As Facebook surpassed the 1 billion users’ mark last week, but still had disappointing results in the stock market, the debate is inevitable: is Facebook going the way of the dodo – or should I say, MySpace and Orkut – or is it going to keep growing? It’s hard to tell for sure, no matter what analysts say to you now. It’s a long running game, and the outcome will be determined not only by Facebook’s decisions, but also by the actions of their competitors and the ever evolving behavior of online users. On the social business side, however, the future is a little easier to predict: corporate social networking is here to stay, but it will have to evolve way beyond just being “Facebook for the Enterprise”.
Make no mistake: saying that corporate social networking is “Facebook for the Enterprise” helps you to explain the concept to others in four words and may be a nice shortcut to get to your audience’s attention, as you borrow a bit of the extraordinary mindshare of that online behemoth. But you can’t get the good without the bad. By linking your efforts in bringing social networking to your organization to the likeness and fortunes of Zuckerberg’s company, you may be doing a disservice to your chances of success in the long term.
If you have to use comparisons to convey your message, you may be better off explaining that your corporate social networking platform aggregates features you see in Facebook, Google, Google Docs, LinkedIn, Twitter, Wikipedia, YouTube, and the myriad of online discussion forums and communities into a single platform, and adds an enterprise-y flavor to it.
Why is that difference important? Think about this: how much REAL work you can actually do in Facebook? The Facebook toolset, even when you include the third-party apps, map poorly to the type of activities you do at work. There is no doubt that the concepts of status updates and walls form the backbone of any social networking these days, corporate or otherwise, but they only give you a place to start and get users to try it out. After all, if one in seven people in the world use Facebook at least once a month, chances are that a significant portion of your colleagues will be very familiar with that blue-and-white interface.
However, faster than you can say “Friendster”, the “what’s up”/ “not much” stream of mundane exchanges gets old, and people will stop using it. Social business platforms that mimic Facebook to a T often face that issue: a quick burst of adoption followed by a shrinking number of users as the novelty wears off and work life gets busy.
The obvious solution is that work life should exist within your corporate social networking platform. Most of knowledge workers spend their days as follows:
- handling email
- creating documents or diagrams
- reading or reviewing documents
- attending meetings and other events
- random interactions with colleagues or business partners, typically providing or seeking information
- collaborating with others in collective efforts (making a decision, implementing a new process or product, developing a policy or marketing campaign, etc.)
Unless your corporate social networking can assist you doing the above better, or provide more effective replacements for them, it won’t take long before they are considered a distraction or a coffee-break activity.
Two other important aspects to consider:
1) Corporate Social Networking solutions have the potential in the long term to be better than the sum of parts of Facebook, Wikipedia, YouTube and others, as they can provide all those features within a single platform, and can also better integrate with other enterprise products, such as email, calendars, employee directories, office suites, corporate search, intranet sites, workflow systems, business rules engines, you name it.
2) This also shows that NONE of the current vendors of corporate social networking solutions provide all that’s needed in this space. It’s a catch-up game, and there’s a lot that’s still not there, or not as mature as their consumer counterparts. There is no shortage of social online services available to us as plain Internet users that would be very handy in our workplace.
Hopefully in a few years we will be able to say with confidence that our corporate social networking platform overgrew Facebook to also become Pinterest, Quora, FourSquare, iTunes, Google Calendar/Reader/Maps, MindMeister, Evernote, Dropbox, EventBrite, CraigsList, Instagram, Tumblr, Flipboard and Zite for the Enterprise. And what else is new and brilliant by then.
About Aaron Kim
Aaron Kim currently heads the Digital Social Collaboration Centre of Excellence at RBC. In the past, he tried his hand as solutions architect, Basel II consultant, performance engineer, Java programmer, Unix administrator, and environmental biologist. He’s married to Tania and they have a son, Lucas.