When people talk about “enterprise social software”, they envision “Facebook for the enterprise” or “Twitter for the enterprise. But creating enterprise social software is a matter of adapting patterns from the public web, not copying identically.
What is “Enterprise Social Networking”
In the public web, social networking software has become embedded in people’s lives, as a way to stay in touch and to coordinate. Similar patterns will bolster collegial connections, expertise discovery, and collaboration. However, there are some significant differences between a social network on the web and a network behind the enterprise firewall.
What is Friending?
In a public web social network, the primary gesture is identifying others as “friends”. The graph of friends delineates the boundaries in which each individual shares information. Contact information is assumed to be private unless shared with a friend.
But in a business social network, the lines of visibility are defined differently. In a plain-vanilla corporate directory, the assumption is that every employee has the right to see contact information for everyone else. You don’t need to mark “Dale” in marketing as a friend in order to see his phone number.
More than that, what on earth is a “friend”? Will people simply go around “friending” high-ranking executives? Should I need to have to specifically mark my colleagues in the product group as “friends”? What does it mean if someone is not my “friend.” The gesture of explicit friending doesn’t have much value, and has plenty of potential annoyance and harm.
In Socialtext, we use the “following” gesture common to Twitter and Friendfeed, and don’t support “friending.”
Where does Profile data come from?
In public web social software, people type in their contact information, alma mater, significant others, pets. In an organization, there is often already a repository of basic contact information in the corporate directory. HR and IT departments share responsiblity for keeping that information up to date.
Therefore, a business social network needs to draw on corporate systems of record for basic contact information. Admins need to decide what information comes from the corporate directory, and what information users should add themselves.
What are the Activities in an Activity Feed
One of the features that’s most compelling about Facebook is the ability for people to see updates on their friends activities. Talia is dating / no longer dating / once again dating Jeremy. Bob just watched xyz movie. Scott is reading xyz book.
This activity stream is compelling inside the firewall, for a different set of activities. People will be interested in updates on what their colleagues are working on, what documents they have edited, what key events have happened in enterprise systems. For example, “Shawn closed the support escalation ticket for Major Customer Q.” It would be nice, and foster adoption, to have some “small talk” applications that enable people to stay in touch regarding ordinary life. It can be highly valuable for the business to be able to be notified of important work-related updates.
In social networks, the context of the activity feed is one’s social life. In an enterprise social network, the content is one’s work activities in enterprise systems, documents, and processes.
What does an admin do?
In private label social public social networks, administrators do things like configure the available features and the fields in a profile. In business social networks, administrators integrate the social network with existing directories and applications. They play a greater role in defining communities and creating social boundaries.
In a consumer social network, the individual assumes that she has control over privacy and disclosure and there is controversy if those assumptions are violated by service providers. In a business social network, the administrator has more control. In some cases, this level of control is good and appropriate. Competing customers shouldn’t see each others information, and the activities of the M&A groups should be secret. An appropriate level of business confidentiality, like an appropriate level of personal confidentiality, increases sharing and honesty.
In some cases, admins are familiar with applications deployed on a “need to know” basis, and want use these familiar practices to set up applications designed to gain value by increased sharing. There are gray areas that will need to be worked out in software design, effective practice, and cultural evolution.
Next in the series: What’s different about enterprise Twitter