Since the advent of social media, and the digital empowerment it brought to people and communities across the world, software companies have been attempting to bring the same capabilities and benefits into the workplace. These software solutions are broadly known as Enterprise Social Networks (ESNs), but this is a very broad and wooly category. So what exactly are ESNs? Obviously, they’re about making social networks in the enterprise, but the key word is “social”. The typical features that make ESNs social include:
Together, these features provide people with a lot of personalisation, because they choose what to follow and can control notifications. Most ESNs also provide some automated personalisation, using artificial intelligence (AI) to learn about what’s of most interest to people and prioritise this content in news feeds and search results. AI can also make recommendations for people, places, and content to visit.
ESNs are designed to connect people within an organisation. The focus is very much on people and how they interact with each other. ESNs provide a digital location for people to connect with each other, have conversations, and share content in open forums. When they are well-adopted, they give rise to lively employee communities, and a host of benefits that arise from network effects. Some ESNs also provide collaborative workspaces for productivity and integrations with other applications.
There are many products on the market that fall under the ESN umbrella, but not all provide for the same outcomes. Sei Mani categorise ESN capabilities in three ways:
1. Social intranet
2. Collaborative workspace
3. Employee community
Different ESNs usually have some capability in each area but emphasise one over the others.
Social intranets, such as Unily, Igloo and Jostle, prioritise company news, information, and documentation. The emphasis is top-down communication with the social element primarily in the form of “following” relevant content and locations, liking and commenting, and publishing new content in a managed way.
Collaborative workspaces prioritise working together on documents and other deliverables, making decisions, and getting things done. The social element comes in the form of questions, discussions, comments, likes, etc. around the content being worked on, and the newsfeeds and notifications that are generated from them. Examples of collaborative workspace ESNs include Jive and SharePoint.
Employee communities prioritise creating connections between employees rather than corporate content and work deliverables. This is a more bottom-up approach as the content is driven by the community rather than the organisation. It develops organically and virally. Company news and collaborative work do appear in employee communities, such as Workplace by Facebook and Yammer, but are by-products of the connections that people choose to make.
So what are the benefits to people? Here are several we see playing out with our customers:
In a recent blog post, I discussed our digital workplaces framework:
The three Cs: Coordination, Collaboration, Community.
Types of interaction: Search and connect; One to one; One to many; Many to many.
Realtime vs non-realtime.
Working with partners, suppliers, and customers.
The digital/physical interface.
Our three Cs align with our three ESN categories:
Coordination => Social intranet
Collaboration => Collaborative workspace
Community => Employee community
Each ESN on the market has varying degrees of capability in each category. And how do ESNs cater
What about working with partners, suppliers, and customers? ESNs are primarily focussed on social networking and collaborative work between internal employees, however most offer some capability for working with people outside the organisation. This usually takes the form of places that have mixture of internal and external members, taking advantage of ESN features that email can’t provide.
Finally, the digital/physical interface, which in our view can make or break the success of an ESN. The mobile app and browser interface needs to be world class if you expect employees to use it with any enthusiasm. In today’s world, there’s nothing more off-putting than lousy user experience (UX).
So that’s how we see ESNs at Sei Mani. This detailed understanding allows us to recommend the right applications to our customers and drive incredibly high adoption. Get in touch for a free health check of your ESN or to discuss options in the market place.