Thinking about an enterprise social network (ESN)?

A while ago I was asked whether I'd like to co-author an article on Enterprise Social Networks (ESN's). Unfortunately I wasn't able to make the deadline for the article, so missed out in this instance, but I did prepare some notes on some of the features I think organisations need to consider when choosing an enterprise social networking tool.

  1. A familiar interface (but not a Facebook clone)

    To encourage individuals to use an enterprise social networking tool it should be developed with a familiar interface in mind. Doing so will make individuals feel comfortable with the new tool. However it's important not to make it look too much like Twitter or Facebook, as doing so it may put them off using it as they may think it's an internal version of Facebook and therefore designed for wasting time. Standard functionality within an enterprise social network should include the ability to add a variety of posts, reply to posts, to like posts, to add labels and other tags to posts. Users should also be able to share all types of media including URL's, and attachments (pictures, video clips, documents) It's also important that users are able to follow other users so that they're aware of all updates.

  2. Updates

    Keeping people informed about what content is being added to an ESN is a feature that should not  be overlooked. Many collaborative tools already offer regular updates and an ESN should be any different. What's important to consider with updates is the frequency with which these are sent/received. Whilst it might be great to receive an update every time someone updates their status or adds something to the ESN, after a while this may become too much for the recipient. Therefore having a number of options available for receiving updates is an important element. These will range from daily updates to weekly summaries of content added.

  3. Extensible and rich user profiles

    User profiles are an important part of any enterprise social networking tool as they allow individuals to describe their interests, projects they might have worked on and to "sell" the expertise that they have. In addition to information from HR systems profiles should be easily editable by individuals. Profiles should include recent activity as well the details of individuals and groups that they're following. For an individual completing their profile there should be an indication of how complete it is.

  4. Collaborative tools

    This will depend on what you're trying to achieve with your enterprise social network, but having a number of collaborative tools in addition to activity streams and status updates available may encourage use beyond people just saying what they're doing. These tools should at the minimum include the ability to create blog posts and potentially wiki pages.

  5. Search

    Something that can often be overlooked when thinking about an enterprise social networking tool is the search.  Being able to find posts and other content within an enterprise social networking tool is important to ensure that if someone is looking for someone or something they're able to do so. If an enterprise social networking tool doesn't include a search tool then organisations need to think carefully about how they're going to "surface" content that has been published. This might be through an enterprise search tool or through regular updates, although the latter will only capture recently created content.

  6. Integration with other systems - Active Directory (AD)

    The IT department should be able to easily integrate an enterprise social networking tool within the firms existing security infrastructure. This should allow individuals to seamlessly "sign on" to the social network without having to enter a username or password. Without this feature many individuals may not use the network as entering a username and password will act as a barrier to adoption.

  7. Good security

    An essential feature of any enterprise social networking tool is that is has appropriate security measureS in place. So if individuals want to create private groups or send private messages within an ESN, they should be able to do. this. A lot of issues around security will also be covered by appropriate governance, which will cover things like access to the ESN, control rights, and monitoring of the ESN.

  8. Document sharing/file sharing/DMS integration

    If possible the ESN should integrate with any Document Management System (DMS) an organisation has in place. This ensures that if individuals want to collaborate on documents they can easily reference these within the ESN.

  9. Groups

    It should be easy for individuals to create groups within any ESN and if necessary for these groups to be private or have restricted access.

  10. Mobile and desktop applications

    An excellent way of encouraging use of an ESN is to ensure users can access it and upload content in a number of different ways. So this means looking at whether there is a mobile version of the tool and whether there is a desktop application that can be installed to provide instant updates to users.

  11. Leaderboards/gamification

    Another way to encourage usage of an ESN is to think about using gamification techniques to encourage users to post content.