It turns out that most IT departments no longer want to buy, install, and run software on their own servers, and the ancillary benefits of the cloud -- like easier mobile access for workforces that combine full-time employees and contractors -- seal the deal.
How Humana got 26,000 employees to use an internal social network
When Louisville-based health insurer Humana set out to build an enterprise social network, like all companies, they saw the advantages inherent in this technology such as flattening hierarchies, solving problems quickly, encouraging innovation and building esprit de corps.
But like all organizations they also knew that simply providing a tool for social interaction was not enough. It required nurturing and monitoring. Three years in, their internal social network is thriving -- and you could learn a lot from their story.
Jeff Ross, the community manager for the Enterprise Social Media Team at Humana, says more 26,000 of the firm's 40,000 employees are on the company's social network and more than 200 additional employees a week are coming on board.
He says the network has two basic purposes: Accomplish business objectives and develop positive personal relationships around areas of mutual interests.
But as you can imagine, participation didn't happen overnight. Ross explained the journey from zero to more than 26,000 began in 2009, when the a group inside IT called Enterprise Innovation was looking for an enterprise social networking tool.
Ross says at the time, they were less interested in traditional return on investment, than they were on finding better ways to communicate. "At that point, we were a 50 year old organization. We were a hierarchical, very traditional, top-down organization," he explained. He added, "We needed to connect without going through a lot of hoopla. A huge motivator was just to flatten the organization and how people communicate with each other and break down the silos," he said.
They started by experimenting with Yammer because because it was free and easy to set up. With very little publicity in a relatively short time, that experiment grew to 3,000 employees with hundreds of posts and dozens of groups. With that success under their belts, the company decided to look for a more permanent solution.
As successful as the Yammer trial was, when it came to choosing a final product, higher ups were not comfortable with a cloud solution for their enterprise social product. They looked at the usual suspects including Jive, Newsgator, and Socialcast -- there were nine in total -- and judged them on several basic criteria: Basic features they expected to use, discussions, groups, and private messaging.
If you're wondering, yes, Humana has SharePoint 2010 and they have 7,000 sites spread across the company. But the evaluation team didn't see SharePoint as a viable solution for building special interest groups and having discussions around those interests.
In the end they chose Socialcast because it best met the criteria they had laid out. They rebranded it internally as Buzz.
Word of mouth drove adoption
So how did they build the Buzz network?
With Ross in charge of the program, he did it the old-fashioned way -- he dropped information on the desks of associates. It turns out they had been hungry for a system to communicate. To this day, he says he has never sent out a company-wide communication about the system. In some instances it has grown by word of mouth or through his efforts to get different groups involved, but he thinks slow and steady growth is better than having a glut come on board all at once.
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