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Social Networking at the Office

In mid-January Facebook hit the headlines with (and received decidedly mixed reviews on) the announcement of their “Facebook at Work” offering, which is essentially a walled-garden version of Facebook with access restricted to those in your company. Aside from that important distinction the list of features seems pretty much on a par with the larger Facebook we all know.

With this product offering Facebook joins an enterprise social network marketplace that already contains some big names: Microsoft, IBM, Cisco and SAP amongst them.

I can see the benefits of these platforms in terms of collaboration, messaging, and the like – but I’m certainly glad that my responsibilities don’t include the realization of those benefits for my company. The scope of the behaviour change required to make the most of those tools falls into the category of “culture shift” in my mind, and that stuff is simply not where my expertise lies – it’s a task that goes way beyond technology and business process folks like I.

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Where I work, we’re now on our second enterprise social network. Weirdly, the first one hasn’t actually gone away – everyone has simply stopped talking about it (and we all stopped using it long ago). The implementation of the first one – I feel – was probably driven by technology folks. I say that because from a technical perspective it works great, but nobody ever told me what it was for. Apparently I’m not alone in my confusion, because it never really saw any significant usage.

Things are looking a little better for the new one. For one, it’s integrated into our enterprise learning environment. At first that seemed weird to me, but now that I think about it that makes perfect sense: learning and development in the modern enterprise is increasingly something you do at your own pace (to a certain extent), in your own office with the door closed and headphones on. It’s crying out for something to bring back some of the social aspects that are lost now that technology has begun to make classroom-based training sessions a thing of the past, and I hope our training teams pick up this ball and run with it. Additionally, there’s a movement underway to build on our corporate culture and do a better job of leveraging it for the benefit of our customers. Open, social communication that transcends our geography is an important part of that cultural evolution too. The time is right, then, for a platform to make this happen.

Nevertheless, people were burned by the failure of our previous platform to gain traction, and there’s a healthy amount of skepticism out there. Again, nobody has really told me what the new platform is for or given me examples of how I could use it to my benefit.

A quick conversation with my boss about this last week brought me to an important realization. Why am I waiting around for someone to tell me what this platform is for? I’ll decide what it’s for! I’m even starting to think the lack of guidance and instruction might be a deliberate choice made in the interests of organic growth and buy-in fuelled by self-realization (although, frankly, I still think it’s the wrong choice if that’s the case).

I plan to encourage my team to shift some of our non-time sensitive group communication out of Outlook and into the social space, and I sincerely hope it catches on. I think that would be a good starting point for us, and as I said at the top, I really do see the benefits of a platform like this. I’m putting my own skepticism firmly aside in the interests of trying to steer my group toward the realization of those benefits that this platform could represent. We’ll see how it goes!

Hopefully I won’t be around to see the introduction of a third enterprise social network. I won’t be so generous if I am.

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