Social Media behind the Firewall

Social Media is everywhere. People use social media for fun and businesses use it to increase sales and customer loyalty. But the really smart businesses are using social media behind the firewall to connect and engage their employees.

David Christopher, the founder of, also heads up the Social Networking and Business Collaboration (SNBC) programme at Oracle Corporation. I recently had the opportunity to chat with David and learn more about the use of social media within a business context from his perspective.

David explained that just because a company may have a strong technical bias, it doesn’t automatically mean that fully embracing social media within the business as an essential and highly beneficial form of communication will happen overnight. In fact David highlights that the term “social media” has been one of the main barriers:

“People associate the term social media with Facebook and Twitter and so are immediately put off when I try to use the same term to connect employees in a company. For this reason I now use the term ‘Being Social in the Enterprise’ as a way to differentiate between inside and outside a company and to focus on the behaviour rather than the technology.”

In David’s experience it requires a structured approach, with carefully planned knowledge areas and initiatives, to achieve social adoption. The focus he tells me needs to be on breaking down silos and encouraging communication and collaboration:

“Every business unit, and every business team within that unit, works and functions differently. Therefore you cannot have a ‘one size fits all’ approach to social adoption. You need a Champion within the business unit / team who understands the information flows of their business and is empowered by the Sponsor to drive change.”

Apparently it’s all about behavioural change according to David. Part of the effort is as simple as giving people smarter and better ways of working. For example, instead of sending a presentation for review by email to everyone in a team, upload the presentation on a social platform and make it accessible to the team.

“Email is a great linear communication tool but it’s not a collaborative tool. Social technologies give us the opportunity to work smarter. But it is about the change in mindset associated with adopting social technologies which can be the most difficult to accomplish.”

David goes on to say that the biggest trap that most people fall into is to concentrate on the tools and try to fit the business to the tool. This short slideshare, Social Media: It’s Just A Bunch Of Tools Right? is a real use case he put together, mixed in with a little humour, to emphasise this point.

“The social tools are the enabler but they don’t define your strategy, they allow you to achieve it. If you focus on the technology you will not achieve social adoption.”

A lot of the success David has achieved with social adoption he puts down to the model he has developed over the last few years.

“As the employees within any business unit or team are going to be at varying levels of social adoption, you need to establish a baseline. Once the baseline is established the team Champion can work with their employees as a complete unit to develop their social maturity. The key here is to build a community of social adoption Champions who can share experiences and leverage from one another.”

The education of Champions is only part of the story. David highlights that driving specific initiatives is where true social adoption become reality.

“Twitter chats are very popular events for people to discuss a topic of specific interest. I wanted to bring this phenomenon inside the firewall but take it up a level as a unique crowdsourcing event to help solve business issues and challenges. Social Chat is something I developed to achieve that and has been a great asset in helping change people’s behaviours.”

David is clearly passionate about the possibilities social media brings to business both inside and outside a company and has gained a lot of experience over the years.

He is keynoting at the Social Workplace Conference in London on Nov 1st, so if you are in the UK I strongly urge you to go and listen to him. In the mean time you can catch him on his blog, follow him on Twitter @davidchris or Google+