Is Bridging the Enterprise–Consumer Social Networking Divide a Bridge too Far?

On the surface, Facebook@Work looks a lot like consumer Facebook. We have news feeds, groups, shared social media, discussions, hashtags and the like. Familiarity with the interface is one of the strong selling points for Facebook, but since its soft launch in 2015, it’s hardly set the world on fire.

The big Enterprise-Consumer bridge news this month is Microsoft’s acquisition of LinkedIn. Unlike Facebook, Microsoft’s acquisition of LinkedIn is being positioned as a ‘bet on both sides’, rather than a bridging, since Microsoft already has Yammer, which is being integrated into their O365 suite. No such future is being suggested for LinkedIn.

Before these two developments the worlds of consumer and Enterprise Social Networking software were clearly delineated, despite relatively subtle differences in functionality. The Enterprise Social Networking market was consolidating behind traditional Enterprise players, IBM, Microsoft, SAP, Oracle and Salesforce, when Facebook for Work became the first to look to bridge the Consumer-divide. Shortly after the Facebook for Work launch Gaurav Jain (@gjain) was quick to write an article on Techcrunch to suggest the context change would likely prove a bridge too far. Gaurav was speaking with some experience, having been on the founding team of the failed Google+ Enterprise initiative, so it is worth exploring Gaurav’s comments in more detail:

  • Conflicting ‘DNAs’ were identified, suggesting Enterprises are driven by wanting more customized / competitive software;
  • Enterprises prefer ‘managed’, rather than ‘free flowing’ collaboration;
  • Out-dated governance policies that significantly lag the current digital state of the art. For example, security policies that are pre-cloud; individual service level agreements that are pre-software consumerisation etc.;
  • Enterprise software tends to mimic the top down organisational hierarchy, with executive engagement a key selling tactic. Consumer software works from the individual upward;
  • Enterprise software regularly requires integration with other Enterprise applications, many being legacy software solutions. The consumer software world regularly leads the way in their use of the most modern tools, unimpeded by legacy integration issues.

Gaurav’s closing comments are compelling. The onus shouldn’t be on new Enterprise software aspirants having to ‘race to the bottom’ to meet outdated Enterprise software management practices. A positive effect of the increasing dialogue around digital disruptions is that it is forcing Enterprises to look closely at new digitally enhanced business models.

In the context of Enterprise Social Networking (ESN), we have seen a number of successful ‘bottom up’ sales strategies, with Yammer being the first, where entry into the Enterprise was gained through applying the freemium model to Enterprise staffs. This has been quickly followed up by team collaboration software Slack and Atlassian’s HipChat, who are at least drawing ‘cherry picking’ revenue streams from individual or small team sales. But make no mistake, Slack and HipChat and the like will need Enterprise level sales to thrive. This is when the Consumer-Enterprise divide challenges articulated by Gaurav will start to kick in. We have already seen the Yammer experience, where organisations have often had thousands of staff using the software productively for many years prior to formally procuring the software. Astoundingly, the procurement processes trigger the Enterprise governance machinery that begins to surface risks and barriers that had freely been ignored up to that point. In our interview with CEO David Thodey, we found that even the CEO is not spared!

Methods and GoalsAs challenging as these identified barriers are, we believe there is a far more fundamental mismatch between the objectives of Consumer and Enterprise Social Networking. In our recent blog post on the dangers of relying on activity measures, we identified that the key objectives of Enterprises installing an ESN is to improve collaboration, build relationships and empower independent initiative. Consumer Social Networking is centrally about facilitating engagement around content.  This is why it’s also called social media. For Twitter it’s about breaking news. For Facebook it’s about friends sharing content. For Linkedin it’s about sharing business content and professional profiles. The analytics supporting consumer social networking care more about activities; how many views, clicks, reads etc.. When consumer social media/networking talk of personas, they are talking about characterizing the buying behaviours of marketing prospects. In the Enterprise, we are more interested in personas that describe constructive collaboration behaviours. Mature analytics engines like Google Analytics do not attempt to seriously measure the things that ESNs are acquired for.

As consumer social networking started to move into the Enterprise, Corporate Communications, who traditionally have external and internal communications staff co-existing, facilitated it. It is therefore understandable that the social media focus migrated with it. The problem arises when Enterprise staffs are quick to identify that they are becoming a marketing target for their managers and executive, potentially creating a divide that actively works against what the Enterprise is actually looking for. It needs to become more about the conversation than the message alone, something that can be confronting for journalism trained communications specialists. We talked about this in our ‘Talk or Tell’ blog post.

We think that successfully bridging the Enterprise-Consumer Social Networking divide still has some time to run. The early Enterprise winners are likely to come from those currently challenged by a real digital disruption prospect, and forced by circumstance, to move more rapidly away from legacy Enterprise software governance policies. For others, perhaps simply aligning their social analytics with their corporate objectives for collaboration, relationship building and empowerment, is an achievable starting point.

SWOOP is a leading online social network analytics tool aimed at increasing organisational collaborative performance. SWOOP analyses collaboration patterns on enterprise social platforms and provides insights to every single user, community managers and executives. Contact us today for a free 2-week trial and benchmark report.

Subscribe To the SWOOP Newsletter

Join our mailing list, we regulary keep you up to date on the latest industry insights and research into Enteprise collaboration.

Thanks for Subscribing to SWOOP's newsletter