IBM recognized the importance of social networking, especially for the younger ‘millennial’ employees. Instead of trying to restrict employees access to these sites, IBM had a novel idea: create a social network exclusively for IBM employees. The IBM Watson Research Center gives an overview of the network they created, the Beehive. It is very similar in format to Facebook: it has a customizable homepage, option to upload photos, personalized lists and the ability to create and organize events.
According to Liam J. Cleaver, IBM Jam program director, the purpose of this network is relationship building and ‘people sense-making.’ Toby Ward explained the difference between the two in an April 2008 post on his intranet blog. The relationship building aspect applies to new hires, to make them feel more welcome and comfortable with getting to know other employees. It also involves team building, which plays an important role in keeping geographically dispersed teams on the same page and providing them with a sense of unity. Lastly, it plays a keep-in-touch role to help employees who have been separated maintain their personal and professional ties. The people sense-making facet is more focused on other employees’ hobbies, similar interests, skills, and learning about company projects beyond the employees’ individual teams. Here’s an example of a Beehive homepage:
IBM found that employees used the Beehive to get to know each other better, and even to meet employees they don’t know. This has implications for a more open, unified company. Anne Kreitzberg explains in her January 2009 blog post that the social network is facilitating a breakdown of communication barriers by rank, location, and social group. This also aids team building and trust among employees. Another way employees are using the network is to promote their ideas in innovative ways. They no longer have to rely on top-level management to get their ideas heard, they can showcase them directly to other employees and generate feedback this way. It’s important to note the IBM did not restrict employees with rules about the content on their personal Beehive pages.
What’s the big deal?
The corporate intranet, including the Beehive, has surpassed all other sources of information as the most trusted, including the grapevine. This allows IBM’s management to get involved with employees, join the conversations where they’re taking place, and foster a sense of democratic culture within the company. In addition, this network has strengthened IBM’s collaborative culture, a very important asset to a company reliant on innovative ideas.