Do you use social media tools for staff engagement?

Some of the obvious benefits for an organisation deploying social media tools are using them internally – making it easier for co-workers to collaborate, share and communicate.

There are plenty of good examples around. Not least across government where internal wikis and blogs are pretty common place – though there is a lack of consistency in their application. Just like the real world, some organisations get it, and others haven’t quite woken up to the opportunities yet.

The benefits of internal wikis and blogs are obvious. But what about using other social media tools. How about replacing the online staff directory with a Facebook / LinkedIn type application? (maybe MySpace is one example too far in this context).

Our own staff directory is creaking and high maintenance to update – hand coded html pages that can only be searched using the browser find function. Not very user friendly. Our friends in the IT department have been working on a database driven replacement for a while now with some success.

But the raging success of the civil service group on Facebook (13,365 members and counting) makes me wonder, shouldn’t we stop trying to build tools from scratch when users are more than happy using the far more flexible functionality of social networking tools to create profiles, connect with like minded people etc?

The opportunity to join or create groups related to your business area, professional interests, technical specialism, social activities etc is very compelling.

Jeremiah Owyang published a list of social networking platforms that organisations can deploy to create new communities a while back. Has anybody got experience of actually implementing something like this across an intranet? Love to know your experiences. Anyone got thoughts on the viability of this? Is it simply a case of plugging a few boxes into the network and designing a web front end?

Of course, the obvious  answer would be to just give everyone access to Facebookto et al and allow the communities to find themselves. But that’s not feasible at the moment for a host of reason. However a social media platform deployed across the government secure intranet (GSI) that would let all civil servants greater networking opportunities would be nice. The current GSI directory ain’t much cop either…

  1. Yes! We’ve just tried and failed with a similar proposal (leveraging existing resources instead of trying to recreate them in a new, from-scratch system) for the OTS’s Innovation Exchange (

    While there’s undoubtedly a massive opportunity here, I think that, as with any project, it’s got to be a case of appropriateness: there will be times when the right tool for the job is a from-scratch, custom web app, and others where the job would be done much better by intelligent use of existing things.

    However, before we get to that point, I think there’s an initial challenge in levelling the playing field: at the moment, the perception of the purchaser puts the existing tools approach at a massive disadvantage because after time, effort and money have been spent, they don’t get something ‘new’ and ‘theirs’ — it doesn’t look like a discrete, tangible asset.

    • alex
    • June 22nd, 2007


    We use something called Sharepoint within and without for some projects ( I think it is a Microsoft tool )

    SocITM and I&DEA have both imstalled community of practice tools on their web sites ( one uses a product from Kinomi )

    These are not facebook style or size but they do allow wiki, blog, collaborative working and sharing knowledge. You can add your photo and a profile.

    Happy to talk more if you wish as I have set up some communities with mixed success.

  2. My view is that using public free-for-alls for public sector social networking and knowledge sharing is step too far. Convincing the powers that be that being open with colleagues across the sector is one thing, but doing so in a way that’s visible to the general public would be impossible!

    But there is no reason why creating a network has to be expensive (I cobbled a fully featured platform based on Drupal recently in a matter of hours) or that it can’t leverage existing social networks like YouTube and Flickr etc, and RSS can be used to pull in already publicly available content.

    But if we are going to get people to open up, it has to be in an environment where they feel comfortable doing so, which is why the IDeA platform is such a good one.

  3. Take your point on the perception of value Ben. Be interesting to see if that persists as social media tools (like Facebook) continue to loom large in the mainstream media
    Like the I&DEA implementation Alex.
    Openness vs safety is a salient point too Dave. Although the civil service Facebook group has a large membership, nothing much is being said (yet) which suggests members are unsure of the groundrules or the safety.

  4. Jeremy

    I have been onto Facebook but cannot find the civil servant group

    Can you describe how to reach it or provide a link


    • Allen
    • June 28th, 2007

    Role on using cheap tools in the public sector, stop throwing £m at rubbish tech companies who build something and then walk away and know zero about use and users. The waste I see on IT and infrastructure is truly horrific. Use facebook engine, sure, but pay *them* to sort a solution for .gov in the way that amazon will white label you a business.

  5. Sorry Alex. Its not a group, its a network:

  6. we have councillors off doing this themselves – so sorry, Dave, it’s happening whether we like it or not.the web is forcing it’s way in whether ‘the powers that be’ like it or not ;] (that’s me smiling at the prospect).

    we need to accept it and establish clear protocols – and think of ways of exploiting it. I loved Armstrong’s quote about imaging NetMums as 30000 parents swapping tips in a field – then the government would pay attention.

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