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Enterprise Social Networking is More Than Facebook Behind a Firewall

We see everyday what’s possible with social networks for improving customer engagement and experiences? Can the same be done with internal social networks for improving employee engagement and experiences?

In the many years of helping businesses align business objectives with social and new media strategies, there is one thing that always introduces difficulty into the equation, employee engagement. At some point in the development of any strategy, employee and stakeholder input is critical to ensure relevance and ultimately success. While social media may more often than not live in the marketing department, it affects the entire organization and as such, requires a centralized approach to leadership and management combined with a distributed platform for communication and learning.

Enterprise social networks (ESNs) are on the rise as they can deliver an immediate solution for aligning stakeholders around activity streams with the familiarity of Twitter or Facebook. These internal social networks are not only validating and useful to power users, but also friendly and easy to participate in for those who are new to the platform. While the promise of ESNs is significant to the future of how employees interact, learn, and ultimately work, challenges exist around adoption and overall measurement. And, like social media in general, businesses often underestimate or altogether miss the true potential of social networks and the role they play in bringing people together to do something incredible…over and over.

Charlene Li, my colleague at Altimeter Group, published a new report, “Making The Business Case For Enterprise Social Networking” to do just that, help you make the business case for enterprise social networking. As she observes from the onset, “ESNs are not simply Facebook behind a firewall. Every enterprise has distinct needs and nuances that require a reframing of a social network.”

So often, businesses deploy new technology without designing goals, processes, and reward systems to promote new engagement. Additionally, decision makers miss the need to empower key stakeholders to drive adoption and address internal skeptics and detractors. Thus, the potential for ESNs is restricted right out of the gate and in the absence of leadership and executive sponsorship, internal networking strategies miss critical opportunities to engage and inspire people, internally and externally, to more effectively connect and collaborate.

Everything begins with investing in a culture of employee and customer-centricity where ESNs and social networks in general become enablers for a new vision, empowerment, supported by defined outcomes and rewards. Yes, it’s part technology. But, tools only take you so far. It’s the philosophy and eventually vision and leadership behind the implementation that serves as the foundation for internal engagement.

Four Key Ways ESNs Deliver Value to a Social Business

In Charlene’s report, she found that many companies place greater emphasis on technology and not the people or the relationship factor that ESNs are designed to nurture.

Most companies approach enterprise social networks as a technology deployment and fail to understand that the new relationships created by enterprise social networks are the source for value creation. Yesteryear, internal technology departments could force software on business units, but in today’s consumerized world, business units can adopt enterprise software, often without IT ever knowing. As a result, a new approach is required that focuses on four key ways that relationships create value through enterprise social networks:

1) Encourage sharing.
2) Capture knowledge.
3) Enable action.
4) Empower employees.

These four points serve as beacons for guiding the development of a more meaningful engagement strategy within and across work groups to set the stage for a social business. If we bring a “Facebook-like” (get it?) mentality into our ESN strategy, we may fall short of enabling a truly social enterprise. In the report, she introduces the six elements that outline the differences between a public and enterprise social network to clarify the nuances between what’s truly possible.

What we have here is a failure to communicate

In general, expectations are high for ESNs because of the wonderful opportunities introduced through public-facing social networks. Executives are learning about the benefits associated with customer engagement through Facebook, Twitter, et al. But without establishing initial goals and then driving toward those outcomes, expectations for ESNs often go unmet.

Charlene’s research team interviewed 185 end users and surveyed 81 decision makers to learn about expectations for ESNs. They found that not only is there strong belief i the ability for ESNs to provide value to the organization, there is an emphasis on improving collaboration and the flow of information and knowledge within the organization.

However, Charlene uncovered “an undercurrent of concern” around potential value creation and the sustainable adoption of ESNs. Notably, most organizations saw one or more of the following four scenarios:

1. An initial enthusiasm and usage followed by slow decline.
2. Only one department strongly adopts the ESN.
3. Culture confusion and lack of executive engagement stymied growth from the start.
4. Lack of social business maturity.

Looking at the chart above, the majority of organizations are still in the experimental phases of ESN deployments. They’re piloting without operating under a formalized strategy. Examining the other numbers however, the distribution between formalized, mature, and advanced is notable.  But as Charlene notes, there are three critical painpoints that are either limiting success or hindering adoption. And, one could then revisit these numbers to discover that organizations may not be as far along as they believe.

Pain Point #1: Lack Of Metrics Means Business Impact Goes Unmeasured

Pain Point #2: Rapidly Developing Technology Platforms Create A Myriad Of Confusing Options

Pain Point #3: Integration Into Existing Platforms, Workflow, And Access Remain A Barrier

Developing an Action Plan

Making The Business Case For Enterprise Social Networking is rich, full of insights, and most importantly, it delivers a series of steps to follow to design ESN strategies to drive business value.

Regardless of where you are on the maturity curve, there should be four essential elements of your ESN action plan:
1) Objectives;
2) Metrics;
3) Relationships; and
4) Technology.

To get started, use the following checklist to help organize and prioritize your effort

Taking a Step Back: You are the Change Agent

There is no “I” in team, but there certainly is a “me.” And, to that point, there is also a “me” in social media. I guess, there’s an “I” too, but my point is that at the center of every team you belong to, is well, you. You are already learning about the importance of social media in your personal life. Many of you who are reading this now have also invested in demonstrating the importance of social media to your organization. But there’s a stark difference between traditional networking applications that most likely exist at your company today and the social networks you depend on for everyday communication, discovery, and engagement.

When you joined the organization you’re at today, you most likely received a desk, a PC, a phone, an email account, etc. You probably didn’t receive a Twitter handle or a Facebook page. You brought those into company. But that’s not all that came along with you. You introduced a new perspective on how transparent communication and connections facilitate engagement and collaboration. And this is why existing infrastructures that facilitate employee interaction and knowledge sharing are often not up to par to meet the needs for those pushing for transformation in the social economy.

Social media is about you. You have a voice. Everything you see in social networks is unique to you because you are at the center of the entire experience. This is why I lovingly refer to social media as the Egosystem. By design, everything revolves around you. Your friends, co-workers, the businesses and organizations you support, are linked to by you. You have become the ringmaster of your personal connectivity and in many ways, serve as the IT department not only for yourself, but also the people who rely upon you to ease their way into the egosystem. You know better than anyone what it takes to engage you and also inspire you to take action. You need to get something out of it. You need to see what happens as a result.

It comes down to you to demonstrate what’s possible because in the end, you know that employee engagement influences customer engagement.

As Zappos CEO Tony Hsieh recently shared with me, “If employees weren’t happy, they would not make customers happy. If customers weren’t happy, we wouldn’t be where we are today. We believe that if we get the culture right, then most of the other stuff, like delivering great service, or building a long-term enduring brand will just happen naturally on its own.”

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45 COMMENTS ON THIS POST To “Enterprise Social Networking is More Than Facebook Behind a Firewall”

  1. I was interested in the references to the call which is being heard more and more often from CEOs and other C-level execs “we need an internal Facebook”. The positive of that is the recognition that an easy way to share things would benefit the business. The downside is that they overestimate the ease of success and overlook or downplay all the important ESM planning, deployment and management issues you raise.

    Walter @adamson:twitter 
    @igo2 Group

  2. Jac Xu says:

    Internal enterprise communication is so important. It makes the information flow smoothly within the organization.  Social networking efficiently provides more channels than before to keep the company and business transparent to almost every level.  It also saves time and company budget for the traditional meeting.  The most important, social networking also empowers the employee to express idea and thoughts freely. Letting them involve the business decision and feel about they also own a part of business is really healthy for the long-term strategy.

  3. Harwinder says:

    hmm!! that’s rite!!

  4. Ariefamron says:

    This is a very helpful report. It is good to know that more corporate leaders are interested in enterprise social networking. The value is huge and corporate leaders need to relate internal staff at the same level as external customers.

  5. Jbernard says:


    Like you and Charlene, I believe social networking INSIDE the enterprise may well turnout to be the most powerful application of these technologies. They will have a transformative effect on transparency and will demand the need for great agility in shifting resources when core processes or major initiatives break down.

    Show a senior executive a TweetDeck and tell him/her that they could set it up to watch what’s happening on their most critical engineering project, see what the marketing people are thinking, hear the voice of their employees about changes being made in the organization — not to mention listen to what is being said about their brand, their competition’s latest product and yes, even themselves.

    The future is just beginning to be revealed.

    Thanks to you and Charlene for the report.


  6. Guy Alvarez says:

    I am in the middle of deploying an ESN for one of my clients and I couldn’t agree more with the points made here and in Charlene’s report.
    From the outset, I was clear with everyone in the organization and made sure they understood that this was not just a technology project but rather a business transformation project that would have a profound impact on all employees and the company itself. Choosing a technology platform has been complicated because there are multiple vendors with similar feature sets. However, that challenge will pale in comparison to the challenge of properly communicating and enticing employees to change the way in which they work and adopt a new and more innovative approach to working and collaborating with one another.

    The ESN is the first phase of a larger social business transformation project, however, in order to be successful in the overall strategy, I am 100% sure that the success will be tied to adoption at all levels of the organization

  7. Ranjan says:

    It is very much important to use the enterprise social networking system, but it should be also reminded that large population still believes on the system which is well communicated. 

  8. Anonymous says:

    There is one additional — and potentially hugely impactful — benefit to ESNs that I don’t believe is adequately characterized and captured in most ESN projects… the social network analytics services that can be realized as a result of these ESNs. 

    Once we start capturing all the interactions throughout the enterprise — traditional ones (biz processes) as well as new social ones (ala wikis, microblogging, activity streams, etc.) — we are able to deliver recommendation services that can enhance and optimize every process within the business. 

  9. simonswills says:

    Everything you see in public support systems is exclusive to you because you are at the middle of the whole encounter. This is why I adoringly talk about social networking. By style, everything moves around you.

  10. Sam says:

    This is a superb report. It is good to know that more corporate leaders are interested in enterprise social networking.

  11. Tumbleweed Analytics says:

    I couldn’t agree more: I like Facebook, Twitter is good, and blogs are great. However, people require personalized, diigital, content – delivered to their mobile device – in a nice layout that is easy to scan and read. And this is going to be even more important as Tablets – with larger screens, and as an ‘entertainment’ function product – grow in popularity. Yahoo!’s Livestand Tablet, digital magazine platform serves an important niche that social media can’t: pretty hard to broadcast the Olympics on Facebook, not so to a Tablet user with Livestand using images, videos and articles.

  12. Clay Hebert says:

    Great post, Brian. And kudos to Charlene for what seems to be a very comprehensive report. I’m going to be navigating a lot of these waters as I work with early adopter enterprise companies on Spindows and it’s nice to have this report as one of my many maps. 

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  14. ErnieMozes says:

    I think the only two vendors who got enterprise social networking right are Bitrix24 and Mango. If you want your employees to use ESN, they must come jam packed with worktools that are used on a daily basis.

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