Why the CEO thinking "Facebook" Fails the Enterprise and its Employees

Facebook has copped a bit of a bad rap as being not suitable for an Enterprise Social Network but it's really an innocent victim. We've even said ourselves that while the CEO might say "I want an internal Facebook" they don't really mean Facebook, and we've also said that thinking and behaving like you are installing Facebook when installing an Enterprise Social Network (ESN) is an almost certain predictor of failure.

Mark Zuckerberg - CaricatureWe've seen some major users of internal community platforms take a naive swing to using public social networks such as Linkedin Groups as a solution to their ESN and social community needs - often citing cost. As Ray Wang said a while back:

      Social’s emergence in business is changing how people work with each other. Previously, relationships were mostly driven by cost which resulted in the devaluation of people and ultimately customers, says the analyst. As a result, everybody revolted and set up their own communities to engage with each other. But now, he says, businesses are asking themselves how to bring that back inside the organisation?

In our experience there is a common element in those decisions - they have always been promoted and lead by a "social media" person, not a social business person, and there's a big difference. No doubt that Facebook and Linkedin and other public social networks have a role to play in many social strategies, but not as a substitute for an Enterprise Social Network.

Social everywhere

Here's the fundamental technical reason why - collaborative functionality needs to show up at the source of the event or problem - inside the CRM, BI, and ERP applications where process output needs to be either corrected or enriched by people coming together, that is in the workflow. It also has to integrate with the core document management email and the communications systems.

Dion Hinchliffe said that "it was time to move beyond the portal model as the organizing principle". We agree 110% and that's why we talk about enterprise social as a platform and not a destination.

Social strategy

Facebook lives in the public environment of the web, it's driven by it's own strategy as $100b+ market cap business. As a component of any other company's strategy it plays only a small part e.g. in their marketing or their attempts at community engagement. On the other hand, when we consider Enterprise Social Networking this is often expected to play an important strategic role in an organisation, in relation to one or more key business objectives.

An Enterprise Social Network will have defined outcomes which could never realistically apply to any kind of Facebook or Linkedin presence. (Not to mention the fact that Facebook or Linkedin can arbitrarily and at their sole discretion, without recourse, black out your presence - permanently!)

Besides the platform and process issues, there are the strategic, cultural and people issues.

Implementation strategy - can Facebook be the model of voluntary adoption?

But really, no-one is seriously suggesting that Facebook would be the Enterprise Social Network, rather they are implying that a Facebook-like approach to using such a system in an enterprise environment might be the way to think of the implementation approach - after all, so many employees happily use Facebook, right?

Well, no - wrong. You can almost be certain that translating an employee's appetite and cultural ease of using public social networks into an enterprise internal social network implementation strategy is a recipe for failure. Why? Because the context is completely different.

Employees are used to using social networks in their personal lives they want any corporate social networks to equally as easy to use. That expectation is actually the crux of what CEO's often mean by "Facebook for the enterprise" - which is certainly a legitimate aim as far as the single issue of usability goes. So Facebook as a measure of the ease of use - fine. As a model of voluntary adoption in the enterprise - big mistake.

      See what Altimeter Group founder Charlene Li said here “Enterprise Social Networking is More Than Facebook Behind a Firewall“)

Enterprise social needs to link to business objects

For one thing, consider that a successful ESN implementation starts out with a strong business strategy deliberation and description which necessarily embraces a certain vision and leadership. That's not the way people approach their social network activities. For another, the reward and recognition within the enterprise is very different to outside.

That means that there need be a whole lot of cultural issues to consider in relation to people sharing information, feeling confident about doing so, about seeing more senior people sharing, about learning how to share and what to share, about how people can be approached and they respond through the internal network, what type of information needs a workflow, approval, staging etc.

Not to mention the design of the distributed social activities when integrated into other enterprise applications. That is, there has to be a lot of business, process, architectural, governance, people and cultural analysis around how enterprise social relates to the current and future business objects, as Brian Solis says.

Brian Solis refers to Charlene Li's report on Enterprise Social Network adoption and the "three critical painpoints" which impede ESN success:

  1. Lack of Metrics means business impact goes unmeasured
  2. Rapidly developing Technology platforms create a myriad of confusing options
  3. Integration into existing platforms, workflow, and access remain a barrier.

Here's a recent example of point #3 where success has been achieved through Integration. The example shows that this is not a simple thing to achieve, and it requires substantial corporate attention, integration and resources, but pays back with outstanding results.

      On May 6, Dell posted a plan on IdeaStorm describing a proposed specialty laptop, upgrading an existing machine to target people who write wireless apps and other Web-based software using a variation of the Linux operating system called Ubuntu.

By Monday, customers had posted 83 ideas for refinements to the machine on IdeaStorm, covering specific software bugs to broader issues such as whether the screen should be shiny or not. In addition, 35,000 people visited Barton George's Web posting about the new laptop — 10 times more than any other posting he's ever made, he said. [Barton George, Director of Marketing for Dell’s Web vertical] The laptop is due on the market by year's end. Dell says the process produces more detailed feedback than traditional focus groups, and builds links to an important group of customers.

The point here is not the external innovation community, but it is the ability of Dell to internally harness and act upon the feedback. That takes internal collaboration and an effective internal social network. The coordination and process flow across all the relevant parts of Dell is the key to its value - he ability to get it to the right people and for them to be able to interact with and on that information.

Think about it, this example is a big deal. It involved assimilating and communicating and assessing and deciding on issues with substantive effects on product design, product features, product performance, marketing, support, sales, production. That's everything. And in "community" time so that the community was engaged.

That's a huge ask of an organisation and takes a well functioning ESN. It also requires a internal cultural acceptance of the value of customer feedback, and the desire to nurture it and utilise it throughout the organisation.

Enterprise social needs to link to other business metrics

As a final example, if we delve into impediment #1 a little more, then we start understanding that we need to bring measures into play with respect to an internal social network that we also use in many areas of "normal" business, for example:

How Executives Are Using Social Media
  1. A Business Case with metrics
  2. Use Cases with baselines
  3. Change Management with measures
  4. Existing metric improvements.

These are the kinds of business measures and KPIs against which the social network of the enterprise needs to be measured.

It's not about organic social adoption in the enterprise

The three critical pain-points serve as one example of the critical issues facing successful implementation of an Enterprise Social network. Each of those require a specific plan within a strategy of implementing an ESN. These are issues which must be addressed with actions and resources, and on top of that there are many other issues.

On the other hand, if we literally took a "Facebook" approach of organic growth and adoption then these pain points would not be visible nor addressed in a plan, and would therefore be active impediments to success.

Those considerations take considerable effort and hard work - it's not at all the "organic adoption" approach implied by "Facebook for the Enterprise".

What is the best way for a CEO to emphasize the ease of use of social while setting expectations that enterprise social is still a complex corporate project?

Please comment below.

Walter Adamson 

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