Sharing is caring: what enterprise social networks can do for you

Businesses are turning to enterprise social networking (ESN) as a way to improve communication and collaboration amongst staff, but adoption has so far been slow. This is often down to a lack of executive leadership and low levels of employee engagement.

ESN enables employees internally and externally to connect and share business interests and activities, drawing on the flavor of consumer social networks such as Facebook and Twitter. The idea being that it is a quick and easy tool to share resources and knowledge across the company structure.

The menu is large

Despite a somewhat lethargic debut, ESN is not another passing fad. The popularity of social networking for the consumer has triggered enterprises into looking at how this phenomena can be harnessed to connect employees more effectively.  Gartner predicts that ESN will become the main channel of communication for companies in the future. By 2016, it estimates that 50% of large organizations will have internal Facebook-like social networks and that 30% of these will be considered as essential as email and the telephone.

The market is expanding at a rapid pace globally.  Global Industry Analysts Inc (GIA) estimates that the worldwide ESN market will be worth US$4.8 billion by 2020. The number of players in the arena is growing and now includes Sharepoint, together with Slack, Convo, Jostle, Tibbr, Plazza HighQ and BitRix24 and SocialCast. Despite the wide choice, GIA maintains that enterprises are leaning towards full-suite collaborative platforms such as Jive Software’s Jive, IBM Connections, SalesForce Chatter and Microsoft Yammer.

New entrants are also surfacing. Facebook has jumped out of its consumer comfort zone to roll out Facebook at Work, a business version of its service which is currently being piloted by the Royal Bank of Scotland across its 100,000 staff.

In addition Orange Business has rolled out Business Together Sharespace, developed in partnership with Jive Software to help Orange customers in their digital transformation.

So confident is Orange in the power of enterprise social networking, it has launched a new version of its Plazza internal social network, available on all devices and designed to work with the Group’s 154,00 employees. Orange has ambitious plans for Plaza. It hopes to see 50% of its employees’ active in the social network and train 80% of its managers in the new collaborative working methods by 2018.

Slow off the starting blocks

Despite the array of application choice, the majority of enterprises still aren’t realizing the full benefits just yet.  Why? Because businesses need to realize that social initiatives are very different from other technology deployments.

"Traditional technology rollouts, such as ERP or CRM, followed a "push" paradigm. Workers were trained on an app and were then expected to use it. In contrast, social initiatives require a "pull" approach, one that engages workers and offers them a significantly better way to work. In most cases, they can't be forced to use social apps, they must opt-in,” explained Carol Rozwell, vice president and distinguished analyst at Gartner.

Enterprises need to understand social networks
To create a successful enterprise social network and get employee ‘buy in’, enterprises must first understand social networks and how people use them.  They also need to understand how people in the organisation are currently working, who they collaborate with and what their exact needs are.

"There is too much focus on content and technology, and not enough focus on leadership and relationships," explained Rozwell. "Leaders need to develop a social business strategy that makes sense for the organization and tackle the tough organizational change work head on and early on. Successful social business initiatives require leadership and behavioral changes. Just sponsoring a social project is not enough — managers need to demonstrate their commitment to a more open, transparent work style by their actions”.

Does your company need ESN? 
The key reason to deploy ESN is to speed up communications and help employees get the information they need faster to make smart decisions.  In other words, making them more agile. Any tool that aids collaboration, motivates and breaks down geographic barriers can’t be ignored.  If you haven’t already explored ESN, you need to start now. Improving the way employees connect may seem small, but it can make big changes for the better in your organization. 

Read about our colloboration environment Business Together Sharespace.


Jan Howells

Jan has been writing about technology for over 22 years for magazines and web sites, including ComputerActive, IQ magazine and Signum. She has been a business correspondent on ComputerWorld in Sydney and covered the channel for Ziff-Davis in New York.