What Makes a Corporate Social Network?

First, the title of this piece isn’t supposed to sound like a contradiction. There’s lots of good data out there from very credible sources that tells senior execs in big organizations that if they want to be able to hire the kind of young people that will make a difference to the business, social network services aren’t optional.

The corporate world has had access to this kind of tech for a while, yet most implementations appear to be mostly web oriented file shares. Proprietary and closed source solutions are expensive to operate and may require a lot more servers than you bargained for when you started thinking about this.

Contrast this with the Facebook model. Easy to sign up for, and once you agree that you don’t own anything you post, it’s very easy to make a profile as rich as you wish. It’s scarily easy to share content with others, be they your friends (closed group) or everyone (global group). No training is required. No proprietary email client. no proprietary office suite. No proprietary server platform. No bucket of servers to install and support. Easy peasy.

Now what kind of service do you want to deliver? Who should control access? What kinds of data can be posted? These are policy questions that any org looking to do business social networking needs to think about. You need to think about your user community too. Users with years of corporate experience will have an established attitude about what gets put where and how it’s shared. Your new younger employees are going to have a completely different perspective. Neither is wrong but boy are they going to be different.

Most businesses will opt for some sort of structured model where control of the data store is managed, where policies are shared and yet there is more flexibility than in traditional systems, to engage and encourage teamwork. And many are going to take their time getting there.

Enter your friends from Google. You’re probably aware of Google Apps, a set of services that delivers via the browser a word processor, a spreadsheet and a presentation application. Google provides on site storage, and they manage the entire backend. This idea of software as a service isn’t new, and the adoption rate is increasing, although it varies by marketplace. What you may not know is that Google also offers Google Sites. Google Sites are the saas equivalent of your internal social network. Getting access is as simple as registering a domain and an email address. What Sites provides is that simple elegant online experience, just like Apps. It’s easy, it’s free and you have no idea if your employees are using it.

Already there is concern that smart folks in large companies are building their own social sites in the public space because their company doesn’t provide this service internally. Think about this seriously and get a plan in place before you wake up to a surprise. And before that wakeup call, your CSO really will want to read the EULA, especially the parts pertaining to your data.

Just my opinion of course, I could be wrong. Until next time.


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