Organizations are increasingly looking to apply the social networking model to their internal collaboration, workflow, and general management practices. Organizations can implement enterprise social business systems that foster communication using many of the same features found on Facebook and Twitter, including news feeds, the ability to find and follow people, comments, and photo sharing. Inside the organization, sharing also comes into play for documents, reports, tasks and application activities. In addition, vendors are weaving social capabilities into all sorts of enterprise applications.
No matter what you use or how you integrate it, there are some basic things that you must have when implementing social-focused tools in the workplace.
First and foremost, you must get people to use the system, which means the platform you choose should have a familiar interface and/or one that is easy to learn to use. Most people these days are familiar with Facebook and Twitter, and many enterprise social business vendors are incorporating the look and feel of those platforms in their own wares.
Workers need to be eased into new modes of interaction. When you use email or even the phone, you are selecting the recipients of your message. With social, on the other hand, you are generally broadcasting to larger groups or the entire company. It may be that the people who respond to help you with something are exactly whom you expected. But it may also be that someone you've never met before responds with a knowledge base and experience you didn't know existed in the organization. Rich user profiles, with the ability for tagging, are another way that users can effectively connect with users, and, when the time comes to narrow the scope of conversation, group creation capabilities are very important.
Organizations should also look for the ability to easily develop apps for any enterprise social business platform they choose, as well as the ability to hook into directory and other existing IT systems. Especially for companies with extensive sales forces, it will be important to look for robust mobile capabilities--basically, anything you do in the office you should be able to do on any mobile platform in use among your workforce.
Once users get up and running with the new enterprise social business platform, there will be a whole lot of data being generated. You want to make sure that you can capture, mine, analyze and visualize that data to make more strategic business decisions moving forward.
Of course, organizations should be looking to wrap tight but flexible security around all of this knowledge and collaboration.
On the pages that follow, we detail some enterprise social networking must-haves and show examples of the key features as they are manifested in actual products.
Most of these features exist in multiple products, although each has its own twist. We do not mean to imply that any of these products are "best" by virtue of being chosen to illustrate a particular feature, although we did ask the vendors to tell us which features they thought distinguished them from the rest.