Constructing a Better Social Net

By Samuel Greengard Print this article Print

Using social media to attract and retain customers and drive revenue requires more than a simple online presence: It requires a focused, well-planned business strategy.

Constructing a Better Social Net

Another company that has turned to social media to better manage internal relationships is Mota-Engil, a 20,000-employee global engineering and construction firm based in Lisbon, Portugal. The ability to interact and share information across 17 countries and multiple time zones serves as a foundation for the company’s success, “People must be connected and able to exchange ideas and knowledge,” says Innovation Manager António Meireles.

In the past, workers with know-how about construction practices and job sites were largely isolated from one another, so multiple employees and groups sometimes addressed the same problems independently—without knowing that others were involved with the same task.

With upward of 40 major projects in the works at any given moment, “It was necessary to bring all these people together to improve efficiency and innovation,” Meireles says. “The only way this could happen is to have a virtual place for people to meet and interact.”

When the company began exploring social media concepts in 2008, employees made one thing clear: “They didn’t want the interaction to interfere with their ability to do their job, and they wanted the social interaction to be simple and straightforward,” Meireles says. The result? The company developed a sophisticated social networking hub, using software from Telligent and WeListen.

Among other things, the environment provides tools to capture and share knowledge, a recognition system that includes rewards for participation and feedback, and sophisticated project management collaboration features. The centerpiece is a challenge model that lets any employee post a question or problem and lets others throughout the company respond.

Mota-Engil also uses sophisticated analytics and reporting tools that help executives better understand how to spur participation and innovation. The results appear online, and employees can see how various departments contribute to innovation.

Accenture’s Dempski says that it’s frequently difficult to quantify ROI from social media projects, but that doesn’t negate their value. Many organizations undercommit and underinvest in this technology, he adds. “The lack of a Facebook fan page and a Twitter account doesn’t mean that millions of people aren’t talking about the organization,” Dempski points out. “It just means that you can’t monitor the discussion and capitalize on it.”

Likewise, it’s difficult to measure the ROI associated with innovation and knowledge sharing internally—or through connected business partners. Nevertheless, organizations typically find that social media improves both the quality and speed of project management and helps teams develop products and provide services at the speed of digital-age business. Combined with analytics, social media provides clues for how employees work and how knowledge flows through the organization. (See “Making Analytics Work” at left.)

Make no mistake: A well-designed social media strategy can pay enormous dividends. “Organizations that tap into [social media] effectively are able to boost their brand, simplify market research, streamline collaboration and put themselves on the forward edge of innovation,” author Libert says. “Social media is here to stay, and organizations that learn how to tap into its business value have a distinct advantage.”

This article was originally published on 2011-04-06
Samuel Greengard is a freelance writer for Baseline.
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