As some of my readers know, I’m currently employed at Caterpillar Inc.’s Lafayette facility working in a global PR role. Caterpillar has recently given its thousands of employees an intricate network of social media that can only be found on the company’s intranet. The boring, old white men of Corporate America try their best to stay hip and relevant, and this social media implementation has been the next step for many Fortune 100 companies (I saw a similar launch during my time at Procter & Gamble). I can’t say I blame them; research on collaborative workspaces and corporate social media has been largely positive.
That said, I feel at this early stage, the fine folks at CAT are not quite “getting it.” The smaller built-in applications are producing interesting work, yet the bigger, more social parts of the plan are the main focus. There are three main components to Caterpillar’s intranet-based social media: the blogs, the wikis, and Caterpillar Connections.
In the year or so that the blogging option has been live, hundreds of users have hopped on board. However, only a few of these bloggers understand how to effectively blog. The vast majority of users have changed the blogging portal into what is essentially an incredibly random message board. Users are creating a lot of new blog posts but are using their blogging space to simply post a link or a topic; there is no further content from the initial poster. Then, the comment space is utilized to carry on a conversation. This is not a complete waste, by any means. Much is learned and a community is growing. But is this the community the company wants? There are no posts related to Caterpillar. We have current events, entertainment, politics, etc. Admittedly, blogging successfully and doing it “correctly” can be challenging (I’m still learning myself!). Perhaps at the launching of the blogging platform, Caterpillar could have had a few blog posts ready to go, something readers could work from and mimic.
The wikis, on the other hand, are active, being used “correctly,” and are fascinating to watch. Primarily utilized by a handful of engineers at the Peoria, IL headquarters, these spaces have yielded collaborative drawings, computer code, and product projections that directly relate to company projects. The problem here concerns the lack of knowledge about this space and its value. Speaking with engineers in my building, they do not engage due to a lack of understanding. Training and promotion of this platform is key and managers need to visit the space themselves to see the kind of collaborative power that can be harnessed.
Finally, we have Caterpillar Connections, CAT’s answer to Facebook. Of the social media tools, this is by and large the one that is promoted the most. Not a week goes by without an internal email telling you to log on to Caterpillar Connections and start building your profile. And these profiles are just like those seen on Facebook, Google+, and elsewhere. You can post status updates, comment on user-uploaded pictures, and “friend” those within the company. A blank page is automatically created for each employee, yet almost all of them are completely untouched. Connections is a barren wasteland, and managers do not seem to understand why this is. Facebook is insanely popular, so why isn’t this?? Well, the answer is clear to me and my close coworkers: There is absolutely no appeal to this site and there is no time to engage it if it were interesting. What is the point of connecting socially with your managers and subordinates? If this was something we wanted, we could use Facebook or another platform that doesn’t simply rehash certain aspects of what’s popular. And when would we use this? There’s not time to play around on social networking sites during the workday (although everyone has Twitter or Facebook open most of the time…) and we certainly aren’t going to participate on a work-only intranet site outside of work hours. There’s no incentive to do so. What can be gained?
The bottom line is that social media is powerful and valuable but not every attempt at creating a new platform will succeed and businesses need to recognize this. Users need novelty and value. Very few social media platforms make it far when participants are using them out of obligation.
I’d love to hear your thoughts on social intranets in the workplace. Have you used them? Do you see this becoming a staple in every company? Leave a comment!