In the digital age of talking via tweet, the term social networks now makes people think of Twitter, Facebook or LinkedIn. However, according to Dr. Larry Miller, president and CEO of Activate Networks, flesh-and-blood social networks are just as critical, if not more important, than those relationships forged in cyberspace.

Speaking Wednesday on the importance of social networks — the organic relationships employees form from working together — Miller said effective leaders at all levels of an organization can learn how to use social networks to lengthen their professional reach and improve their companies.

“Social networks are critical to innovation,” Miller said during his webinar titled “Using Social Networks to Drive Organizational Change, adding that on a more granular level, such networks can drive success of individual business initiatives like wellness programs.

By targeting of “key” employees, those that have the most influence, employers can “map” the network to “identify the influential people within [clusters of employees] and message them,” Miller said, pointing to Weight Watchers as an example of leveraging organizational dynamics between groups of friends. “If you can get behavior change in the influencers, you’ll get behavior change flowing through the network.”

Miller said organizational analysis is a critical function for HR professionals to have. He displayed several charts with dots representing people and lines running between various dots. The lines represented the connections between people, which can be used for messaging.

In implementing changes to make connections within a team, he pointed to several practical tips. “Some of it is simply introducing people, especially people that are hesitant to make connections, putting them on project teams together, and then hopefully extending that into the workplace,” Miller said. “More cohesive teams tend to be more productive, if these teams stay insular they lose their verve and become less productive. If you introduce new members, they become more productive.”

He also pointed to the possibility of looking for troubled employees who can also spread negativity just as quickly as positive messages from key employees.

“Disenfranchised employees can magnify their impact through the network,” Miller said. But just as easily, it can be used for good. “Social capital improves results and innovation.”

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