Salesforce.com – Chatter – or just noise.
In one way shape or form I’ve been involved in enterprise social networks since early 2006, so you could say I started late. Not as late as it seems as salesforce.com with their corporate social networking tool ‘Chatter’. The concept of an enterprise social network is a good one however like all these things the value is all about the execution of that concept and here is where I think they have got it wrong. The have simply stolen Facebook changed the name and said that it is ready for the corporate world.
I don’t agree. The world of the consumer and corporations are very different and people want and need different things. The consumer world is now more in touch with new technology like smartphones, tablets and social media however their use doesn’t all translate exactly into the enterprise and this needs to be understood by vendors as well as organisations implementing the technology.
So here is a list of what I think should be considered before jumping on this bandwagon:
1. Individuals: A company is more than just the sum of its parts, gone are the days of a job for life. In an information economy – arguably the greatest asset of any organisation is the intellectual capital and collective wisdom (or in some cases stupidity) rather than one person, the larger the organisation the truer this becomes. If you are looking for an answer to a question you care that it is answered and you don’t want to have to track down the person to answer it for you.
2. Ego: Ah yes I hear you say what about things like linked-in, that is a business tool, but like blogging this is a way of promoting a profile not as a business tool. Yes there are discussion and groups on there but this functionality is a way of connecting with people outside of your own organisation. There will be people who use these new tools to shout from the roof tops, however the saying an empty vessel makes the most noise I believe is true and in my experience the people who are doping REAL work don’t often have the time to talk about it! (says I – busy writing this post!)
3. Marketing: Social networks are a great way of doing ‘below the line’ marketing, promoting your brand or defending it, however few companies have got it right… yet.. I can understand the benefit of using these types of tool for corporate communications but to really drive this sort of use there needs to be dedicated resources to manage and promote it.
4. Content: In a corporation people follow data, documents and content – they don’t follow people. The very idea of listening to an unending stream of unfiltered consciousness (in the form of status updates, micro blogs or blogs) fills me with dread… and having people ‘follow’ me, well on a personal level that is fine, I am interested in what my friends and family are up to but at work? Just plain odd. Lets imagine for a second that this takes off in your organisation and has become a way of capturing the organisational consciousness and building a sense of belonging (YES this is what I was told was one of the goals of the project one of the companies I work with was) – then what happens when someone leaves – do you delete their profile? If so what of their posts, their wall, their followers? HELP? or worse still what happens if you don’t, gone are the days of a job for life – in this study the average period of employment for those aged between 18 and 44 is a little over 2 years. So if the content stays do you end up with a directory full of people with tombstones as their profile picture? This will do wonders for morale! The saying ‘you can pick your friends but not your family’ is also true for work, few people can choose who they work with. There will always be people who get on better than others.
5. Just because everyone else is doing it: Back in the early days of the intranet every company had one, or in some 10,000 sites (you know who you are!) – it doesn’t make any of them worthwhile or useful. Many intranets ended up being only used the host of the canteen menu or an out of date corporate phone book. The typical causes of failure included most of the items listed in this table:
6. The causes of intranet failure were many, but the same holds true of social networks. And the larger the organisation the truer this is. Rather than follow what the current technology trend is, decide first if it will deliver business value and then choose a tool that fits with how you operate as a business. DO NOT change your business to fit the tool.
7. Security: Finally be aware that information can leak, make sure that if sensitive information is being discussed that only the right people have access to it. Leaking of valuable and or sensitive information can have all sorts of adverse consequences, from humiliation or career limitation of an individual to damaging a corporate image or reputation, or even intellectual property theft.
This rant is not directed just at salesforce.com but can easily be applied to the likes of CISCO (with Quad) and Lotus (connections). There is innovation to be tapped into from the consumer world but a like for like copy just isn’t going to work.