Ragan.com Articles on me@hp

KM Home

Battling over control of social networking sites - April 24, 2008 - by Melissa Underwood

HP & Web 2.0

Hewlett Packard launched a technology pilot social network inside the HP firewall in 2006 as an alternative to its internal PeopleFinder application that only provides basic information on employees. HP began a real push to encourage employees to join the network in 2007.

“Since so many people at HP are part of virtual teams which meet infrequently or not at all, me@hp provides a way of letting others see what you look like, what you are interested in, and what you would like to share with others,” said Stan Garfield, Worldwide Knowledge Management Leader for Consulting & Integration at Hewlett Packard. The Consulting & Integration Knowledge Management team created and manages the site.

The site has 2,626 members and grows by about 30 people each week, he added.

“The distributed nature of our work teams requires some way of personalizing the members so that they can better relate to one another, build trust and collaborate,” Garfield said. “Face-to-face meetings are the best way to do this, but in an era of far-flung teams and frequent travel bans, me@hp is the next best thing.”


Social networks like the one at HP allow employees to connect instantly

Does anyone at your company share your passion for bird-watching? Who is the resident math genius in your branch office? Is there an employee in the building who can help you program your shiny new iPhone? And did you ever wonder what that senior vice president for HR looked like?

If you work at computer giant Hewlett Packard, you could find the answers to these questions by logging on to its internal social network me@hp.

It goes by the buzzword "knowledge management," but this growing corporate site looks to the casual observer like a page ripped from Facebook or Myspace. Pictures of smiling men and women appear next to profiles eagerly listing their passions for roller skating, barbecues and parakeets.

More than 2,000 HP employees have joined the site, connecting online to share their interests, network and communicate, says Stan Garfield, the company's worldwide knowledge management leader for Consulting & Integration.

The HP site, and others like it, begin with the assumption that all organizations contain vast reservoirs of talent nestled in cubicles around the globe. Social networks, through their use of meta tags, profiles and easy-to-use search allow employees to tap into this talent pool with a few strokes on the keypad.

Gerry McGovern, one of the world's foremost intranet experts, says these new social networks and searchable people directories may soon become the top draw of every corporate intranet.

But remember, launching a social network is only half the battle. Convincing employees to join and participate is the other half, and it's not always easy.

Getting approval

Although many communicators see the value of internal social networks, convincing management is not so easy.

In fact, the knowledge management team at HP first built the social networking site and then asked management for it support, says Andrew Gent, one of Garfield's colleagues and the lead knowledge architect for HP Consulting & Integration.

“We do projects like this assuming we can do them quickly," says Gent. If Gent had gone to the bosses first, "we would have been shot down,” he added.

The strategy worked—HP's management liked what it saw. Of course it helped that the site could use an existing server to tamp down any additional costs, Gent said.

In fact, cost savings are key when pitching an internal social network to skeptical bosses, he added. It's an inexpensive way for global teams to work together and earn each other's respect and trust.

“Face-to-face meetings are the best way to do this, but in an era of far-flung teams and frequent travel bans, me@hp is the next best thing,” says Gent.

The site allows employees to create a personal home page with profiles, photos and links to favorite Web sites, and to form groups and build teams with similar interests—like types of music or sports—with co-workers.

“We really wanted to focus on ‘what is the person actually doing and what are they actually good at,’” Gent said.

In addition to his work history, Gent’s own profile tells visitors that he's married with two kids and that the Gent household includes three fish, a parakeet and a hamster. It also includes a link to his personal blog.

Participation in the network is optional; employees worried about privacy don't have to join.

Social networking advocates say sites like me@hp help workers collaborate more efficiently.

For example, employees preparing for a meeting can print a catalogue of the participants and their profiles and distribute it to attendees. It boosts the comfort level of the meeting and offers a "takeaway" to meeting participants. Think high school yearbook for the corporate meeting.

Although the site has 2,626 members and grows by about 30 people each week, HP has a long way to go to reach the rest of its 172,000 employees.

Participation is critical

With harried employees pressed for time, asking them to create a profile page and engage in a social media network might not be an easy sell.

To encourage HP employees, a senior vice president sent workers a memo last November to join the site. It helped that the collaboration had become a company byword.

“It’s nice to be able to see what our colleagues look like, what they are interested in, and what they consider important information to share,” the executive wrote to employees. “So go head and create your profile, customize it, and start networking. And invite your colleagues to do the same!”

The memo included employee testimonials to encourage participation.

“You can browse others’ personal pages and learn more about them, and you can even add them as your friends and keep in touch,” one employee wrote. “Personally I would not give up such a chance for anything. So I went ahead and created mine.”

HP also drives traffic to the site through word-of-mouth and intranet forum discussions.

“Once people see it, we don’t really have to explain why [to join],” Gent said.