One of the questions I get asked a lot is, “Are you worried about Google+ as a competitor in the Enterprise Social Networking Space?”. At first, I thought the answer was simple, but I wanted to really get my thoughts together on this and share them with everyone.
My previous post about Why Google+ is a -1 for me covers part of my reasoning. It seems that in order to have any enterprise penetration that Identity and Access Management is a key component that is missing today. You have to assume at some point Google will figure out how to integrate Google+ into it’s Google Apps suite. This will no doubt make Google+ available to many small companies who figure it’s “good enough”. But, there’s a more fundamental issue that really makes Google+ a bad fit for companies.
As many have argued, Google+ seems to have its sights on Facebook. We are already seeing the battle of the titans in feature 1-upsmanship. In a consumer social network this is all good, as it really forces each company to bring it’s “A” game. But, now let’s look at how Enterprise Social Networks are different than consumer social networks.
One of the biggest values in Enterprise Social Networking is opening up conversations through transparency and the serendipity that is discovered by being aware of these conversations even if they are not a core focus. Let’s start at the core of Google+; the circle.
Think of circles as bi-directional distribution lists. They allow a user to consume content from people who they have classified in a specific circle. On the other hand, you have the ability to target information you share to only users in a given circle. This is where the issue lies. It’s just like sending an e-mail. One of the biggest problems with e-mail is that you may not have insight into who needs to know the information you are sharing. In e-mail, this leads to forwards and introduces the chance of information gaps in the conversation. Google+ does eliminate that by having 1 copy that is shared and comments are added to the main feed, but does not eliminate the chance of people who need to know the content not being aware of it. One way around this limitation is to share everything as “Public”, but this can lead to a low signal to noise ratio resulting in frustration and loss of productivity.
How about the scenario where someone shares something with you that is not in your circle? In that case, the content goes into a feed called “incoming”. While in a public network, this may seem manageable (or not), in an enterprise, this is clearly not manageable. For example, if you are a VP or CxO, it’s a challenge to manage circles for everyone in your company if you company is as small as a few hundred people. In large enterprises where the numbers can be in the tens of thousands, it’s impossible.
Now let’s look at true Enterprise Social Networks. In most of these solutions, you have groups and perhaps a main feed for general updates. Each group has the capability of being “public” or “private”. If you share to a group, it’s now there for anyone who is a member of that group to see. If it’s a public group, you are relying that the people who are interested in the group is a member. In a private group, you know the audience that you are sharing with. Even after the fact, you can join a group and see all the content that’s been shared there.
If you share in the main feed via a status update, by adding appropriate tags to your content there is a high probability that your content will be discovered by people that are interested in it. Either by following you, or the hashtag. This makes it much easier to discover content that is relevant to you since you are better positioned to make that determination than the person who produced it.
While Google+ is definitely a step in the right direction over Wave and Buzz, it’s far from being a solution that will work inside the company.