What kind of social networks do companies need ?

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Need for synergies, for connections, to do more with less ? Whatever the official reason is (and sometimes the unofficial one), companies are now turning back to the gool old network, renamed “social network” to stick to the the current climate, to find new pools of performance.

Because companies focus on efficiency, people’s network is not a collection a business cards lying about in a drawer. More, it’s more usual to collect external’s business cards than colleagues’s. The network got “webized” and companies are wondering of to professionalize a Facebook, internalize a LinkedIn. So social networks becomes entreprise-class applications, specialists quickly took a stand, traditionnal vendors tryid to add a “network” thing here and there. The fact remains that, behind an unique word and a sotfware feature hide many realities which embody the many visions company may have of social network. To make it short the question is : what is the useful kind of networks for a bsiness. According to PWC the future is “business networks”. But what are they ?

My point here is not to discuss what a network is. I’m convinced there is no generic and ideal form of network and that we need to adapt the one that matches our needs to our purposes.

What are the purposes of a company ? Allow people to say they like each other and formalize it ? Allow people to say they know such or such person ? To show they are well-assimilated because they know lots of people ?

What are employees’ purposes ? Create their internal fan club ? Say they know people in high places ?

Companies have many purposes. Identify informal networks that are nothing more that the way people actually do their job is one of them. Identifiy human and “intellectual proximities” to build project teams in another one. It’s not about knowing who’s doing what with whom but knowing who can be relied on to successfully achieve a given mission.

For employees, the purpose is to know who they have to contact to get the answer to on question, benefit from experienced colleaugue’s feedback. In no way they want to make a show of their frienship, their tastes, it’s neither the place nor what they are here fore. Anyway they don’t like to mix up things : facebook is or friends, linkedin for their “personnel business network” and the enterprise application for their contacts in the scope of their work.

Please notice that  both companies and employees are looking for the same things and share a common vision of what has to be done and not done within the company. If only there wasn’t so much received idea about that maybe things would be easiers.

This reminds me of this post from Oliver Young about what he calls the most stupid sharepoint feature. In a business context, declaring what are one’s friends makes no sense. Neither one’s colleagues : org-charts really exist. A shortlist of people one often share thinks with may be useful. But it doesn’t have to be public.

The solution exist : networks does not have to be declared but assessed according to actual interactions. Through contributions, exchanges, comments, common tags, groups membership, informal networks can be identified. This would be a meaningful feature.

Social networks are the typical exmaple of practices of the general public web that have to be professionalized in order to give them an organizational value. It’s not about giving news or making a show of one’s popularity : it’s about getting work done. And don’t forget that a list of people is not a network. It’s a list. A busines social network is qualified and contextualized depending on a given need.

business, Entreprise 2.0, facebook, gestion de projet, gestion de projet 2.0, interactions, linkedin, organigrammes, organisation, projets, réseaux sociaux professionnels, réseaux-sociaux, sharepoint