Social networks at the enterprise

The other day I was having an informal conversation with some colleagues around the topic of Web 2.0 tools inside an organization. The main question was “what can these new technologies do for businesses? What are companies using it for?”. The interest arose from their personal awareness/curiosity on the topic and they approached me because I had written (and apparently they had read, which is always a good thing) a couple of brief articles on Enterprise 2.0 and social networks at the enterprise on an internal newsletter.

Almost at the end of the conversation one of my colleagues paused and said “I can see what you mean but I’m having a difficult time understanding specifically what a social network technology can do for a company. I mean, when I think of Facebook or hi5…”. He didn’t finish the sentence but I knew that in his mind he was imagining the kind of usage of social networking platforms that he sees in is personal life and having a pretty difficult time translating that into a work environment.

I explained, as best as I could, what those platforms could do in terms of allowing the discovery of internal expertise, building internal communities around shared interests, helping to build a networked organization and showing a bit more of background about our colleagues (the “putting a face into a name” sort of effect), capitalizing on the notion of social.

Later that day I attended a webinar organized by the Enterprise 2.0 Conference on “Making the leap from Social to Enterprise Business Networking” and one of the sponsors of the webinar showed the following video to explain how social networking can work inside an organization (there are no coincidences, right?). I leave you with the video because I think it captures well the essence of enterprise social networking.

Please note the recurrent shift between online and offline interaction in the video. Technology is here to enable offline connections that can stimulate real world contacts, not to substitute them. But I’ll leave that to another post…

Disclosure: I have no connection with Saba Software.


3 thoughts on “Social networks at the enterprise

  1. Ana,

    I think you are incorrectly using the term “Social Networking”. What you described in the third paragraph of the post is almost exclusively “social media” like micro-blogging etc. Nothing to do with Social Networking. Social Networking is when you use the transactional data from these Social Media apps to create Social Graphs and perform a Social Network Analysis (SNA).

    Setting up an internal (contained) social media sites (e.g. yammer) should NOT be the end-goal in itself. The Social Graph generated from the interactions on the site should be used to improve the employee experience e.g. by performing social network analysis or using the Social Graph to add relevancy in the query results on the Enterprise Search Engine etc. Lots of use cases……

    • Hello Saqib, long time no see!

      Thank you for commenting.

      In the third paragraph I talk about the benefits, as related by several companies, of social networking platforms (or tools) when applied in a work environment. Think of it as something like a LinkedIn for the enterprise but built for internal use and where each employee has its own profile usually pulling information (contacts, etc) from existing HR systems but allowing for additional information (interests, hobbies, training, etc) to be added by the employee. And by searching or navigating this enterprise online social network you can discover what competences and expertise other colleagues may have, what are their interests outside corporate walls, what has been their professional path.

      On the topic of finding internal expertise, for example, I can tell you of the case of a company doing consultancy in technology that found, after implementing one integrated platform for knowledge management that included social networking capabilities, that they were hiring external consultants for advise on a given technology when in fact they had one or two employees with past experience in that technology, but management was not aware of that since they were not working on that inside this company.

      I am aware that social network is a sociological concept with many more years than those of social networking tools like Facebook or LinkedIn. That’s why I tried to be cautious enough to include the word platform when referring to the benefits. But I do not agree when you say that “social Networking is when you use the transactional data from these Social Media apps to create Social Graphs and perform a Social Network Analysis (SNA)”. I think that instead you use data from a social media site to detect a social network (or, as it happens a lot in the Twitter case, an hashtag network) and perform social networking analysis.

      But I agree with you that building a company’s social graph is of a high importance for depicting internal relationships between individuals and teams inside organizations, detecting strong and weak ties and the individuals that act as bridges between groups of smaller networks (as discussed by authors such as Mark Granovetter and Andrew McAffee).

      And I couldn’t agree more with your statement “Setting up an internal (contained) social media sites (e.g. yammer) should NOT be the end-goal in itself”.

      • Hey Ana,

        I guess we will never agree on the definition of the phrase “social network” 🙂

        However, I totally agree with you on the benefits of Expertise Discovery from the use of Social Media apps in an enterprise. In fact I have been looking for a Social Profile app that has some sort of decent expertise search/discovery functionality. So far I haven’t found any. I have looked at the usual suspects – Lotus Connections, Yammer, Jive etc. All of them have Social Profiles, but seriously lack any intelligent expertise discovery/search capability. Any suggestions? I like the Connect Links in the Blogger profiles. Very powerful in discovering people with similar skills. Too bad it is not available as a enterprise offering.

        btw, how do you get the “Rate This” gadget for each comment on your blog?

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