The 5 W’s of Enterprise Social Networks

Even though there is a growing amount of information on the web on enterprise social computing a concise guide for executives is needed to outline the benefits and challenges of deploying it to your business.

What is Enterprise Social Networking?

Enterprise Social Networking (ESN) is a set of tools and behaviors that promote open conversations within an organization to achieve business objectives.  This leads to more engaged employees, increased innovation, and faster business outcomes. It is also commonly known as; Enterprise 2.0 & and Social Business.

ESNs can be externally facing customers, partners, suppliers (or any group you communicate with outside of your company) or internally facing for employees to work together.

Before embarking on Enterprise Social Networking, companies must provide the following table stakes for the organization in order to realize sustainable success:

First, a safe platform for social computing is needed. To be considered safe, the platform must be secure, usable, and accessible. Why?  Because you, your stockholders, and your employees must feel the platform protects the goals of both the organization and the individuals. These goals include protecting information and identity.  They also include respecting the time of users.  Most associates are too busy to experiment and figure out how to use new tools, so the tools must be very easy to use and as intuitive as picking up the telephone.  Finally, the tools must be accessible when and where people are inspired to collaborate otherwise the opportunity to share will pass.

Second, a clear understanding of the objectives must be defined.  Companies typically pursue one or both of the following objectives with social computing:

Document Centric –Manage document creation in teams more effectively (e.g. RFP, Marketing materials, Quotes, agendas)

Conversation Centric – Create new conversations in the organization (e.g. looking for answers, sharing relevant events)

While both objectives are considered collaboration, executives must recognize that the platform and behaviors to support these objectives may need to be different.


Telling people how to collaborate is rarely beneficial, but identifying a set of behaviors that deliver benefits for the organization can help everyone align on how your ESN should be used. The following behaviors are basic tenants of a healthy ESN deployment.

These behaviors take time to mature inside a community and require support across the organization.  They do not occur spontaneously and will be challenging for most organizations.  But as these behaviors do mature they create an environment of trust, which delivers benefits to the company as well as to the individual.

The role of a Community Manager has been shown to speed the transition to these new behaviors. Typically, this person helps people get up to speed, answers questions about the usage and drives conversations to productive outcomes. They demonstrate and model the behaviors listed above as well as having a clear understanding of the business priorities of the company. This job is often filled by an employee who understands the potential of social computing and takes on the role in addition to their normal job. As the community matures, this can become a full-time job for one or more employees, depending on the size of your community and the pace that change is being driven.


Highly regulated industries need to understand the implications of implementing a social solution so that they are prepared to work within the guidelines of the regulators. Most companies already have policies in place that can be applied to a social platform. Simplifying these policies into language that is easily understood and presented as guidelines make it easier for employees to comply with the policies.

Understanding and clearly communicating your company’s data classification policy (e.g. confidential, proprietary) is also helpful in ensuring that people are not sharing inappropriately within the social platform.


The application of social is used in all areas and levels of organizations. The opportunity for leadership is to encourage people to experiment with ways that make their jobs more efficient, innovative, and fun. In many cases, the best answer for a challenge shared on a social network comes from the most unexpected person. Executives can also benefit from participation by sharing business challenges and encouraging participation from everyone. This process is called crowd-sourcing. This helps people understand the challenges that the company is facing and can help solve problems that seemed unsolvable.


There are some challenges to participation due to the various groups in the labor pool. Union Labor and hourly workers present a challenge since there are potential issues of pay for work outside the normal 8-hour day. Contract workers also potentially present a challenge since you may not want them to have access to your internal network and all of the conversations that may be happening there. These issues should not be roadblocks but should be considered and planned for as part of any ESN deployment.

Where & When

Many people are connected to work outside of business hours. Mobility and new platforms such as the iPad are challenging many IT organizations to rethink how access to systems is granted.

There are three areas of interest:

Premise-based – Systems deployed by IT behind firewalls (Traditional IT deployment)

Cloud Based – Systems on the Internet, secured by best practices. Each solution provider needs to be reviewed independently

BYOD – Bring Your Own Device (PC, Mac, iPad, phone)

Engaged employees want to stay connected to work, to provide value, regardless of the time or location. Feeling like their input matters leads employees to contribute day and night leading to faster outcomes. By making systems easy to access, you send a message to employees that their time is important to you.


When building systems on-premise, Information Security is hesitant to provide access to the infrastructure behind the firewall from the Internet. Often, when access is granted, the solution is so difficult to use that many people don’t use it. Cloud-based systems do provide an alternative, but present their own set of challenges around security. Finally, having corporate information on personal devices further raises issues that should be identified and addressed for your business.


The key element that employees are concerned with is “value”. They are constantly asked what value they provide to the company. By opening up conversations, it allows workers to offer value based on their knowledge, not based on their position within the hierarchy.  As this value is unlocked, it leads to faster and better business outcomes as well as higher employee morale and engagement.


By understanding that most people are judged and rewarded for their individual success, you can begin to include objectives that promote sharing across the organization. Additionally, having information flow freely inside an organization can threaten individuals that sought power through information hoarding.

Measuring the impact

There are some interesting metrics that can be realized from analyzing your social platform around employee engagement and sentiment, but when it comes to measuring business success. We are seeing an emerging trend that maps value the same way as other business tools and processes:

  • Stakeholder Analysis/ROI
  • Business Case
  • Use Cases
  • Change Management
  • Existing metric improvements

Understanding the stakeholders and what business problems they hope to solve goes a long way in identifying the existing metrics that can be used to measure the impact.


With today’s rapid pace of business, sometimes introducing concurrent change is unavoidable. In these cases, it is best to survey the users to provide qualitative supporting evidence of success. Because social is so easy to deploy, there are users who are realizing success without taking the time to really understand the business value or be part of a larger change effort


By giving your employees tools that they want to use to do their work, you can quickly build trust leading to an acceleration in your business with better business outcomes.