POS Research Incubator: Social Enterprise Systems

January 28, 2014

By: Mary Hinesly, Amy Young

Amy Young and Mary Hinesly are lecturers in business communications at the Ross School of Business.

We believe there is a synergy between positive organizational practices and an organization’s use of social media to communicate internally. Innovative companies are beginning to use Social Enterprise Systems (SES) – or social media for companies – to improve communication, organizational efficiency, collaboration, and innovation. SES are digital platforms with many of the same social media capabilities as common public social media sites (Facebook, Twitter, and GoogleDocs+), yet they allow companies to maintain ownership and privacy of all content. Recent studies show that SES provide business value as they are able to bridge silos[1], increase innovation[2], enhance team collaboration[3], facilitate organizational alignment[4], and increase communication throughout supply chains[5].

As we reported in our POS Research Incubator session, over 90% of SES initiatives fail[6].  Some of these reasons have to do with a lack of digital literacy among the workforce, failure to properly cultivate online communities, or failure to identify how employees (and not just the organization) can benefit. Yet even addressing these issues is not enough to ensure a successful SES initiative.

Based on our work with organizations using SES, we suggest that the key ingredient to fully leveraging the technology is an organizational culture that fosters employees’ prosocial behavior.  That is, there needs to be the right leadership, management style, and organizational values to encourage and reward employees when they voluntarily help each other, even if they might not benefit individually.  Using the term ‘prosocial organizations,’ to refer to these companies, we shared with the group our observations on what makes them unique:

  • Employees’ knowledge, skills, and goodwill are viewed as the most valuable resource within the organization
  • Management is focused on maximizing this resource by providing clear objectives and empowering the workforce to proactively solve problems
  • All employees – regardless of their level in the hierarchy – are viewed as making a valuable contribution to the organization’s strategic goals
  • Leadership is authentic and transparent, resulting in high levels of trust and loyalty among employees
  • Goodwill, trust, and generosity serve as the organizational glue that unifies the organization

Do these values sound familiar? If they do, that’s because they are directly aligned with positive organizational practices. We provided powerful case examples to demonstrate how social media and positive organizational practices complement each other in prosocial organizations.

Twitter provides an excellent illustration of the synergy between the two. Throughout the week, employees at Twitter are encouraged to post their concerns and suggestions onto their SES.  Using a system similar to Reddit, other employees can give each comment a ‘thumbs up’ or a ‘thumbs down’ vote and add their own comment to the posting.  At the end of the week, comments that received the highest ‘thumbs up’ votes are reviewed by leadership and addressed in a weekly ‘townhall’ meeting.  The CEO of Twitter, Dick Costolo, runs the townhall through live video streaming that is presented to all Twitter offices throughout the world.  The value of the technology is that this large international company can hold a meeting with all employees present and provide a voice.  During the townhall meeting, Dick speaks to the issues that were raised by employees throughout the week.  Moreover, employees can continue to post comments during the meeting in response to Dick.  The townhall is also a time when he can share with employees news from the top, such as changes in strategic goals, new challenges on the horizon, or the impact of world events to the company.  It is easy to see how Twitter benefits from this practice: strong sense of community, organizational alignment, and quick response to market changes. However, this example also illustrates how it takes both the technology and prosocial practices to achieve high returns.

Our goal is to help companies become prosocial organizations that can provide business value and be great places to work. The questions that remain are mostly about implementation: How do we get more companies to effectively use Social Enterprise Systems? How can Positive Organizational Scholarship help with the process? Those around the table at the Incubator offered helpful suggestions, touching on the importance of employee voice and attitude.


[1] Leistner, F. (2012).  Connecting Organizational Silos: Taking Knowledge Flow Management to the Next Level with Social Media.  Hoboken, NJ: John Wiley & Sons.

[2] Kenly, A. & Poston, B. (2011).  Social Media and Product Innovation: Early Adopters Reaping Benefits amidst Challenge and Uncertainty.  Kalypso White Paper.  Retrieved November 11, 2013 from: http://kalypso.com/viewpoints/resource/social-media-and-product-innovation

[3] Wu, Jason Chia-Hsien and Liang, Ting-Peng, “Teamwork Quality And Service Innovation Performance Of Virtual Teams” (2012). PACIS 2012 Proceedings. Paper 186.

[4] Jeremiah Lee (2011), Aligning organizations for positive change: The role of leadership in matching strategy, culture, and social networks to vital organizational challenges, in William H. Mobley, Ming Li, Ying Wang (ed.)Advances in Global Leadership (Advances in Global Leadership, Volume 6), Emerald Group Publishing Limited, pp.71-94.

[5] O’Leary, D. (2012). Developing Trust and Relationships in the Supply Chain using Social Media. Marshall School of Business Working Paper.

[6] Bradley, A. J. & McDonald, M.P. (2011).  The Social Organization.  Cambridge, MA: Harvard Business Review Press.