There’s been some debate for a little while now about the possibilities of using already existing (and free) social networks in a business context for purposes of managing internal communications and activities (what is normally considered as the domain of Enterprise Social Networking), rather than going to the effort and expense of having a custom-built tool for this purpose. So, with that in mind, I thought it might be handy to provide a quick and easy snapshot of the pros and cons of this idea, especially as ESN becomes something more and more businesses are interested in these days.
So, first of all, let’s start with the pros of using Facebook Groups to manage internal company communications (these are a little more obvious than the cons):
1. Low implementation cost – Since Facebook is free, the only implementation costs incurred would be in terms of training hours required to get everyone up to speed with the way you’d like the Groups feature to be used within the company. Again, since most of your employees are probably familiar with Facebook already (i.e. if they fall among the 600 million users the network currently has), the time required for this will be minimal.
2. Stability – Let’s face it, while there’s no guarantee that Facebook won’t go down, the track record is pretty good: you won’t have to worry about outages lasting too long (maybe perhaps an hour once every three or four months). When an outage does occur, you know that it will soon be up and running again, which might not necessarily be the case if you’re running your own custom service.
3. Integration of Business Social Networking and Enterprise Social Networking – Now these two really shouldn’t be confused: BSN involves external networking with other companies, potential future clients and partners etc, while ESN involves solely internal communication within your company. While Facebook, as well as LinkedIn and a host of other networks are great for BSN, it is debatable whether there are any advantages to using the same tools also for ESN (perhaps if you have a lot of freelance staff and wish to avoid spending time getting them up on the internal ESN each time they do some work for you?). I’m not convinced this is a pro currently to be honest (in fact a similar point features in the cons below as you’ll see).
4. Access to Mobile Apps – Facebook has a great smartphone app which means employees could continue to use the Groups feature even when out of the office, which could be very handy if you have a very mobile workforce. In the case of a custom-built ESN you wouldn’t necessarily have this (it’s possible of course, but would add expense to the implementation and running costs).
Right, now onto some of the problems with using Facebook Groups for ESN:
1. Security – If, as this week’s hacking of Zuckerberg’s fan page has shown, nowhere is really 100% safe on Facebook, then you might want to think twice about using Groups for internal communication if such activities would involve risking any sensitive or important private data. Again, there’s no guarantee a custom-built, or off-the-shelf, specialised ESN software would be impregnable but you would have the advantage of at least being able to make it a priority and having control over it yourself (rather than simply hoping Facebook’s security engineers are up to the nigh on impossible task of guarding against all breaches for such a vast system).
2. Efficiency – Many companies ban the use of social networking sites like Facebook for reasons of efficiency. Some say this actually stunts productivity, while others disagree; things are still a little inconclusive on that front. However, bear in mind that using Groups in the workplace will also involve opening up access to the site for all your employees with some inevitable time going on simply socialising outside the work-related Groups use.
3. Confidentiality – Again, similar to the first point but not necessarily connected to hacking or security breaches. Using an open network like Facebook increases the chances that private or confidential material might end up accessible to others outside your company. The principle of using Groups rather than just simply having everyone ‘friend’ each other is to avoid this – but it’s always possible that someone outside the company might accidentally join the group, or a message or link is sent to the wrong person etc. This for example is the problem with using the same communications system for both BSN and ESN, since the activity of networking externally inevitably requires some elements of PR and imaging – which might be harder to manage if every little detail about your internal comms can be public.
4. Suitability – Here, really is one of the key issues: basically, Facebook groups isn’t designed to manage the internal comms of an entire company, catering for all its organisational nuances and details (which each company has, regardless of its size). So, while it might be free, it’s also probably not going to be as good at providing what you expect out of it when compared with specific ESN tools, which can be tailored exactly to your organisation (and adapted easily as that may change – Groups only changes when Facebook decides, whether you like it or not).
Well there you have it, a quick intro to the pros and cons of using Facebook Groups for ESN – though I dare say that most of the points would hold for whichever of the established non ESN-specific networks you were considering (LinkedIn or something like that for example). Feel free to add your own thoughts below – I’m sure there’s plenty more points which could go down in either column.