An analogy might explain it best: Internal social networks are to Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, et al., as intranets are to public websites. Indeed, internal networks can be seen as the new intranet--a private platform that boasts (many of) the capabilities of its public brethren but existing behind the company firewall.
But they're a lot more than that.
The case for internal social networking is very compelling, according to Rob Koplowitz, VP, principal analyst, Forrester Research. "Internal social networks have the potential to drive knowledge worker efficiency to new levels," he said. "They are incredibly effective at allowing efficient exchange of knowledge and expertise across geographic and organizational boundaries that have traditionally stifled knowledge capture and sharing."
As opposed to a communications platform such as, say, email, an internal social network enables users to communicate in more productive and, at times, unexpected ways.
[Small and midsize businesses are using social media to interact with customers, but in-house is another story. What's Slowing Down Social Collaboration Inside SMBs?]
For example, a post about a project's progress might elicit suggestions from people who "follow" the poster but would not necessarily have been included in the To: field if that same progress report had gone out in an email--not because their input wasn't desired but because the email author might not have known a particular knowledge base existed with those users.
"In the social enterprise, organizations are flatter--you can discover people in other parts of the organization who have critical skills and relevant knowledge, instead of having your perception narrowed down by their formal job descriptions," said Peter Coffee, VP and head of platform research at Salesforce.com, in an interview with the The BrainYard about five enterprise social trends for the next five years.
Salesforce.com's Chatter is just one platform that can be leveraged for internal social networking. In August, Forrester Research named IBM, Jive Software, Telligent and NewsGator as leaders in this category. Jive received the highest overall score from Forrester, including top scores in the categories of cross-platform support and security. Other players include, but are certainly not limited to, Microsoft, Socialtext, Yammer, Cisco, Socialcast, and OpenText.
Oracle just last week announced that it was jumping into the internal social networking arena with Oracle Social Network, which can draw information out of Oracle CRM, Human Capacity Management, and Talent products.
At this point, there's no shortage of choices, but also no clear choice, said Forrester's Koplowitz.
"The vendor landscape is very chaotic right now," he said. "There are strong pure-play offerings, as well as focused offerings from more traditional vendors and offerings that are including social as extensions to existing software packages. There's no clear dominant player or pattern emerging yet. Oracle has a good base to build on and can 'social-enable' existing applications. If they execute, they could make some noise."
No matter what your organization's goals for internal social networking (and, not for nothing, articulating clear, measurable goals is key to a successful social deployment), the chief criteria for social networking technology should be the ease with which a platform can be used and its ability to integrate with other core enterprise software investments, said Koplowitz.
But, even more important than the technology you choose is the upfront goal-setting and strategizing you do.
"It's all about driving adoption and defining business value at this point," said Koplowitz. "Organizations need to not focus on technology. That's getting the cart in front of the horse. Driving adoption and business value will be difficult, time consuming, and ultimately worth the investment and effort."
Are you using social networking as a collaboration tool within your organization? Please comment here or send me an email.
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