This scenario is very common today within most large enterprises. Making use of publicly available social software sites generally occurs virally for a number of reasons. Employees see it as a better way to communicate with each other. Existing tools may not provide that global reach that employees require. It's likely that many enterprises don't provide any tools that facilitate global collaboration. A couple of key elements take precedence when deciding whether to continue with an existing platform or move to an enterprise social software platform.
First and foremost: What are the goals of using such a platform? If employees have begun to use social software on their own, you will need to understand how they are using it. Are they building a knowledge base using wikis? Are they using it as a means to exchange ideas on a variety of company-related topics? Are employees using the platform to criticize company direction or policy? Another key consideration: What corporate compliance and security elements must be maintained? If your specific environment has heavy compliance mandates, that will impact your decision on which form of social networking you wish to implement.
In my experience, companies are best served with a combination of both approaches. An internal platform gives users a full range of social tools to utilize and facilitates linking these tools with back-office elements like directories, databases and document management systems. This allows knowledge and content to be more easily captured and maintained for future use. Most of these platforms offer connectivity to public platforms, which allows companies to manage and monitor their corporate image.
Whichever approach you take, it's important to implement common-sense guidelines to using social software. Too much control stifles collaboration and innovation, resulting in reduced benefits for the company. On the other hand, however, too little control can result in abuse of the platform by some employees, providing the same result.
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This was first published in December 2011