Twitter has taken off on the public web, and there are a variety of vendors who are offering “Twitter for the Enterprise.” As with social networking, it’s not enough to simply clone Twitter and deploy it for business users. Here are some of the key ways that enterprise microblogging is different. This is part two of a series on what’s different about enterprise software. Part 1 is crossposted here and here.
Links to real identities and work activity
With public Twitter, people use nicknames. Many people add a profile link that identifies who they are in the real world. Many do not, and tweet pseudonymously. In a business setting, the signal is tied to the user’s real-world identity, derived from their company directory entry and business activities. You can navigate from a signal to a profile, and discover a lot about the person in their work context. A significant part of the value the people get from enterprise social software is finding the smart and plugged-in people in their organization. Microblogging helps discover the interesting people, and the links to rich work-context profiles reveal more about what the person does and what they know.
Sharing links in the intranet
With public twitter, one of the common usage patterns is to share links. Well-informed, insightful people scan the news, and share interesting tidbits with their followers. This valuable pattern on the public net gains power inside an organization. People can share links and commentary about to documents they are working on, for example, a marketing plan or a budget. And they can share private commentary about public links. For example, there can be a company-private discussion about a move by a competitor. Enterprise microblogging allows users to share links to private content, and to share private discussion about public content.
The main difference between Twitter and enterprise microblogging is confidentiality. You’re not sharing information with the big wide world, only with your colleagues. As in personal life, confidentiality frees people to share more openly about nonpublic topics. Of course, people need to be still cognizant about what they share, as they do in meeting rooms or around water coolers.
Inside an enterprise, microblogging has a different balance of transparency and privacy than email. With email, your message is visible only to the people you choose to send it to. With enterprise microblogging, the recipient chooses who to follow, and whose messages to see. This provides useful “ambient transparency” in an organization, for example spreading useful knowledge about products in development and customer relationships. Enterprise microblogging is more private than public Twitter, and more transparent than email.
The Art of Enterprise Social Software
As you can see, it’s not enough to take an existing piece of social software and run it behind the firewall. Adapting social software to the enterprise requires consideration about how business and social environments are different, and how social software can be used to provide business value.