01702: The Value of Enterprise Social Networks

At work, I'm currently evaluating two different enterprise social networks - Yammer (now owned by Microsoft) and Salesforce Chatter. Both tools have their share of pros and cons, but the bigger factor really is whether or not people will actually any social network that we decide to work with. And as I've stressed to my bosses, any social network's value is determined by how active the users are and how engaged they become with the platform.

Our company is in that interesting period where it's transitioning from being a smaller, privately-held company into a larger and truly corporate organization. Given that, the company doesn't have the sort of entrepreneurial curiosity that would normally drive a company to try out new tools like social platforms of this nature but it's also not big enough to suffer from the larger-scale communication issues that the really big players experience. Thus getting folks to understand the potential value of a social network for communication is a little tricky. The organization is pretty comfortable with relying on email and the internal instant messaging platform to get things done. But I feel we're soon approaching a point when that just won't be enough to keep up with the quickening pace of business as the company grows.

Many companies don't have a clear understanding of how social media can benefit them provided the proper controls. The immediate concept that comes to mind is something like Facebook - something that is practically synonymous with wasting time and being generally unproductive. But tools like Yammer and Chatter are uniquely design to work within the higher security requirements of the corporate environment. It just becomes a matter of convincing your executive leadership to get on board.

Effective use of social media will require some relaxing of IT protocols to allow users access to these networks. And in this security-obsessed, PCI world that we live in, that's never particularly easy. Most IT Departments rely on the principle of least privilege to define their overall IT guidelines. And this isn't necessarily a bad thing - it's part of the reality of the business environment that we work in these days. But a balance between security and access to social networks is still possible - it's really a question of leadership drive and user education to drive the right behaviors.

And enterprise social networks are more than just another Facebook-like platform. Each come with unique benefits tailored to the corporate environment such as Yammer's integration with Microsoft Sharepoint and Chatter's access to your existing Salesforce records. These additional features provide unique tools for your employees and allows them to work together using some of the best that the cloud computing world has to offer. Plus they allow users access to relevant data and discussions on mobile devices, providing a greater range of working options for your employees. In this age of crowdsourcing information and increasingly collaborative tools like Google Drive opening the door for new workflows, one would think that it's only a matter of time before more companies get on-board with these kinds of solutions.

As for now, I'm still trying to make a case for either tool. Both have tremendous potential, but I can see greater issues with driving user engagement given the rather restrictive security policies that are still in place.
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