Has enterprise social networking (ESN) already attracted your attention?

Checking out the price of certain search terms on Google Adwords is a pretty handy yardstick for working out what the ‘next big thing’ out there might be for the web.

The more expensive an Adword, the more it is in demand by various other businesses and websites all jostling for position at the top of Google’s sponsored ads column (the list to the right of your web search results).

Well, you guessed it, ‘Enterprise Social Networking’ (ESN), is very, very expensive by most Adword standards – suggesting that it’s somewhat of a high-interest topic for the near future.

Google logo
Image source: Giphy

A big part of this is precisely because ESN is still in the early stages, wherein there remains great flexibility to define what it is and how it might be useful. Furthermore, it’s not like the sphere of general social networking which has ‘matured’ over a few years now to produce one major market-leader (Facebook, duh…) and a number of other successful (but not so dominant) networks, all with fairly settled (to the point that this can be said to make sense in an ever-changing business landscape) conceptions of what they do. Well, ESN has not been around for anywhere near as long, at least not in a widespread sense, and that is why some people might, understandably, have a slightly vague idea as to what it refers to.

Essentially ESN can be summarised as the use of social networking technologies and practices within an internal business environment for purposes of facilitating efficient (quick and cheap) communication within the organisation.

There is often some confusion of ESN with BSN (Business Social networking), the crucial difference being that the latter refers to communications across different organisations (‘networking’ in the traditional sense) unlike ESN which refers more towards facilitating communications between employees of a single company or organisation.

The main point is that once companies reach a certain size, or if they happen to employ a geographically-disparate workforce, or whatever else might make immediate face-to-face communication tricky to adopt on a company-wide scale as the preferred mode of communication, then technology looks increasingly attractive as a solution for ensuring that these communicative hurdles do not get in the way of the smooth functioning of the organisation.

ESN communication
Image source: Giphy

Of course, the general concept of ESN is not new – companies of all sizes already use various software to aid effective communication between employees – from MSN Messenger (popular in phone sales or call centres because it doesn’t interfere with phone calls for example) to Skype (attractive in reducing the cost of transnational meetings by avoiding expensive airfares etc). However, if one thinks about how most of these options are currently implemented, they tend to aid exchange between smaller numbers of people, often between two to four or five, about a specific issue or task.

Where ESN becomes interesting is in facilitating a practical and intuitive exchange across an entire company – which, crucially, won’t require masses of time to follow or operate. This therefore is the important point: it is not that it was impossible to have all employees in contact with eachother before – but that it would simply require too much time and money. With ESN this problem appears to be highly surmountable.

Imagine for example something akin to a Facebok-style news feed, showing the input of workers from the entire company. For example, people working in a larger company would have a better idea of who their colleagues are (always a good thing), who does what, and what everyone is doing at that point. This way the inflexibility that often arises from subdividing teams to specific branches of the operation can be overcome – even though workers x, y, and z are working exclusively on one project – they have an idea of the broader pool of skills and expertise on offer in their company, on which they could draw if need be.

However as a one-size-fits-all model of ESN is clearly inappropriate, since each organisation has its own specific requirements, it is understandable that it will take a little time before everyone is clear on exactly what ESN offers their business, because, in a sense, a higher degree of customisation is required to these tools before they’re ideally suited to each company. This contrasts with BSN or Social media marketing simply because there the attraction in using Twitter or Facebook (or whatever else) is in the fact that many of your customers/clients/associates also use it. Not so with ESN, where the appeal is precisely in having a closed/private (‘safe’) communicative space, where employees can communicate freely without having to worry about who else might have access to their messages.