Weekend stuff: The myth of “enterprise” social networking


We’ve certainly had some juicy discussion on here regarding the virtues of social networking for enterprises – especially those whose competitive differentiators are centered primarily on the intellectual capital and creativity of their employees.  

Collaborate to Innovate? Don't be silly, let your firm do it for you…

Our latest study results already shows that specialist blogs are seriously becoming one of the most helpful sources of information and advice for outsourcing executives (stay tuned for some stunning data on this trend shortly), which begs the question whether “enterprise” social networks really deliver value, when they are only made available for the internal enterprise and its specific stakeholders. 

Andy Milroy (see earlier contribution), one of the leading analysts at research firm Frost and Sullivan, shares his views with us: 

The Myth of Enterprise Social Networking 

One of the most attractive concepts I have ever come across is that of crowdsourcing.  At no time in history have ordinary individuals possessed the tools that enable them to engage with such a huge variety of people and to tap such a vast amount of knowledge. Enabling ordinary people to create content and potentially share it with a global audience, using virtually no resources, truly is a massive step forward for mankind. Many of today’s emerging business titans such as Facebook have used ‘the crowd’ to build their businesses and to build fortunes for their founders. 

For knowledge based workers, the use of these tools can increase their productivity enormously and engender innovation at a more rapid rate than would be the case for smaller, selected, teams and individuals. 

In a traditional corporate environment, knowledge workers predominantly access corporate resources alone. Admittedly, in certain environments such as academic institutions, knowledge sharing and collaboration beyond a single institution has been the norm for centuries. However, today, knowledge workers within corporations as well as within academia have access to infinitely more resources than ever before by using social networking tools. 

The massive benefit offered by social networking tools is obvious in some corporate functions such as human resources, marketing and customer care. But, for other activities, the benefits are also huge. For example, a specialist  such as an engineer can source best practices or solutions to challenges using social networking tools. These professionals can use these tools to ensure that they are fully aware of the latest developments in their profession and they can do this anywhere in the world. Clearly, these tools can offer huge benefits to professionals ranging from aerospace engineers to zoologists. In fact, those that do not use social networking tools will soon find themselves isolated from the rest of their profession and risk coming across as having a seriously outdated approach to work, a bit like refusing to use word processing software and preferring to write by hand. 

Horses for Sources has used social networking to build a business and to engage with a large community of professionals that share an interest in outsourcing. There are no restrictions on who can read the blog or follow Horses on Twitter. Provided, external content does not offend Phil Fersht, it can be added to the blog. But, the main point is that it is open to anybody, anywhere, who wishes to engage. 

So what is enterprise social networking? Well, it is collaboration within the enterprise and with selected external stakeholders. To me, this is not social networking, given that if I use these tools, the people with whom I can interact and the content with which I can engage, are restricted by the enterprise. Enterprise social networking tools are the next generation of collaboration tools that are designed to overcome the thorny issue of insufficient collaboration within most enterprises. Intranets were, and in many cases, still are used to engender greater collaboration within the enterprise. 

Andy Milroy, Industry Director, Frost & Sullivan

In order to improve performance within many functions within their organisations, management must embrace open, public social networking tools such as Twitter, Linkedin and yes, Facebook.  They should not seek to use enterprise social networking tools as more secure or manageable substitutes of the open, public tools. They have very different benefits. Instead, they should use enterprise social networking to help them to address that on-going challenge that they face, namely getting people, within different teams (or within the same team), to work together more closely.  

Andy Milroy (pictured) leads Frost and Sullivan’s Australasian ICT Practice.  He has previously held senior analyst positions at both IDC, where he led its European IT services research organization, and at NelsonHall, where he started its US business.  He can be followed on Twitter at twitter.com/andy1994.

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  1. […] the original post: Weekend stuff: The myth of enterprise social networking If you enjoyed this article, please consider sharing it! Tagged with: activities […]

  2. I agree with you. “Enterprise” social networking seems to me as essentially short, publicly readable email. It’s just another “fad” that gets (poorly) implemented in the business world, much like corporate IM.

    Ben Russett

  3. Andy,

    I would suggest to you that if companies center corporate social media tools around technical best practices so people can remain tops in their field, they completely miss the point of social media.

    There already are tools that don’t work for Knowledge transfer in a corporation (Knowledge Management).

    Further, professionals, *especially* younger professionals, already have a higher allegiance to their profession than to any corporation and they willingly share their experiences online through existing social media outlets – with or without corporate permission. They know their professional allegiance is more important to their career than a false sense of security. They act in a manner consistent with that belief and willingly help out fellow professionals regardless of industry or company.

    Companies that publicly reward social media will reap the highest harvest.

    Alan Hill

  4. Andy,

    I doubt most enterprises’ management really care that much – their paranoia will always usurp any desire to help their employees nurture their skills beyond the firewall of their little universe.

    HR and marketing have little better to do than police their employees’ social media habits – they don’t have any incentive to promote learning and collaboration – most prefer to restrict it to empower their own pathetic jobs,


  5. There is this perception that Web 2.0 is new and recent. While there has been a proliferation in blogging, it is not really new. SIG forums have been on the Net since the last century, especially in IT with sites like the IT Toolbox.

    I am of the opinion that the crux of the value of a site’s blog lies in the structure of how it is moderated. There are many sites that stifle content on one end, and those with an anything goes approach on the other. In the latter instance, one often has to sift through so much broken glass and pieces of plastic to find a diamond, that the quest for insight and perspective becomes nullified by noise and pollution.

    While there is the old saying about, “One man’s trash is another man’s treasure.”, it can become cyber dumpster diving.

  6. It really depends on the type of organization and how they leverage their collaborative tools. For a service provider with 100,000 global employees, there is a huge critical of mass of talent to develop information and share it collaboratively. Add their clients and another couple of million employees, and that’s a pretty cool social network. For their needs, they are creating real knowledge value, provided they deply the right tool and moderate the interaction in the right way.

    Conversely, take a research firm with 500 staff – and only 100 with real subject knowledge. Add a handful of marketing folks in vendors and a few enterprise users into the mix, and that ain’t much of a network. The only way that research organization can really benefit from collaboration is to reach out beyond it’s limited network to embrace the industry at large with its individual personalities. The same can be said for most knowledge firms without real numbers of networked talent to engage,


  7. Phil,

    You’re right that “philosophically” enterprise social media is currently little more than KM dressed up in a new language. If enterprises have draconian security protocols that don’t allow for knowledge to be effortlessly diseminated then they’re not socially aware.

    It is a dilemma.

    I can empathize with executives who fear the kind of IP leakage that a totally open enterprise will likely suffer. Granted there are many traditional ways for data to leak from an organization, social networking tools just add to that headache.

    Like you though, I question the logic of organizations that ban Facebook, Twitter or LinkedIn whilst citing that these tools are a productivity black hole and their employees will waste countless hours if these tools are accessible in the workplace. That is the business equivalent of banning the Beatles or Elvis because they were progressive.

    The ability for power users of social networks to access data/expertise/insight beyond the realm of the company intranet has to be a huge advantage. Companies who naively believe their new crop of 20-something employee will accept an organization with such backward thinking are sure to get the message real soon.

    If it were my enterprise….

    – Definitely ensure security protocols were in place for genuine IP
    – Write a rock solid employee code of conduct with respect to social media and networking. I guess one that is legally enforcable.
    – Hire people who are adept at using existing and new tools to generate new thinking and insights – regardless of source
    – Treat them like adults and trust they’ll use the tools for the benefit of your organization

    I’ve listed an article a security client of ours (Trend Micro) comissioned by The economist newspaper on just this subject. Its a fascinating read.


  8. It exists — but it’s not Facebook. While Facebook, Twitter, etc. all have uses, the specialized tools developed for enterprise users can be more useful than the generic tools you mention.

    For example, IBM’s tools are built for product development and design in manufacturing. They help at every stage, from specifications to troubleshooting a prototype — and even before the first stage, they help companies find the right people for the job.

    SuccessFactors believes that it’s moved beyond human resources and social networking. It says it makes “business execution” software. It delivers a significiant number of features that only privately deployed software can offer, such as allowing team members to praise each others’ work, helping companies find the right person for the job, Any software that intrudes this completely into the corporate environment requires a great deal of investment — in the form of that most critical resource, time — but for organizations that have processes but have not clearly articulated them, this software will deliver.

    As a journalist, I found Twitter helpful to me in keeping in contact with sources and PR reps. If a story broke, and I needed a comment within the hour, I could post that to twitter and sometimes (about half the time) get the answer I needed.

    Compared to what proprietary systems offer, public social networking tools offer basic answers to simple questions. Proprietary tools offer a complete solution.

    Alex Goldman

  9. Most IBMers have IM (Lotus SameTime) active when they are at their desks. Many are on all the time via their blackberry.

    Actual use is enormous. IBMers are scattered all over the world. They ask each other for facts and opinions. When may I call you? What does that acronym mean in the presentation we are seeing? (conference room or webinar) Who is speaking? (conference call) Here’s a file.

    It’s almost impolite to call someone who’s online without first checking that it’s OK.

    Lengthy work-related interactions go on while listening to boring conference calls.

    IM is so important, your email folders show if the senders are currently online.

    David Kra

  10. Andy – I’d agree with you.

    Specialist sites rarely get sufficient users to make the discussions and input worthwhile listening to or taking the time to be involved in.

    Twitter is a fantastic tool to see changes in anything. Larger groups on Linkedin and Xing often get great content posted,


  11. Phil,

    I think the biggest problem with “enterprise” social networking is the word “social”. Too many (less IT-savvy) companies think “social” suggests wasting time, having fun or messing around. They think silly photos on Facebook or people broadcasting that they’re having a bad hair day on Twitter.

    Take out the phrase social and just have enterprise network and the value is obvious. Even better replace “social” with “collaborative” or “best practice”. So talk about “enterprise” collaborative networking or “enterprise” best practice networking. Companies would then be marrying these tools for life rather than tentatively flirting with them from afar,


  12. Thorny here is the conflation of social networking with user-generated content or other hallmarks of Web 2.0. (Strictly speaking, crowdsourcing is altogether distinct and is characterized by a “puppetmaster” who benefits from the loosely coordinated actions of many individuals. Consider Yelp’s crowdsourcing of restaurant reviews, which ultimately deliver value to Yelp not the individual reviewers.)

    Social networking concepts can be applied to great value in large BPOs/ITOs and other scaled knowledge-based organizations. They are, as others here have pointed out, essentially the next logical step from 1990s email and 2000s intranets to promote frictionless collaboration.

    Where are my colleagues? What are they working on? Are they stuck on some thorny problem that I or someone I know could help with? Are we making any progress on X initiative? These are the kinds of questions that go begging in organizations that don’t take advantage of modern tools to promote communication and collaboration. But at the same time, they’re inherently internal and most likely deal with proprietary matters. Hence, I see a real need for organizations to harness the power of Twitter, Facebook, wikis, YouTube, etc. and apply them strictly within the enterprise.

  13. Andy – the concept of enterprise social networking is NOT only available for the internal enterprise. We have spent the last 4 years perfecting “B2B Social” and the use of Web 2.0 and Collaboration across the “Extended Enterprise”. We just took our cue from LinkedIn to a certain extent.
    If I can create a professional social network of my business contacts, then I can quite easily apply the same logic to my supply chain and ensnare my suppliers and trading partners into a PRIVATE LinkedIn style community.

    This allows me to manage my supplier information carefully, to share it across my enterprise and to enable the suppliers self-service maintenance over their company, contacts and products profile.
    Similarly, if I have such a tight knit community now of my suppliers I can use new ways of working (e.g. private eRooms or ‘Work-spaces’) to manage legal, regulatory and operational compliance projects. We are also finding it interesting as a concept to give suppliers their own “visual CV” section of their profile, where they can ‘pimp’ their profiles and showcase products and services that may be of value to the community owner. It’s a blast and we are weaning the knowledge workers inside the enterprise and externally at their suppliers into these new ways of working by engaging them first over email and then within a private community setting.

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