Enterprise social network : a famous stranger

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Summary : enterprise social networks are the future of corporate IT, a tool overwhelmingly supported by employees because it will save them from email and favor the adoption of more efficient work practices. Sure ? Outside of  a circle of initiated (that is growing everyday), except for people who are in charge of such programs in their organization, the words “social network” and “enterprise” seldom come together in many employees’ mind. And, when it happens, it’s more about Facebook and brand management than work efficiency. The reason ? Few people have tried to understand what it’s all about, personal usages are hard to transcribe in a work context to articulate a clear value proposition and the ubiquitous image of Facebook is a real burden.

I had recently the opportunity of talking with a small group of people who had one thing in common : their title started with either “chief” or “director”. Suddenly, one said the magic word : “social network”. All but one had an opinion, a question, something to share about this topic. Nothing surprising since social network has become a very trendy topics in organizations over the years.

And then…crash ! The star of the conversation quickly became facebook and the focus came on information leaks, lower productivity etc., to the surprise of the person who launched the conversation and thought it was obvious that everybody around the table knew this kind of thing. Obviously they didn’t. Surprisingly I was expecting this kind of reaction.

Enterprise social networks are a paradoxical topic. Of course, you, who read this blog, are well informed about that. Of course, you, who are in charge of deploying such a thing in your organization, know what an ESN is. Now, ask the question around you, to your friends, family etc.. I’m sure you’ll get lots of ideas, opinions or concerns about “enterprise and social networks”. But nothing “enterprise social networks”.

We have to admit that, outside of a circle of initiated people, social networks are seen as an entertaining tool, sometimes as a tool for marketing and communication. This article from French newspaper speaks for itself. It says that CHROs get social networks better and better. And what do they say to illustrate their thoughts ? Recruitment, employer brand, image and general public social networks. And yet HR should have many things to say on the potential (and risks) of internal social networks….

ESNs are far from having “killed their father” (Facebook…even if many ESN solutions were already existing when FB became mainstream and open to all).

Ok, anyone who talks with “real people” out of the echo chamber already knows that. But knowing the causes to deal with the issue more efficiently can be worth.

• ESNs: a poorly shared and even sometimes confiscated topic.

It’s about the ownership of such projects. Generally, at the beginning, a department (HR, communication, IT, innovation…) takes the lead. Sometimes it keeps it, sometimes it tries to share it with other departments and, in this case, the latter refuse because they consider they don’t have their place in a project lead by another department. When the top management decides to launch such a program at a wide scale, sometimes a dedicated transverse group is created, sometimes a department is put in charge….and here we go again.

In the end we can see that it’s a global issue but than everyone thinks that it’s someone else’s job. I don’t even mention those who’d like to go but don’t have the power to do so.

 

• Overestimated maturity and expectations

Everyone is “social” on the web and wants the same to happen in the workplace. This postulate is more and more proved to be wrong. One of two things is true : either too much attention was paid to those for whom it was true and their number was overestimated, or their had been a confusion between “having tools that are as easy to use as on the web” and “having social software”. This survey carried on behalf on IBM UK speaks for itself : only 14% of the people surveyed said they wanted such software at work while 37% were unaware of the benefits of social business. Since those who are going the social way show more and more tangible benefits, the problem is not about the potential value but a lack of awareness and understanding of the range of possibilities.

There’s still a long way to go before the general public (and many CxOs and decision makers are part of it) is able to turn benefits of personal practices into business ones by making them more professional and rational.

• A value for field people that’s not understood yet (or that no one wants to look at…)

Remember what I wrote on strategy maps. Social won’t deliver any value if not embedded into day to day tasks and processes. Consequence : day to day operations have to be revisited, rethought, reengineered. That’s something that lacks into many programs…and, most of all, something that lots of people prefer not to deal with.

• Facebook is everywhere

Facebook is both the enemy and the best friend of ESNs. Best friend because it helps anybody to understand what social networking is about. Enemy because it has so many overtones that no one can see how something similar can have a positive impact at work..