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Enterprise Social Networks: The Next Big Thing in Internal Communication and Collaboration?

ESNshutterstock_11156593Corporate internal communications, heavy on endless streams of emails and one-way messaging through intranets and newsletters, are among the last hold-outs in the social media revolution.

In our personal lives, we have adopted social media as a way of connecting with friends, families, classmates and people with similar interests. Email use, in turn, is declining.

But at work, we cling to old forms of communication, particularly email. This, despite data from a McKinsey report that shows the average knowledge worker spends an estimated 28 percent of the workweek managing email.

Even more disturbing: an estimated 20 percent of our work time is spent trying to track down information or colleagues to help with specific tasks.

How is this productive?

Enterprise Social Networks: A Possible Answer to Email Overload, Silos, Duplicated Efforts, Ideas that Go Nowhere, and More

An Enterprise Social Network (ESN) is described by the Altimeter Group as “a set of technologies that creates business value by connecting members of an organization through profiles, updates, and notifications.” They are a lot like Facebook and LinkedIn, but can be set-up to just include members of an organization, so conversations are internal.

Examples of programs that have been around for a few years include Yammer, Tibbr, Jive and Chatter.

Advantages of Enterprise Social Networks

  • Ease of Use – Many of the ESNs are set-up to work similarly to Facebook, a tool most people already know and use.  The learning curve, therefore, can be short.
  • Access to Expertise – By setting up individual profiles that include job title, projects, interests and expertise, users can more quickly find the right person to contact for help with a problem.  This can be much more helpful than a typical employee directory.
  • Collaboration – Teams can work together more effectively than they can through email.  Streams are kept together in more searchable groups.   These can be open or private. If the group includes members from outside the organization, they can be added to just that group without gaining access to the organization’s entire account.  New members can quickly get up-to-speed on the background of the project.
  • Avoid Duplication – Organizations who use ESNs effectively have found they break down silos.  When staff members can see what other teams are working on, they can work together and avoid duplication of effort.
  • Encourage Innovation – The hierarchical nature of many organizations leaves many on the lower levels feeling like their ideas and voices can’t be heard.  An ESN allows those ideas to be shared.  Feedback validates their contribution and the individual can feel more engaged.

If Enterprise Social Networks Are So Great, Why Aren’t They Catching On?

One Gartner study found that although 70% of the organizations surveyed use social technologies, just 10% reported having success with it.

The most commonly cited reason was “time.” Already in information overload, those surveyed said that checking an additional source for information was something they simply didn’t have time to do. Executives, in particular, were reluctant to spend time on the networks. Their lack of engagement then trickled down through the organization and the use dropped to a small number of employees excited about the technology.

Organizations that have found success with ESNs are those who have made it a part of their workflow, not just another layer of information.

So, to wrap up, enterprise social networks have the potential to change the way we work and communicate within organizations, but the following are needed for it to not be just another technology adopted and left to wither away:

  1. A strategic business objective
  2. Freedom for teams to use it to collaborate in ways that work for them
  3. Leadership use and buy-in
  4. Training
  5. An open and trusting environment that encourages sharing of ideas from all levels

 

Why Enterprise Social Networks Fail
Courtesy of: Infographic Journal