When New Social Networks, Old Tools Clash

Many organizations struggle to make employee social networks mesh with existing collaboration systems, say attendees at Enterprise 2.0.
What are the best business use cases for employee social networks? How do we improve how such networks work with (or, more to the point, often don't work with) existing collaboration systems? These were topics of discussion during a Wednesday session at Enterprise 2.0 Boston 2012, a UBM TechWeb event.

About 20 people attended "The BrainYard Birds of a Feather: Employee Social Networks" session, which was moderated by The BrainYard editor David Carr. With a show of hands, most attendees identified themselves as IT professionals or community managers, with some saying they were from the vendor or consultant worlds.

The lively conversation revolved mostly around the reasons why companies implement employee social networks, with the attendees--who hailed from the retail, legal, healthcare, tech, and other industries--saying that too many organizations jump on the social bandwagon without a clear idea of what they really want to get out of it. Having such business goals, the group agreed, is key to the success of a social implementation.

Andrew Carusone, director of integrated workforce experience (IWE) and community governance at Lowe's Home Improvement, posed an intriguing question during the session: What gets "unadopted" when social platforms get adopted? (Carusone also presented during the Tuesday conference session called "Beyond the Water Cooler: Using Collaborative Technologies to Drive Company Performance.") The group discussed the redundancy that often gets introduced when social platforms are implemented but employees continue to use systems such as email for tasks that would be better suited for a social system. This was a particular pain point for several of the attendees, including one who noted that it was especially difficult to get "older" people at the company to embrace social. (Several people took issue with this point, with one saying that older people are actually a growing demographic on public social networks such as Facebook.)

[ See our special report: Enterprise 2.0 Boston 2012.]

One of the key benefits of social, many group members agreed, was finding expertise among the company and identifying potential points of redundancy. With regard to the former, Carusone said he feels almost arrogant now when he copies people on an email. Who is he, said Carusone, to decide whom the information in the email might be useful to? With social platforms, people can decide for themselves if something is important to them or if they can contribute in some way. Another attendee noted that social platforms also help prevent users from reinventing the wheel. If, for example, a user posts that he or she is starting on a project to develop a particular app, someone who has already developed such an app could note as much in reply.

Many of the session attendees said that they were social evangelists at their organizations, but that it has been difficult to sell the concept within the organization. There was some debate over whether the call for social is most effective coming from the top down or the bottom up. (One attendee noted that it has to come from both directions.) Attendees said they are looking for more real-world case studies of employee social networks in action.

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New apps promise to inject social features across entire workflows, raising new problems for IT. In the new, all-digital Social Networking issue of InformationWeek, find out how companies are making social networking part of the way their employees work. Also in this issue: How to better manage your video data. (Free with registration.)