Enterprise Social Networks (ESN) have been hailed as the next big thing for some years. They have been presented as the future of collaboration, taking workplace interaction to more personal level. The idea of bringing personal social network technology (Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn and others) that employees are already familiar with is certainly promising.
However, the message about ESN is still highly biased toward the technical details or vague productivity promises that are too generic to be useful. In this series I’ll share a couple of articles with you that will help to dispel the myths and present a summary of the most important points that link social networks and business.
In this first article I will focus on defining the subject at hand: what’s social in the corporate world? In the next articles I will cover the scenarios social is used for in companies, how to measure the impact and the business value it brings and what to look for when embarking in the enterprise social journey.
What is this “social” we talk about?
The term social networking is defined in the dictionary as the interaction between a group of people who share a common interest. This definition is more important to us. It highlights that we engage in social networking to interact with other people that share a common goal or interest.
Up to now, social and social networking doesn’t mean that we use technology at all. We exercise social networking when we chat with our friends over a beer. But, when we introduce social networking in the corporate world, we find that the clear-cut definition we had until now transforms into several enterprise social networking definitions.
In order to establish a baseline with the keywords that will help us later on, let’s define enterprise social networking as a combination and interaction of three factors orbiting around the concept of communities.
Communities: the heart of social
A community is a group of people that share a specific, common interest. The whole idea of a social network is intimately related to the concept of emerging communities. Communities can arise around a certain interest common to the members (communities of interest or communities of practice) or around a common feature that the members share (departmental, gender and geographical-based communities). However, the concept of community is that it always revolves around something common to more than one person. That is where its name comes from.
Communities emerge and evolve as the interaction between the individuals evolves. This interaction is the very blood of a social community. With no interaction, the community is a mere knowledge repository, frozen in time.
The constituent parts of a community are:
- People: The members of a community and the participants in the social network. The people contribute their individual diversity to enrich a community with their activities and content.
- Activities: People post statuses, ask questions, look for answers and rank the information and people in the community. All these discrete actions or interactions are called activities.
- Content: The information contributed by the people with their activities inside the community. A community without content is possible, but it is not a healthy community. The content itself gets its context from the community and the action that unearthed the content in the first place.
Now we should have a clear meaning of the factors that interact in an enterprise social network environment: the communities, the people, the activities and the content. With this in mind, in the next article, we can review what social is used for in the corporate environment.