Companies Now Using In-House Social Networks

Social Networks for the Workplace

We’ve discussed the topic before in this space about how social networks might work for businesses. One of the answers appeared in a New York Times article Sunday about companies using social networks that are specifically being built for that function.

“Although it is difficult to quantify how many companies use internal social networks, a number of corporate software companies have sensed the opportunity and offer various systems, some free to existing customers, others that charge a fee per user,” wrote Verne G. Kopytoff in the Times.

It makes sense. It’s a style of communicating that people are familiar and comfortable with; better in-house communication is always a goal for any company; and it might keep employees off of email a little more, bosses figure. It could also be a showcase—and a keep-us-in-the-loop thing—for employees at smaller sites, on the road or working at home. Topics of conversation should revolve around team projects, upcoming jobs, changes in the workplace, insurance issues, production flaws, articles or blog posts that might be pertinent, etc.

But does it play out this way? Not always. Some use it to air complaints. One person posted a photo of his cat where his face was supposed to be. Another wrote that there’s apple pie in the kitchen—not great if employees are spread at many sites. And, of course, there are security concerns.

“The systems are generally set up so that companies can determine who sees particular files and who belongs to specific groups on the network,” Kopytoff wrote. “Yet problems still arise over where the data is ultimately stored. Some social network providers use their own servers. But that may conflict with the rules of some potential clients that prohibit storing company information outside their firewall, said Susan Landry, an analyst with Gartner.”

OTHER IMPORTANT QUESTIONS

Who are the key players so far? Salesforce.com says that 80,000 companies use its corporate social network, Chatter. Yammer has more than 100,000 companies signed up, it says. Both are based in San Francisco and offer free versions of their social networks to companies. VMware, SAP, Cisco Systems, Jive Software and SuccessFactors are also promoting their products.

What will make these social networking sites successful? Getting employee buy-in and participation. Keeping posts relevant. How many of us stop following or participating in a site if the posts are not useful? Ease of use.

Are they fully developed? “We’ve only built about 10 percent of what we want to build,” said David O. Sacks, Yammer’s chief executive, who calls his service “very Facebook-like.”

Who will draw the line on the “fun” that can be had? “A new feature on Yammer, for example, lets employees praise colleagues by giving them a gold star, among other accolades,” Kopytoff wrote. Polls and videos can now be posted. Can pokes and likes be far behind? What about employee birthdays, marriages and family occasions? Lots of decisions still need to be made.

Can this software help with lists? “Scott Lake, director of V.I.P. marketing at Caesars Entertainment, the casino colossus based in Las Vegas, said his team used Chatter to coordinate and promote events like Celine Dion concerts for the casino’s best customers. Online groups set up for each event help ensure that everyone involved has the most up-to-date information. Questions and answers are visible to everyone in the group. Doing the same thing via email would be cumbersome if not impossible.”

That falls a little bit out of the office realm, but demonstrates that other uses will soon make these services even more attractive. If anyone out there is doing some of this already, please let me know by email or by commenting on the SIPA website.

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