Social Media’s Growing Role: Paving the Way

For over a decade, the primary means of business communication were telephone, fax, email or post. But organisations increasingly find themselves under pressure to adopt instant messaging, Twitter, RSS feeds, smart phones, portals and message boards as part of daily business life. For the ‘Facebook generation’ using these tools is second nature – in fact they are often the ones driving the change. The technology found in their homes, handbags and pockets would give even large corporations a run for their money – and these tech-savvy people expect their personal communication methods to be widely available in the workplace.

Social Media for Corporates

So what does this mean for the day-to-day operations of today’s financial organisations? Answering this question requires a closer look at emerging technology trends – and not just those in the business arena. ‘Social media’ is blazing the consumer trail and its ubiquity sees it also being seriously considered by many corporates. By its very nature, social media hinges around information sharing, engaging with others and collaborating on discussions – all terms that are equally at home in the business environment as the consumer one.

Looking at the bigger picture makes predicting organisational communication trends in the near future easier. In particular, Facebook’s recent acquisition of group messaging service Beluga gives further indication of the predominance that ‘sharing’ will continue to have. Previous Facebook acquisitions have centred on the talent employed at the company in question, but the Beluga deal also includes the technology itself. As such, we are likely to see an explosion in the uptake of group messaging as the social media giant offers its 500 million users new ways to communicate and share group experiences.

Collaborating with Colleagues

Group messaging is nothing new in itself. Although social media references tend to relate to the more consumer-focused mediums of Facebook and Twitter, persistent group chat, as group messaging is also known, has had a devoted following among the business community for some time.

To see why, it is necessary to compare it with email, which does not lend itself well to real-time conversations, as people reply to messages at different times and stages of the discussion. In contrast, persistent group chat combines the immediacy of instant messaging with the multi-party reach of email. Group chat allows users to have topic-based, multi-party discussions that persist over time – enabling efficient information sharing and discussions as a group.

Unified Communications

The financial community has long recognised the value offered by the real-time sharing of information in this way. Group chat has been the preserve of large investment banks that, for many years, have viewed the technology as being integral to the success of their business. This trend has been helped by the growing adoption of Microsoft’s unified communications platforms – Microsoft Lync Server 2010 and its predecessor, Microsoft Office Communications Server (OCS) 2007 R2 – which include Group Chat as standard, meaning that financial organisations large and small can experiment with the channel.

Chat rooms are used to create a single global communication channel for a specific market/product, which is also persistent so that individuals across multiple regions can interact and share information more efficiently.

Group chat enables firms to not only execute within a defined business unit/market, but across lines of businesses so that individual desks can share information with others. This enables each desk to establish a global communication channel whereby they are able to share information more effectively. This results in new opportunities for better market intelligence while creating a direct impact on the ability to implement cross-selling strategies. Not only can channels be leveraged for market/product specific channels, they can also be used to create other channels of communication, such as co-ordinating account strategies through virtual teams created based on the market needs of the clients.

This is not just for use in front office operations, but is something that can be leveraged by the middle office and back office as well. For instance, one customer that leveraged this globally across the entire investment banking operations experienced an outage in a datacentre. Within minutes, the IT organisation had a channel created to resolve the issue that impacted more than 2,000 users. The advantage of using chat rooms was that as individuals were alerted to the issue across the globe, they were able to leverage the persistent channel to effectively communicate and respond to the issue.

Many of the leading firms are developing strategies around the concepts of ‘one firm’, ‘eliminating silos’, and creating ‘virtual teams’. These are popular themes across many firms, however, executing these strategies require more than just a mission statement. To effectively deliver on these strategies requires firms to actually enable individuals across their firms to execute in such a manner that opens up new communication channels to execute according to evolving client demands for more integrated services and strategies.

Knowledge Sharing

Group chat is all about knowledge sharing. By default, chats contain a wealth of expertise and interests that may not be formally captured by traditional methods. Chat discussions are increasingly being used to source industry experts on a given subject, or review how a similar problem may have been solved previously. A typical use case is where a new starter has joined the organisation, they do not know who to ask about a particular subject/product/project or topic – however in an enterprise with Group Chat they simply have to join the relevant channel and ask their question, they do not have to know the participants to locate their answer.

An additional benefit is that group chat needn’t focus purely on solving work issues. By its very nature, it brings like-minded people together to discuss a common subject that will help create and strengthen working relationships.

Encouraging user adoption…

However, while this early adoption is to be encouraged, many financial organisations are only scratching the surface of this extremely powerful technology’s capabilities.

One of the major hurdles – as with most new technology implementations – is getting users to adopt the new systems. Employees just entering the workforce regard communicating via social media as the norm. However, when it comes to more established staff, human nature dictates that we are creatures of habit and never more so than in the workplace where already busy executives are reluctant to change what they perceive to be proven working practices. Encouraging employees to adopt new ways of working is particularly challenging when the bewildering choice of tools is perceived to hinder, rather than help, their day job.

…through integration with existing applications

Group chat, however, has a key advantage over other new tools. Technology developments now mean that it can be fully integrated into existing applications, such as Microsoft Outlook and Microsoft Office SharePoint Server that are already widely used by many organisations. Introducing group chat via an application that users already know and trust means that individuals can easily participate in chat discussions without having to change screens or alter working practices.

Keeping users in their comfort zone in this way will not only encourage uptake of the technology and improve business performance, but will ease the implementation, training and management burden associated with any new application.

Ensuring Compliance and Control

All organisations must be confident that they are compliant with their industry’s rules and regulations – and this is especially so for the financial sector. Creating policies will not only ensure that social media is being operated in a controlled and compliant manner, but that it is also being used to its best advantage. In addition, it will encourage the technology to be deployed consistently across the organisation and therefore regarded as a core business tool – even by initial ‘non-believers’.

Senior management have a key role to play here. Taking an active part in chat room discussions will further ‘endorse’ the technology and its perception as an approved communication tool, as well as demonstrate best practice.

On the Move

Truly valuable information – particularly in the fast-paced financial world – must be up-to-the-minute. Enabling users to remain fully connected on group chat via mobile solutions or the web will help keep information flow constant and fresh even when individuals are on the move or working remotely.

Taking this concept of remote access a step further, businesses can extend discussions through a web-based real-time reach chat client to valued external contacts such as third party partners, suppliers or customers – ensuring that everyone is on the same page at the same time.

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