10 Questions Before Choosing An Internal Social Network Platform

What's the best internal social technology for your business? Consider these points as you evaluate enterprise social media vendors.
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For many companies, the business case for deploying an internal social network has been made. Now comes the difficult task of deciding which internal social network to deploy. Here are 10 evaluation questions that will form at least the beginnings of an RFP for your business.

1. Will the interface be familiar to my users?

Some vendors and social networking evangelists are pitching internal social platforms as "Facebook for the enterprise." There are several ways in which internal social networking platforms are different from--and much more than--Facebook for the enterprise, but many of them incorporate a look and feel similar to that of familiar external social networks, including Facebook and Twitter. This allows end users to feel almost immediately comfortable using a new internal platform, which should result in early, widespread, and enthusiastic adoption--key to any collaboration platform's success.

2. How extensive can user profiles be?

With business social networking platforms, profiles perform an important function. They allow employees to describe their skills and experience, which in turn allow colleagues looking for internal expertise to identify the right people for the right projects. Check to make sure that user profiles can be easily created and updated, and are rich and discoverable.

[ Learn how to overcome challenges that stand between your company's social networking plan and success. See 5 Enterprise Social Traps To Avoid In 2012. ]

3. Does the system tap into directory tools and other enterprise applications?

No social network should be an island. Can users log on to the internal social network via the company's directory, providing appropriate access controls and rights? Can users work in other enterprise applications directly from the social networking platform? Does the vendor leverage open standards to enable these capabilities?

4. What level of security does it offer?

Security is one of the key concerns of organizations when it comes to social networking. It will be important to ensure that the level of security a platform provides meets industry and regulatory standards, not to mention general best practices. To what level can you manage who sees what with the platform? How is sensitive information kept private? Does the vendor provide any videos or webinars that can be used for employee training?

5. What kinds of monitoring tools are available?

Once an internal social network has been deployed, there are many qualitative and quantitative criteria that should be assessed to determine the platform's value to your organization over time. To what extent can activity on the site be monitored and measured? What kinds of statistics are available and how are they reported? What kinds of dashboards and alerts can be created? Does the system integrate with widely used monitoring tools such as Google Analytics?

6. Does the system meet all of our collaboration requirements?

Your organization will need to develop a checklist of all the collaboration features it will need now and for the near future (as near as you can tell). Will your company need support for wikis? Blogs? Real-time chat? Forums? Recommendation capabilities? All of the above? More? The extent to which a vendor can meet these needs will help determine the best platform for your organization.

7. Does the system offer filesharing capabilities?

The ability to upload, share, and collaborate on documents will be important for many organizations. Does the system provide this functionality, and, if so, what security features are in place? To what extent can users collaborate and comment on files? Can the files be tagged and searched on?

8. What kind of group capabilities are available?

Most systems will let you create groups, but they vary in terms of the level of capability. How easy is it to form groups? Can groups be made public or private? Can the ability to create groups be limited to certain users? What kinds of privacy controls are in place for groups?

9. Is there an app for that?

Once a system has been deployed, companies will want to extend and customize it. Can custom apps be created for the platform? With what? What level of expertise will app development require? Is there any kind of community development capability?

10. What sorts of mobile capabilities are provided?

The ability to tap into the social networking platform is key. Can the system be accessed from mobile devices? Which platforms? Is there any loss of functionality when accessing the platform from a mobile device? If so, what?

As noted above, these evaluation criteria are just a starting-off point. What would you add? Please comment below or email me.

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Joao-Pierre S. Ruth, Senior Writer