The value of enterprise social networks #esn
I published the following post on Capgemini’s Technology blog – Capping IT Off – and thought I would reproduce it here. Over the last few months I have found myself increasingly looking at enterprise social networks and the effect they have on an organisation. Perhaps this first post about internal social networks begins to mark a shift in my writing as well.
We are living in a time when an organisation has never had the possibility to be so aware of itself. BestBuy’s Mood QR code experiment - How are you feeling today? – from a couple of years ago gives us a glimpse of the organisation literally having its finger on its own pulse.
Social tools have emerged that are changing the way employees communicate with each other, make decisions and seek information. These same social tools are challenging, perhaps even forcing, each one of us to learn new literacies, not as a choice but of necessity.
These changes come without a blueprint, without instruction, but demand faith and courage captured within a playbook. We are drawing the blueprint up as we go along. We are creating our own playbooks with each message posted to Yammer, each Powerpoint deck uploaded to Slideshare, each job added to LinkedIn, each Tweet expressing dissatisfaction about waiting in a queue somewhere.
These changes are being played out in the open, on view, visible. Communication, decision-making, sharing information no longer happens in isolation or in private. These activities are participatory, collective and shared. Tim O’Reilly refers to it as an ‘architecture of participation’. An architecture that each one of us is building as we go along. Don Tapscott writes in Wikinomics:
“…think of a shared canvas where every splash of paint contributed by one user provides a richer tapestry for the next user to modify or build on. “
I ask a question, someone answers, and then someone else, and then someone else… it prompts another question or a tangential observation and someone adds to that… someone disagrees and adds yet another view into the mix… this is a dynamic experience, where each participant is an equal.
We have, in the true spirit of The Cluetrain Manifesto, got off our camels and come to the marketplace to exchange views and barter goods. Our shared goal is not some kind of unattainable altruistic feelgood factor, but simply to arrive at the best possible outcome for each one of us. What is important is not that each one of us has a voice (we’ve always had that), but that each one of us is listened to, acknowledged.
Here in the organisation, this inevitable change is the norm. Change is the constant. The way I shared information in the past, is not how I will share it in the future. The way I created information in the past, is not how I will create it in the future. The way I curated information in the past, is not how I will curate it in the future. The fact that I can create, curate, collect and distribute information along networks that I have built, networks that cross and intersect other networks that others have built, changes the game forever.
These changes are profound. As Clay Shirky writes in Here Comes Everybody: The Power of Organizing Without Organizations: “When we change the way we communicate, we change society.”
I was reading ‘7 Ways Social Enterprise Apps Are More Than Just Talk’ by Ashley Furness the other day. In the post she lists seven ways in which companies derive value from social enterprise applications. These include:
- Streamline project management
- Augment transparency and accountability
- Increase communications efficiency
- Find experts faster
- Better leverage information and insights
- Generate more, better ideas
- Boost employee recognition and engagement
The piece finished with an uneasy tension remaining between the belief that “socialized business will become the norm” – a matter of when not if, rubbing up against the question that nagged away throughout – “would there ever be a return on investment” of these social networking tools?
The value is undeniable, simply read through the list of verbs, comparatives and adjectives above: streamline, augment, increase, better, boost, faster. What organisation wouldn’t want to be more streamlined, more efficient, more transparent, more accountable, have more engaged employees, have better ideas, have better communication? But how do you prove the return on these things? How do we prove these things now? Does it even make any difference whether I am more efficient through Yammer or email or word of mouth? What’s important is that I know which works best for me within the context of the organisation that I work in.
So what happens when the return on investment of the inevitable is finally worked out? And in the end, does working it out even matter? Particularly when I’m only holding out until it becomes the norm anyway. Our ways of thinking, our definitions of value, our business models will be a distant memory one day.
It strikes me that just as the way we are working and communicating is changing, so too the way we need to think about, and make sense of, that changing world, must also of necessity change. And that perhaps is where the value lies.