Enterprise Social Networks: First Steps

November 7, 2013by Dave StawinskiTechnology & PlatformsEmployee Engagement

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Enterprise Social Networks are websites. You probably already have a couple of those. Maybe you remember some of the decision-making and types of work that went into getting them off the ground, but if not, that’s okay. We will help with all of that.

Let’s take it step by step…

Why consider an ESN? Simple answer: Facebook.

With approximately 1 billion users worldwide, and a “walled garden” model that keeps users stuck in place the way AOL always wanted them to be, Facebook is one of the most important websites ever. The user experience of Facebook has become second nature to users; its feature set and modes of interaction are a model against which many other websites (social and non-) are judged, for better or worse.

You may or may not like Facebook, but your users do.

Concepts like Friending, topic-focused Groups, News Feeds, User Profiles, Status Updates, 3rd Party Apps and so forth are already encoded in the muscle memory of your enterprise’s end users. Some are hardcore users and some are just familiar, but there is a huge amount of value bound up in their experience with it. This prior experience becomes expectation every time one of your employees logs on to one of your web properties. ESNs like Microsoft’s Yammer and Jive Software’s Social Intranet take advantage of this pattern. They meet the user’s learned expectations of social media and re-direct them, jujitsu-style, toward getting work done.

ESNs are not just the latest digital toy. They are the medium-term future of the digital enterprise. They are useful, usable and most importantly, used (by the end of 2013 more than 90% of the Fortune 500 will have implemented an ESN, sayeth Deloitte).

At Vignette, we believe in the power of employee engagement to transform your business. Social Networks like Facebook are superbly engaging (see above). Want your new intranet to be engaging? Nodding. Good.

Are ESNs for everyone? Kinda, yeah.

If your enterprise already sports a cool intranet without social features, ESN should plug in nicely. If your intranet already has nice adoption and analytics, then you probably have a fairly web-savvy user base that expects things to be intuitive, familiar, and easy to use.

If you have no intranet, or are looking to replace an outdated solution, then ESN may answer most or all of your needs.

So let’s talk about how to do this.

This is a website project we are planning. Projects like this have four main components: Content, User Experience, Technology, and Policy.

Here comes a bullet list!

Content

All the text, media, and images on your ESN are content. We at Vignette love content the way a chef loves fresh, local ingredients. Here’s how we start:

o Have a plan. In the web content world that means a Content Strategy. We need to know what content we already have, what we will need to create, and how to curate and deploy both.

• If you are adding ESN to an existing Intranet, most of the new content will be User-generated and the facilitated workspace of the ESN itself will dictate your content strategy to a degree.

• If you plan to use an ESN as your intranet, there will be more Content Strategy work for us to perform and likely more pre-existing content to inventory and port, or create based on the gaps in your content strategy that your existing content does not fill. We will sort this out together.

User Experience

The arrangement of content and controls into a human-usable interface, including a visual design that exemplifies your culture and your brand(s) are what make up our User Experience. In the world of packaged ESN, we have less control “out of the box” than we would if building something from scratch. That’s actually a good thing (see all that stuff above about how great Facebook is and how ESN mimics it).

o Different ESNs support different levels of customization. If you do want to have control over the user experience beyond just header colors and using your logo, let’s determine that early and make our technology choice with that requirement in mind.

Technology

Software & Hardware

o Want to get something up and running quickly (like, by tomorrow)? Consider Yammer. Yammer is Software-as-a-Service (SAAS), so you don’t host anything. You create an account and configure it, then invite your first users to come use the new network. Simple—and I do mean simple—features are free, and there are tiers of pricing for more robust setups.

• Don’t feel bad. The reason you are in a hurry is that you have a business need to support, and an ESN is needed to support it. Supporting a pre-existing business process is a key to ESN adoption and success. Good times!

• Be fast, but be smart. Have a content strategy, or a clear path to one, before you flip the switch. Call Vignette , we can help.

o Have time to do things more precisely? Jive is self-hosted, so your IT team will get involved. It is also more customizable, with a more traditional, consulting-based enterprise software engagement model. These guys aren’t stodgy, though. Jive is powerful stuff!

Policy

What about passengers flying the plane, you ask? Well, yeah. You will need to plan for that, too. It’s an Organizational Change Management thing for the most part.

o Most organizations are accustomed to managing information from the center, outward. Online social networks turn that inside out. Information is created and distributed by the users via various models. Models like:

• One to many: The traditional “center-out” or “top-down” model. Communications from leadership to all or some of everyone else. ESN supports this, of course, but use it wisely or it might feel like the PA system interrupting study hall, CRACKLE-CRACKLE, “What are you up to in there?” CRACKLE-CRACKLE.

• One to one: Using n-network instant messaging and mailboxes, users will have alternatives to their existing email. All of the usual policy considerations will apply here.

• Group to group: One of the greatest strengths of ESN is the enabling of collaboration. Project teams can form up, divide and coalesce as needed, and communicate with each other in a way that really is unique versus digital solutions like email, or physical meetings that are constrained by schedules, geography and time limits.

• Many to one: Part of our content strategywill be to monitor the content and usage statistics of the ESN. Watching and listening to our users, and their habits, will tell us a lot.

• What are people working on?

o What do we want them to be working on?

• Who are the thought leaders?

o Who has the most connections?

o What do they have in common?

o What makes them distinct?

• What features are popular?

• What can be improved?

o As we mentioned above, there’s also the SAAS versus self-hosted issue to consider in terms of policy. Will your organization allow its content, user data, etc., to be hosted by a third party? If not, then a self-hosted solution like Jive (and there are others) will need to be considered.

o Last, but critical: Adoption. Policy has a tremendous role here, because “studies have shown” that incorporating new enterprise social into existing business processes is the KEY TOSUCCESS in terms of adoption and usage.

Here’s how Vignette does that

Facebook

Hey! You guys could be twins…

Yammer

Dave Stawinski

With nearly 20 years of production experience working for leading digital agencies such as DNA Studios, BLITZ and Second Story, Dave has managed a large number of diverse projects and teams. Over the years he has managed important projects for clients like LOFT, Nike, Johnson & Johnson, Coca-Cola, General Motors, Honda, Anheuser-Busch, Sony Pictures, Disney, Microsoft, HP, the Library of Congress and others.