on [a project] at one time, versus the traditional mechanism of e-mailing word documents around, attempting to track changes and merge the stuff together,” Ray said.

What makes wikis effective is that they promote that sense of ownership in each employee who interacts with it. “The trick there is to make sure that the team feels that this is their space for collaboration,” Ray said.

“If they don’t feel that this is their space, then it will quickly go stale,” he said.

Wikis, like all kinds of social media, also lend themselves to a company’s mission because they enable important tasks to be completed with better team collaboration.

With team collaboration, the second pillar, you must answer the question of how to connect your workforce, which is diverse not only by geographic location, but in areas of function and expertise, Loveland said.

Agilex sees their wikis as promoting team collaboration in two ways. The first is a from a team perspective, “for doing things like documenting our practices and any kind of research output, FAQs on how to sell something, how to work on something documents are there,” Ray said.

The second is from the perspective of how to communicate to the company’s customers. “All of our deliverables on our projects are done as wiki documents, and then we can deliver a link to those, which can range from training materials to design documents, or metrics on how our spread and our project has progressed,” he said.

Booz Allen Hamilton finds the benefit that social media can provide for team collaboration, too. Walton Smith, a principal at the company, likes that, no matter where you are, “you’re able to work virtually together, to continue to build out that intellectual capital and group knowledge needed to be successful.”

Team collaboration leads into the third pillar—business agility. Loveland said that social media lends itself to companies that need to act fast, whether they are undergoing acquisitions, or if there is some type of crisis communication that needs to be delivered.

For Booz Allen Hamilton, this was all too real when Superstorm Sandy hit the east coast, just a few months ago.

As the weather grew worse, much of Booz Allen Hamilton’s east coast workforce wanted clarification on how they should work, and so they followed protocol, and logged into the company’s VPN network—the company’s default configuration for security purposes, Smith said.

When 16,000 people try logging in at the same time, however, servers have trouble processing all of the requests, and people don’t get answers. That’s when the company made the call to communicate via Yammer.

Once it was made, technical issues were addressed within minutes, Smith said. At Booz Allen, “we like to say that you have the full breadth of the firm,” he added.

The fourth area – the social intranet-- encompasses the previous three, Loveland said.. Whereas the intranet used to be a place with a bunch of static information, people can now communicate and gather that information in a productive, dynamic way.

One company that does social media a little differently is Appian. Matt Calkins, Appian CEO and chairman, agreed that “social is all about getting more participation, more transparency, more speed,” but Appian doesn’t just use social media as a way to facilitate work—it literally combines it with work.

The company does this through what it calls “Worksocial,” which is “the combination of work automation and enterprise social.”

In this case, “work automation means products like business process management products that allow you to create and automate a process in your organization,” Calkins said.

“These products are “good for the nuts and bolts of the way your business works,” he said. “They allow you to execute tasks and run business rules and delegate and keep accountability, and look at reports.”

To give an example of how this kind of media is used, Calkins described a way that Appian’s Worksocial is applied in the real world: VA for Vets uses this technology with job-seeking veterans who are just returning home from service.

These veterans can go to fairs, ready to answer a few basic questions about themselves and their expertise, and do so via a volunteer holding an iPad.

At the end of the conversation, the volunteer then directs the veteran to a certain job booth that their skills match.

That’s where you see the combination of work and social: you take a “piece of work that otherwise would have been stuck in a back office somewhere—processing a form,” and this technology brings it “right out on the show floor—on an iPad—so that within seconds, you can get a result,” Calkins said.

“The job, the work, became social,” he said. Plus, since the iPad operators are volunteers, the software is easy enough to learn and use in a short span of time.

What’s true about all social media is that, “for productivity to occur, connections must exist between the social layer and the work later,” Calkins said. Such is true no matter what kind of social media you’re dealing with.

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