The Un-Tapped Value of Employee Social Capital

social capital

By Konstanze Alex Brown, {grow} Community Member

Why should any business owner like social media? Because social media connects people – employees to other employees, employees to customers, business and IT decision makers and vice versa, customers to customers, and so on.

Let’s forget the public giants, Facebook and Twitter, for a moment and focus on the social media technologies that connect employees of large companies to each other, inside the company. In this scenario, social paradise is when your social technologies (think company blog and micro-blog), are adopted by your employees and help form social capital among 10s or 100s of thousands of them on a global scale, like at my company, Dell.

Why should you care? Social capital (really not an oxymoron!) is a critical fuel for corporate knowledge sharing, innovation and growth. What company does not want that?

Let’s dig in a bit.

Social capital is best explained as:

The benefits an individual (and by extension the company) derives from the network connections to others who might have what you need – mostly knowledge or information.

When you have a problem to solve or you begin a new project, what’s your first step? Consult the corporate knowledge base? Not so much. Ask a colleague who you know has knowledge and experience? Much more likely! That benefit of getting the answer from someone in your network is called social capital.

Social capital is not owned by any one individual, it cannot be taken away; it is inherent in the network connections among individuals. The bigger your network, the better your access to social capital. In a large company, the only feasible way to be part of a global network is via social communication technologies.

The value of internal social media use

Beginning in 2008 (yes, the very early days of anything related to social media for business) I conducted several long term studies at Dell that examined corporate blog and micro-blog use, specifically the impact and value of these social communication platforms on organizational social capital and knowledge sharing.

This was an important study because the impact of social technologies on organizational social capital has received limited attention, possibly because of the less than evident connection to measurable economic value (think ROI) and the newness of the tools for corporate use at the time.

This is definitely changing now. Social ROI has become a hot buzz word in the industry and corporations are finally figuring out how to apply social analytics and really derive actionable insights from social media conversations.

But, most of those studies have focused on external conversations. While internal communication has received much more attention over the past years, a true measure for social ROI on the inside has yet to emerge.

And there really is something to be had: Findings of my long term studies indicate that the corporate blog and micro-blog (examples are Yammer and SFDC’s Chatter) can lead to:

  • a shared understanding of organizational roles,
  • increased sense of group cohesiveness,
  • improved work processes,
  • higher efficiency and productivity
  • fostering of professional and personal ties between employees

… all leading to a company’s increased ability to innovate because of increased organizational social capital.

We need to embrace this opportunity

Of course it all starts with us, the leaders in large organizations. WE make “social” happen, WE share knowledge, WE innovate, WE build social networks and there’s a scorecard in there somewhere! But, to do all of that, we need support in the form of technology, training, and trust from our company.

My focus is on raising awareness of the often untapped potential of enabling employees with social media technologies. Building internal social networks and communities lead to social capital and exciting business benefits.

If you’re interested in learning more about the value of building internal social capital, here are some additional resources:

 @KonstanzeDr. Konstanze Alex-Brown (@Konstanze, LinkedIn) leads Global Communications Social Media strategy at Dell.  Prior to that,  Konnie spent six years in executive, technology and innovation communications at Dell.  She has co-authored several peer reviewed articles on the value of internal social media from a social capital perspective and has presented at various academic and industry conferences. Her research focus is on corporate communication using social media technologies and organizational social capital. To read more of Konstanze’s work, check out her personal blog.

All posts

The Marketing Companion Podcast

Why not tune into the world’s most entertaining marketing podcast!

View details

Let's plot a strategy together

Want to solve big marketing problems for a little bit of money? Sign up for an hour of Mark’s time and put your business on the fast-track.

View details

Share via