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Alerts about free food in the kitchen and other signs enterprise social tools are a hit

BOSTON -- About 18 months ago Nathan Bricklin saw some gaps in the internal processes of Wells Fargo's wholesale business unit where he worked running the Web portal for the bank's major corporate accounts.

"We have many lines of business within wholesale and many were working in their own way," he says. The dreaded "silos" of an enterprise corporate structure had developed, leading to duplication of effort and no unified policy for encouraging employees to work with one another. It took a "90 second conversation," he says, to convince senior-level managers to implement an internal social collaboration strategy. It started with 350 users and four use cases; today, it's grown to 4,100 users and 90 use cases. That's still a fraction of the company's 265,000 workers, but he says it's a start.

At the Enterprise 2.0 Conference in Boston this week, Bricklin, now SVP and head of social strategy at Wells Fargo, was one of a handful of enterprise social media enthusiasts who shared their user stories about the growing field of enterprise collaboration tools. One overarching theme representatives from companies like Nike, American Airlines, FedEx and Virgin Media echoed was their use of social collaboration tools for more than just managing a Facebook or Twitter account: Collaboration tools are about driving more efficient internal business process and extending the reach and user experience of external customer engagements.

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The end-game, says Wells Fargo collaboration strategist Kelli Carlson-Jagersma, is to improve customer service. "We're here to solve the customers' needs," she says. "These internal tools will help us do our customer-facing jobs." For example, when a client calls up for customer service, the Wells Fargo representative may be linked into one of the Jive social collaboration tools giving them direct access to other lines of the business and other experts who can help the employee assist the customer. It's about giving "the right people the right information at the right time," she says.

For Wells Fargo, the technology investments have not been massive to implement the strategy. The company uses a combination of social collaboration tool offerings, including Jive Engage and Salesforce.com's Chatter. Some new staff have been hired from within to guide the effort.

The bigger changes for adopting such technology, show speakers say, is around getting end user buy-in.

Nike, the athletic apparel firm, has gone from a "live and learn" approach to its social media strategy where employees were using social media tools on their own, to "purposeful management" of collaboration tools, says Richard Foo, who is heading up the company's efforts. The key to getting buy-in, he says, is creating compelling reasons for employees to want to change their processes. "Make their jobs easier," he says. Answer the question for the users: "What's the value for me?" From a company perspective, the value is in increased collaboration.

Bricklin, the Wells Fargo social collaborator, jokes that he knows his strategy is working when employees use the tools to alert friends of free food in the company kitchen.

FedEx has its own way of encouraging user adoption, says Bryan Barringer, manager of enterprise collaboration implementation for the shipping company. While he doesn't call it gamification, Barringer has set up a series of rewards and incentives for employees to use sharing and collaboration tools. Employees can win badges and be recognized if they complete enough entries into corporate wiki pages or help other employees learn information about a business process.

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Then there is the customer-facing side of the social equation. Phillip Easter, director of Mobile Apps for American Airlines, says the company's app has already been downloaded 4 million times and is available on mobile operating system platforms including the iPhone, iPad and more recently the Nook and Kindle Fire. "Everything has to have a great UI," he says. Easter demonstrated, for example, new capabilities within the AA mobile app that allow customers to have a live text conversation with an American Airlines customer service representative while in the air. When users access the system through the application, the AA employee automatically knows who he or she is talking to, what flight the user is on and other "intelligence information," that is used to provide customized service to the passenger. Social collaboration applications and a unified communications platform power that, he says.

There are a variety and growing number of tools on the market to help enterprises become more collaborative. Virgin Media, the U.K. cable operator with 5 million customers, has made a year-and-a-half migration toward being more collaborative. Colin Miles, head of technical services for the company, says Virgin explored Microsoft SharePoint 2010, Jive and others. In the second half of last year, Virgin undertook a 1,000 user trial using Cisco's Quad, which the company renamed WebEx Social this week. The Cisco system, he says, integrates WebEx video collaboration with unified communications and social collaboration tools, whereas Jive and Microsoft, he says, only excelled in the text-based collaboration feature set. In an effort to drive employees to use a unified control system, Virgin chose the platform with all those feature sets.

As part of the company's annual survey this year, employees who were part of the initial pilot reported a seven-point bump in employee engagement compared to workers not in the pilot. "Workers feel more connected with each other and customers," Miles says. "That's a win-win."

Network World staff writer Brandon Butler covers cloud computing and social collaboration. He can be reached at [email protected] and found on Twitter at @BButlerNWW.

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