In 2015 millennials became the largest generational demographic in the workforce, surpassing Generation X. And we didn’t go quietly into that good night. We brought with us a variety of new business and professional standards, including how we like to communicate. Yes, I’m talking about social media.

Although many employees communicate with peers and even supervisors on traditional social media networks like Facebook and Twitter, there are alternatives more companies are starting to use: Enterprise Social Networks, or ESNs.

I Have ESN

Enterprise social networks allow companies of all sizes to foster more open dialog than internal communications channels of the past. Just two decades ago, much of an organization’s information was passed down the ranks through in-person meetings and printed memos. Now, the only remainder of that era are the CC and BCC fields on your email that reference a thing called carbon paper, and the phrase “Didn’t get the memo.”

The hierarchical system of yesteryear has been replaced with an open communication environment that allows for communication across departments, up and down the ranks, and across geographic barriers.

Start ‘Er Up

Although ESNs are a great tool for communication and collaboration, and can even foster increased productivity, implementing one at an organization is not like upgrading to the latest version of Windows. Unlike other technology enhancements that can be “pushed” out, getting employee buy-in for an ESN requires a bit of an incentive by the way of engagement and the option for “a significantly better way to work,” explains Carol Rozwell, vice president and distinguished analyst at Gartner.

Easy as 1-2-3

So how do organizations make sure their employees use a new ESN?

  1. Set expectations
    Enterprise social networks are a tool to foster cultural shifts in an organization, but they don’t work by themselves. It won’t be enough to open the box and expect magic to happen. Organizations should audit and evaluate why and how they want to use the ESN before implementing it, gauging employees’ interest.
  2. Lead by doing
    “Leadership participation is crucial for collaboration.” If leaders in the organization don’t value the ESN and what it’s capable of achieving, employees won’t bother trying it out. All levels of leadership–from the C-Suite to middle managers and team leads need to make using the ESN a priority and look for ways to incorporate its use into their normal work activities. Think about all the communication channels at your disposal before shooting off that email or calling another pointless meeting.
  3. Listen, then act
    Enterprise social networks are great equalizers. Compared to a meeting with one or a handful of voices running the show, any level of employee can voice an opinion on an ESN and be heard directly by leadership. However, if executives ignore their employees’ ideas, or don’t translate them to action, employees will become jaded by the process and will stop speaking their minds.

Your Pick

So which one should your organization choose?

As with public social media networks, there are hundreds of options, but only a handful of big, well-known players. Yammer probably has the biggest market share because it is owned by Microsoft and available for most Microsoft 365 clients. It has a few integrations with other Microsoft clients and is very user-friendly. Slack is another big name that has ramped up advertising this year. The core of Slack’s offerings is team communication. Software as a service giant Salesforce also has its own ESN, Chatter.

Facebook, which has been using an ESN version of its own product internally for years, released Workplace by Facebook this month.

Does your organization use an ESN? How has it transformed the way employees communicate with one another?