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Company Benefits from Employee Intranet Blogs

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G. Oliver Young is fast becoming my new hero. Every time this Forrester analyst puts out a paper, it provides me with fodder to support my arguments supporting social media in the enterprise.

imageThe latest, a case study detailing the efforts by financial services company Northwestern Mutual to take advantage of social media on its intranet, is particularly important because the company under the microscope isn’t high-tech. In fact, insurance companies are traditionally among the most conservative organizations when it comes to embracing new media.

But Norwestern Mutual jumped into social media with both feet, first invetigating the potential in 2005 and then deploying both employee blogs and RSS.

The company’s blogging effort was designed to achieve three specific goals:

  • Efficient and accurate communication from management to employees
  • A feedback loop from employees to management.
  • Inter-employee communication.

The initiative was pushed by Northwestern Mutual’s Assistant Director of Corporate Relations, Andrea Austin, and taken up by the cross-functional Public Affairs Committee. Several concerns needed to be overcome, though, including fears that internal blogging would sap employee productivity (where have we heard that one before?), issues raised by Human Resources, and security concerns, among others.

Once these were addressed, the blogging platform—Mutualblog—was rolled out. It became evident quickly, though, that RSS would be required to make blogging practical. NewsGator provided RSS functionality for the company.

While the bloging initiative was designed to improve the culture of openness and honesty, the biggest benefits were seen in project and team management. About 70% of the active blogs at Northwestern Mutual focus on project management.

Nobody doubts that the blogging and RSS effort has produced business value but, not surprisingly, it isn’t easy to measure. Still, there is strong evidence that communication has improved and team and individual productivity have increased. Contrary to the concerns expressed by some that employee blogging will drain productivity, Northwestern Mutual’s experiment has shown that it helps address information overload. According to the case study:

Blogging has provided a partial solution to the (information overload) problem, allowing employees —- especially the geographically distributed field force —- to engage new content at their leisure, cutting down on conference calls, meetings, and email overload. The firm has even higher hopes for the recently launched RSS solution, which it expects to help cut down information overload as opt-in emails, newsletters, and corporate portal content transition into the RSS channel.

Next up for Northwestern mutual are efforts to drive greater employee adoption of blogs, bringing wikis and podcasting into the mix, and applying the social media efforts that have worked behind the firewall onto the World Wide Web for external communciation purposes.

The full study goes into considerable detail on Northwestern Mutual’s social media efforts. It costs $279, which is pretty damn cheap for any communicator looking for evidence to convince the powers that be that the naysayers are wrong and, when executed strategically, social media on the intranet produces real bottom-line business value.

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