How to Set Up Company-Wide Social Networks
There are tools that let you create internal company-wide social networks but do you need one?
I'm running a virtual company with over a dozen people, and one challenge we face is not only finding ways to communicate regularly with one another but also getting to know our fellow team members when we're flung across the globe and a dozen time zones.
What is an Internal Social Network?
So what is an internal social network or enterprise social network? Well, we are all pretty familiar with social networks now--Facebook being the largest. Social networks tend to have some of the same features and functions, including:
profiles for members
groups to bring together people with similar interests
forums to allow for online, archived discussions
the ability to friend or otherwise connect with other members
a way to publish messages publicly
a way to send messages privately, and
collaboration tools (in some cases)
How do disbursed companies bring their team members together on a regular basis for communications, collaboration and camaraderie? Internal social networks could be a good start.
Picture a Facebook or Twitter plaform for your company or team. An internal social network can work well for a company where their team members are distributed across several locations, and lack the benefit of being able to stop by each other’s office or meet up in the company cafeteria.
Internet Social Networking Apps
There are many companies coming out with private-label or internal corporate social networks.
Yammer: Yammer was one of the first to take the Twitter posting communications model and turn it into a fast and easy way for team members to communicate back and forth but away from public view.
Socialcast: Another Twitter-like application is Socialcast. Socialcast uses buzzwords like “social business intelligence” to describe one of their features that analyzes how your team is utilizing their service. Socialcast uses the Twitter format of microblogging but also lets you set up categories, public and private groups, file and link sharing, custom streams, and other features that make it a more robust microblog. There is also a Socialcast desktop app, and they have an iPhone optimized site as well as a new iPhone app.
Socialcast enterprise networks are private, secure and can reside behind your firewall, if you have one. You can use their basic version and set up your domain-based network for free without social business intellegence and SMS or text-messaging integration.
Socialtext: Socialtext is another enterprise solution that also has a free version which they call the Free 50 for networking up to 50 co-workers. Socialtext is like a more fleshed out version of Socialcast with microblogging, social network features, and personal homepages that each worker can customize as well as a wiki-style workspace that everyone can use to collaborate. The free version comes with only one workspace.
Socialtext has a sweet compact Adobe Air desktop application that sits neatly on your desktop and acts as a pervasive IMing system and a window into what everyoneelse is up to as they post their messages. You can also use Socialtext to identify and locate the right person to answer your questions or work on a project with you using the smart search functions within the service.
Ning: Ning is a private-label social networking platform that I've mentioned before. Many of my clients use it for private networks where they can interact with their colleagues, vendors, or even customers. Ning isn't designed to be an enterprise-level, fully-integrated, highly secure messaging and collaborative environment like Socialcast and Socialtext, but for less sensitive business needs, it can be a useful platform.
Challenges of Internet Social Networks
Having worked to integrate both Socialcast and Socialtext into my own virtual company's work process – at separate times, of course – I've found the following to be true:
It's an additional application to use on everyone's already overloaded application plate
there is always a learning curve to any new software and not everyone is up to the task;
the adoption of new collaborative software must be company-wide to be truly effective; and
the use of collaborative software must be consistent.
While my team is still working to adopt one of these systems, I truly believe it will bring us all closer together as a cohesive, creative unit.
Bottom Line: Setting up your own company-wide internal social network is a great idea for better understanding what each team member brings to the company and your projects and it makes it easier to tap into everyone's knowledge, skills, and abilities. However, adoption and consistent use of these new applications is key to making it work well for everyone.
That's all we have time for today.
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Social Network image courtesy of Shuttek