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Microblogging eases into the enterprise

This article appears in the issue November/December 2009, [Vol 18, Issue 10]
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St. Louis Public Radio also uses Socialtext’s blog and wiki features, which can be accessed from the Web, mobile phones or from Socialtext’s dedicated client, Socialtext Desktop. The social networking champion for the organization was the station’s general manager, who believed that Web 2.0 features delivered through an intranet would have a positive effect on the station’s operations. That upfront support from management was an important factor in the success of the project.

A committee that was established to explore the options for social networking spent considerable time assessing user attitudes and needs. "We did a survey to determine patterns of interaction," Altman says. "We asked whom each individual relied on for information, and how well they felt they were integrated into the organization." The survey indicated that people felt they received a lot of e-mail that was not relevant, and they wanted relief. In addition, they wanted a searchable repository for documents and a better way to organize them.

Immediate exchanges

The combination of microblogging technology, along with the blogs and wikis offered by Socialtext, convinced Altman that it was the right solution for St. Louis Public Radio. The organization began a demo phase in spring 2009, and by the fall, the application was configured and deployed.

"One of our main goals in change management was not to disturb the existing workflow," Altman explains. "That can create a lot of disharmony very quickly. So we tried to keep things open and flexible, encouraging people to use the application, while still allowing for other modes of working."

Now that Socialtext Signals is in place, St. Louis Public Radio employees experience much more rapid turnaround in their communication. For example, an employee who needed to know how to access a "members only" Web site of a professional organization that the radio station belongs to sent out a Signal and got a response right away.

"In the past, he would have had to wait for someone to reply to a mass e-mail or contact them in person," Altman says. "Instead, these exchanges happen immediately, and because the messages are so short, people don’t get overwhelmed." Signal messages also keep staff up to date on conditions in the studios and provide other relevant operational information.

"Ambient awareness"

As useful as the individual Signals have proven to be, the community effect provides added benefits. "Staff members have a lot more insights into what their colleagues are doing across the board," Altman says, "and they are learning this without having to attend meetings or making a large investment in time; it’s just part of the workday."

Socialtext Desktop provides access to key documents through a single workspace used by all employees. "We have a wiki page with documents such as travel reimbursement forms, along with descriptions of them," Altman explains. "Our staff members know that they are getting the right version of each document, and the repository is searchable." Eventually, departments such as the newsroom and HR will have their own workspaces and unique content.

One reason that organizations may choose to start out with microblogging as their first social networking enterprise application is that it is the simplest one to use, according to Ross Mayfield, president and co-founder of Socialtext. "Rolling it out is like turning on any communication utility, which IT is very good at," he says. "Then the lines of business can go department by department to work on a deeper strategic implementation and enhance their existing processes."

The messages can also become a source of information at a higher level. "The three primary reasons for using microblogging are to share links and information, to share status and to engage in Q&A without forcing interruptions," Mayfield says. Because each message is stored and the text is indexed, they can provide insights into business activities.

"Once the flow of messages begins," Mayfield concludes, "analytics on the activity stream can provide a lot of powerful information."

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