Launching a corporate social network to improve collaboration

lessons learned


Can social networking actually work in a corporate environment?

Launched as a pilot in April 2010, Engage is Alcatel-Lucent’s enterprise-scale, socio-collaborative platform and has quickly grown in eight months to include over 38,000 employees, with 20% actively using the system.

We will uncover the key business benefits and learn general use cases for Web 2.0 tools in the enterprise. We will share the general success factors needed for rolling out a successful Enterprise 2.0 initiative based on our experiences and those of other large companies. We will discuss common obstacles to the introduction of social networking in the workplace, how we have overcome them, and the current challenges we face today. Learn the concrete steps a large corporation has taken to plan, design, and deploy its company-wide platform, Engage, including a look at the resources needed, some of which you might not have thought of, such as legal constraints and data privacy. We will also explore the training provided, communication campaigns, executive support, and so forth.

This session will provide considerations for those just getting started on their business-focused Web 2.0 initiatives, as well as real-life examples for those who want to compare their social business practices with others. We will then focus our discoveries on how social networking is being used, in particular to improve and enhance project communications and collaboration across organizations and geographical boundaries.

We will conclude by looking at the measurable outcomes from use of this collaboration tool in a corporate environment, specifically as an aid to project planning, execution, and control: what to expect and what to watch out for to fully leverage Web 2.0 in our jobs as project managers.

Why Enterprise 2.0?

By now we have all heard of Web 2.0 (Web 2.0, 2011) in which users are no longer confined to passively viewing information but also become contributors to the content.

Enterprise 2.0 (McAfee, 2006) is a focus on Web 2.0 technologies, which companies can use to make knowledge work more visible and to connect employees with each other, customers, or partners. Fundamentally, human communication has not changed, but these new platforms expand the reach of who we can connect with beyond geography, time zones, and organizational boundaries.

When the barriers to dialogue and relationships have been lowered by technology, Enterprise 2.0 introduces much potential. In particular, we believe it has opened up the potential for accelerated and higher-quality transfer of wisdom between projects; for example, Engage enables users to:

  • save time – by finding information and experts faster
  • save effort – by finding and reusing lessons learned, best practices, and so forth
  • promote sharing – by allowing for reuse, corporate knowledge capture, and discussions on improvement
  • drive new and/or unlikely ideas – by brainstorming or “crowdsourcing,” harnessing the wisdom of many to produce the best result with a diverse set of contributors
  • stimulate innovation – when people can connect across geographical and organizational boundaries, the results are amazing
  • increase engagement – making it easier to be more aware of the business overall and form meaningful relationships with other employees

At the same time, there are unquestionably major concerns about the risks of using social networking in the workplace, such as:

  • increased number of interruptions and/or disruptions to the workflow
  • loss of productivity
  • reduced capability for deep analysis
  • increased “noise” and false statistical confidence
  • misinformation spreading exponentially

Several corporations looked at the threat/opportunity analysis and decided to launch an Enterprise 2.0 initiative to improve internal communication, because, all things considered, the potential unleashed by knowledge sharing and by the ability to tap into expertise can outweigh the risks posed by Enterprise 2.0 challenges, especially in geographically dispersed teams.

Next we will discuss what to expect during the implementation of such initiatives. Although the advantages listed earlier constitute a meaningful incentive, there are several roadblocks that can interfere with even the most motivated project team.

Success Factors and Common Obstacles

The number one success factor for Enterprise 2.0 initiatives is to remember that it is a project about people and culture and that the technology is there only to facilitate this process.

The POST method (Li & Bernoff, 2008) ensures that you build a proper foundation for the initiative, as described below:

  • People – define your audience, understand their social media practical knowledge, and how the audience is likely to engage
  • Objectives – define the goals for your initiative and for enterprise collaboration; tie them into your company’s strategic objectives, and specify what you expect to deliver to the organization in the near and long-term future
  • Strategy – based on your objectives, what needs to happen and how?
  • Technology – when the first three pieces are in place, use them to evaluate the appropriate tools

Another factor shown to be an indicator of success is having both executive sponsorship and a pool of excited participants in place to help build the community from the ground up.

As we all know, without clear executive sponsorship any project will have to deal with severe constraints and risk major delays. Once the executives demonstrate full support for the roll-out, the key stakeholders and your target audience will be energized. Identifying a small group of change agents and friendly users will provide a receptive and motivated user group to start discussion threads, information sharing, and content to help demonstrate the benefits of Enterprise 2.0.

In addition to top and grass-roots level support, it is recommended that key organizations such as human resources, data privacy, information security, and legal departments be involved very early in the discussions. There are many facets to social networking in the workplace that require a comprehensive evaluation from workforce planning and legal and security perspectives. The sooner the appropriate departments are engaged in the planning phases, the more robust your project plan and, because of their early involvement, you also gain the advantage of their buy-in.

Launching a full-scale social platform can be a large, expensive project, so many companies start with a pilot. A group of change agents and a technology-savvy initial audience can be augmented by word of mouth, and will help test the platform, while contributing the initial content for the full-blown roll-out.

In defining your pilot, do not limit the audience that can participate. Serendipity (Serendipity, 2011) and the Network effect (Network Effect, 2011) are two key concepts in social technology. You do not know who may provide value to another employee and value to the community is likely to increase with membership.

Last, the next most critical success factor is community management (Hinchcliffe, 2009); the community manager is there to provide guidance, support, and oversight to your overall community. This critical figure (or better yet, a 2- to 3-person team) is pivotal to working closely with the project manager of the social media deployment to support issue resolution, planning, risk management, and communications. Additionally, as groups form, the owners should be taught community management skills in order to provide community management, because each group is its own small community.

A community manager is a spokesperson, an advocate, and an intermediary between the audience (current and future) and the 2.0 approach to communication, which is facilitated by the new technology that is being deployed. Training sessions, department meetings describing new tools and ways to communicate, white papers for internal distribution, informal presentations, and direct responses to queries are some examples of how the community manager facilitates and supports the deployment of Enterprise 2.0.

As the project moves from a pilot program to a wider audience, more and more change resistors are encountered and this is where the community manager steps in to:

-   understand where participants stand from a technology comfort level

-   identify how the way in which they work can be improved using social networking

-   accept and reach out to pockets in the community unwilling to change the ways in which they communicate

Let us now look at an example of how an Enterprise 2.0 community can be launched in a large multinational corporation.

Case Study – Alcatel-Lucent Deployment of Engage

Initiation: Background, Charter, Executive Sponsorship, and Stakeholders

The Engage platform at Alcatel-Lucent grew out of an initial project to connect research and development (R&D) colleagues around the globe. R&D teams were not always aware of work being done in other areas that could potentially be reused. It was quickly realized, however, that this challenge exists for all knowledge workers, not just R&D teams.

The executive leader of a cross-organizational, global think tank at Alcatel-Lucent had experienced with his projects the value of working across boundaries first hand and officially became the sponsor of this initiative to establish the Enterprise 2.0 platform and introduce a global way of working to all employees of Alcatel-Lucent.

The project team was thus authorized to expand the target audience from the initial R&D groups to all of Alcatel-Lucent, and worked with employees around the globe to identify current collaboration challenges as well as establish goals and a strategy. Other key stakeholders were identified from global support departments to include human resources, data privacy, and information security representation.

Planning: Vendor Engagement, Milestones, and Initial Users

After we had an executive sponsor and a recommendation for a specific technology, we identified the optimal vendor. We then worked with the vendor’s professional services to further clarify the goals, strategy, and key milestones for deployment. This planning session also provided insight into the decisions and considerations that needed to be made in advance by human resources, legal, data privacy, and information security.

The project team had to address issues, such as:

  1. How to report abuse
  2. Terms of use for employees
  3. Secure access limited to employees (tunnel, intranet, etc.)
  4. Content limitation to comply with customer and/or government non-disclosure agreements
  5. Timeline for the initial pilot and worldwide launch
  6. Communication and education strategy

Execution: Pilot, Training, Support, and Threats

A sandbox community of enthusiastic members from the R&D project was identified and served to create our first seeds of content, which was then migrated into a production environment. On 6 April 2010, the evaluation (pilot) environment was transitioned into an early adoption launch of Engage, with a new environment, full vendor, and IT support.

Exhibit 1 is the logo used for Engage.

Engage logo

Exhibit 1 – Engage logo

Technically, Engage was an out-of-the-box product configured to properly use a secure sockets layer and as such configured to allow self-registration to Alcatel-Lucent employees. The login screen had the standard Alcatel-Lucent disclaimers, a tool that was covered by the Alcatel-Lucent global privacy policy and code of conduct.

From a business standpoint, there was a full-time community manager in place to educate and support the community, along with help desk awareness of who to contact if call were received. There was a repository of materials created on how to get started, answers to frequently asked questions, and a space setup for online help, using the platform itself.

A lot of initial attention was spent on both short-term and long-term communications, with particular attention paid to first building awareness and understanding the project.

The initial communications were emails, which were sent to key executive stakeholders, the members from the R&D project, and a waiting list of people who were excited about the project. This focus on communication and education along with the top-down and bottom-up support allowed the platform to grow virally. Although the initial communications were limited, any member could invite new members and anyone from Alcatel-Lucent could join.

The next wave of communication (emails, meetings, and calls) focused on what had been implemented to date and included continuing communication on follow-up plans.

By our official production launch on 20 June 2010, there were over 10,000 registered members.

The production launch brought about the true Alcatel-Lucent login capability, securing of email traffic via corporate VPN, a corporate theme applied to the product to convey the look and feel of other Alcatel-Lucent tools, websites, help desk support for access issues, content acceleration, and the migration and/or decommission of a smaller community into Engage, and, last, proper Engage-specific terms of use and privacy statements.

There were many risks considered during the planning phase; however, most risks actually encountered were minor and easily mitigated.

Re-silo ourselves – One major concern was that groups would form, copying the formal structure already in place, and that silo walls would be rebuilt in this new environment. We still have groups for organizational teams or that are restricted to certain members; however, about half the groups are open to anyone in the company. A volunteer team of advocates continually promotes the value of groups, based on topic of interest versus formal structure and the benefits of open participation.

Education – It was unclear if new members would know what to do when they first logged on to the system. The project team started with three main calls to action:

  1. filling out the profile,
  2. finding a group to join,
  3. participating in a conversation.

Links to how to get started materials were created on how to perform each step. This process continues to be work in progress, because the trend is for those more familiar with social media to join sooner and more effectively (profile, joining groups, and so forth). As new, less savvy members join and provide feedback, the training options continue to evolve. Additionally, we noticed that many members know how to use the platform but don’t understand how to use it for business, which sparked the need for new additional training to be created.

Platform abuse/misuse – There has been minimal misuse of or abusive content on the platform. The community polices itself and anyone can easily report the abuse, which immediately removes the content at the same time. In most cases, reaching out to the author in a friendly manner to educate quickly corrects the issue.

More than business use – Many assume that employees will use the platform for non-business uses; of course, personal interest groups have been created, however, these groups help employees find the common personal ground important for working together. Overall, however, the vast majority of the groups are work oriented.

Controlling information – It is impossible to control what information is shared and ensure its accuracy. In cases of viral spread of misinformation, an attention-grabbing communications campaign to inform members has resolved the continued flow of misinformation. Community management from both the dedicated community manager and, ideally, extra volunteers help identify conversation threads that are inaccurate. Additionally, employees should be taught to consider the source of information when deciding how accurate it is in the same way they would with any other source. One key issue to keep in mind is that you cannot control what a disgruntled employee may post. If the wording or tone is borderline inappropriate, the community tends to self-police and comment on it; otherwise, the dialogue is encouraged as open communication and is one of the goals. On a few occasions, we’ve alerted the appropriate executives to join in on the conversation if they had not already done so.

Loss of intellectual property or confidential information – There have been a few instances of company confidential information posted on Engage, which have been reported as abuse and dealt with. To date, there has been no known loss or leak of information.

Monitoring and Controlling: Metrics, Objectives, and Actions to Fix Issues and Mitigate Risks

The key measures of success for the Engage launch were initially focused on adoption and success stories.

For adoption, we specifically look at the growth of new members, the members who actively use the system in a week, and the members that contribute to the content in a week. A few months after the launch, significant adoption perceived value has also been added to the metrics, which meant asking our audience the following: Do employees feel Engage is meeting the goals we originally defined for it? For example, we asked employees to rate on an agreement scale, “As a result of Engage, I am able to find information and expertise faster.”

Exhibit 2 shows the results of this poll.

Poll results: “As a result of using Engage, I am better able to find information […]”

Exhibit 2 – Poll results: “As a result of using Engage, I am better able to find information […]”

During the roll-out, we also asked employees to share any success stories in addition to the issues they encountered. We regularly shared with executives and users those success stories that personalized the impact of Engage on our productivity with statements such as, “I’ve met more people in 2 weeks than in 20 years of working here,” or “I found what I needed in 30 minutes compared to 6 hours emailing.”

Closing: Lessons Learned and New Projects Spun Off

The launch of Engage saw relatively few issues with its beta and true production launch from a technical standpoint.

One lesson learned was to have a plan in place for how to technically pull measurement data from the platform and showing the value right away.

From a business standpoint, we learned to stay on top of conversations (e.g., monitoring) in the platform because we had one incident of misinformation about platform security, which spread virally.

Additionally, we should have asked the community for their input about preferred training material formats. Initially, there were many videos, but we discovered that our international colleagues, in particular, prefer written documents with screenshots to follow along with.

Continually sharing feedback, tips, issue resolution, has lead the community to form significant trust in the advisory team, which affords us the community’s patience when we have issues to resolve.

Most importantly, we learned not to underestimate the amount of training needed. Social media tools are easy to use, but most employees need guidance on how to shift their every-day work patterns to take advantage of what the technology offers.

Current Operational Status

Today, the Engage platform is jointly owned by our strategy, marketing, communications business, and IT. An advisory committee makes all major decisions for the platform, and the business and IT jointly own the roadmap for patches, upgrades, and improvements.

The community itself (the help space created at launch) is used for members to report issues, provide feedback, and request enhancements. Additionally, the advisory team regularly blogs to share ideas proactively about issues, issue resolution, and new projects and/or features affecting the platform. The advisory team regularly continues to consult with HR, legal, data privacy, and information security as the community expands.

The Engage platform is continuously evolving. After the first year, we launched a new project aimed at increasing active and contributing members. From a technical platform point of view, we have several additional projects lined up, including two-factor authentication, integration with SharePoint repositories, and upgrades.

Case Study – Social Networking for Project Collaboration/Communications

Since its operational launch, the Engage platform has been used in Alcatel-Lucent as a way to promote project collaboration across widely dispersed cross-organizational teams. We will review the key lessons learned during the use of Engage as a primary communication tool during a project management competency development program.

Initiation: Sponsor Requirements

When the global project management office (PMO) was in the initiation phase of a project for project management–focused competency development in a critical technology, one of the open issues related to how to maintain a sense of community among the participants upon completion of the program.

A core team of experienced project managers was identified as the target audience for this program, but they all lived and worked in countries across the globe, embedded in organizations and projects that were not naturally in contact with each other. The project team decided to use Engage as a catalyst for this activity. The project manager was appointed facilitator for the community being formed via Engage.

Planning: Preparedness and Infrastructure

During the planning phase of the project, the project manager linked up with the Engage community manager to refine her understanding of the platform, its capabilities, and limitations. The initial set up was defined in Engage by creating a new private (i.e., by invitation only) group, which would provide a springboard for follow ups, questions, information sharing, and so on. The project manager was able to become familiar with the new technology and started using Engage to post progress reports, presentations, blogs on upcoming activities, and so forth, thus eliminating the need for an additional document repository.

The key activities targeted for the Engage group were:

  • Knowledge transfer among the participants based on their experiences in the new technology they were deploying. All questions asked among the participants and to experts, as well as the relative answers, would be via the social network rather than email, and thus would be available to anyone (now and in the future) joining the group

  • Deliverables produced via online collaboration in the Engage group: from regional seminars, to project checklists, once again without the limitations of additional repositories and email exchange

  • Collaboration and linkage to other communities in the corporation, who could provide support, advice, and additional resources during project planning and execution: research and development, competency centers, technical support, and so forth

  • Regional events planning and debriefing, so that all in the community could contribute to and benefit from such events, even if in a different region and/or organization

Execution: Questions, Brainstorming, and Ideas without Borders

While the competency program was being deployed, the project manager discussed the goals, expectations, and tools for the on-going community.

The initial reaction from the audience, a small group of experienced project managers, was extremely positive. All have been invited and are now active participants to the community, which now extends to include R&D stakeholders, product managers, and other key support representatives. The Engage group is used for questions (“How do you manage a request from the customer about this issue?” to “Can anyone support my team as we set up our lab?”), best practice and knowledge sharing (“This is how we set up our trial environment”; “These are the risks that eventuated when we deployed”), and brainstorming (“How can we improve on delivery intervals?”).

The project is still in execution as we write this paper, and, in this case, the project manager has assumed the role of community manager.

Monitoring and Controlling: The Challenges

Facilitating the Engage group and ensuring the new practice is used to its full potential is still a challenge for the project manager. Established approaches to collaboration, when inconsistent with the proposed practice, have to be painstakingly removed in such a way so as not to cause unnecessary delays to the participants and their own projects: email requests, sending large documents directly or via links to regional and/or local repositories, offline conversations, which could impact the community need to be redirected to equivalent activities in the Engage group. Blogging instead of emailing, for example, ensures that Team members who have yet to join the group will still be able to benefit from information exchange by going back, reviewing, or searching for this information. Using labels and categories expedites the search for relevant information. Editing common documents online means all members of the team can get the outcome of the collaboration effort in real time and are able to contribute.

The benefits of using this approach are evident for all stakeholders. Managing project threats and opportunities, blogging about different approaches to issue resolution, being able to leverage on expertise outside the team, and within the project management community at large, are all demonstrating the value of using enterprise 2.0 for communication within this project.

Conclusions: Social Networking and Project Management

As project managers, we are the professionals who implement change by delivering projects. Communication is often 75% or more of a project manager’s work. Changing the way we communicate in our projects is therefore not only crucial, it can easily and justifiably become a project within a project.

Undoubtedly, changing the way in which we communicate and collaborate take time, patience, perseverance, as well as robust planning and effective tools. For those of us who have been in the industry for many years, it also means adapting to a different way of managing our own personal communication with our team and using new (at times uncomfortable) technologies. This is not an easy undertaking, especially at a time in which we are jamming more and more tasks in our to-do lists.

Nonetheless, we have seen first hand how the Enterprise 2.0 approach introduces tremendous advantages to the way in which our project team can discuss, track, learn, and deliver projects across organizational and geographical boundaries.

So, we must ask ourselves: Are we as project managers ready to take up the challenge to use our corporate social network?


The authors would like to thank the following:

  • The Social Business Council: The learning from its community helped make the launch of Engage a success.
  • Kevin Joyce and Rich Maltzman for their feedback and encouragement.
  • The Alcatel-Lucent Engage platform: The authors have collaborated in preparing this paper using its features.

Hinchcliffe, D. (28 September 2009). Community management: The ‘essential’ capability of Enterprise 2.0 efforts, ZDNet Enterprise Web 2.0. Retrieved from

Li, C., & Bernoff, J., Forrester Research, Inc. (2008). Groundswell. Boston, Massachusetts: Harvard Business School Publishing.

McAfee, A.P. (1 April 2006). Enterprise 2.0: The dawn of emergent collaboration. MIT Sloan Management Review Retrieved from

Network effect (29 May 2011). In Wikipedia: The free encyclopedia. Retrieved from

Serendipity (28 May 2011). In Wikipedia: The free encyclopedia. Retrieved from

Web 2.0 (31 May 2011). In Wikipedia: The free encyclopedia. Retrieved from

© 2011, Loredana Abramo, Jem Janik
Originally published as a part of 2011 PMI Global Congress Proceedings – Dallas, Texas, USA



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