Enterprise social networks (or ESNs) are tools that add a social networking component to a company’s digital workspace and facilitate communication and collaboration among employees. ESNs take a model like Facebook and adapt it for corporate use. A prime example of an ESN is Microsoft’s Yammer. The user interface centers around a newsfeed where employees can view and reply to updates from their coworkers, as well as post their own content. Microsoft has also recently introduced another ESN to their ecosystem: Microsoft Teams. A competitor to applications like Slack and HipChat, Microsoft Teams supplies groups of employees with a space to have conversations, share files, and store notes.
What value does an ESN bring to a business?
Opens Up Communication
Social tools help a business to fully embrace open communication and collaboration. ESNs give employees at every level, from interns to the C-suite, a platform to voice their opinions. All voices can be heard, and all employees can work together to brainstorm new ideas. This democratized approach to company communication helps to flatten the corporate hierarchy and encourage employee engagement.
An ESN offers an organization an easy way to keep employees informed about company news, goals, and strategies. Furthermore, employees can participate in conversations around these types of company announcements. ESNs also provide more public venues for communication, in contrast to emails. If a conversation doesn’t need to be private, then employees should be encouraged to discuss it in a public forum where more people can contribute to or benefit from the shared knowledge.
Many companies suffer from a silo mentality, where teams isolate themselves and don’t interact with other groups. An ESN can help fight this fragmentation by encouraging employees to build connections across departments and offices. An ESN provides a venue for all employees to connect and collaborate, even if they can’t meet in person. Employees can connect online, whether it’s to collaborate on projects or to share photos from office events.
What are the challenges of implementing an ESN?
For a social network to be successful, the company needs to get employees to participate. This requires a two-fold approach: people want to use tools that help them to do their job better, but they also want to have fun. Yammer has some fun features that can be used in lighthearted discussions (like polls and praise), and Teams allows users to include gifs and stickers in their messages. Employees can also create Teams or Yammer groups just for discussions about hobbies, like a book club or a running group. These extracurricular activities can coexist with more serious company-wide conversations and brainstorming sessions about important issues.
Integration With Other Tools
To successfully implement an ESN, a company must integrate it with the tools that employees are already using, so that it becomes a natural extension of their digital workspace. Integration is simple for companies using Office 365. Yammer and Teams are already included as part of the Microsoft Office 365 ecosystem, and one or both of these social tools can enhance your existing SharePoint intranet.
Whereas SharePoint revolves around information storage and document management, Yammer and Teams add a platform for social interaction. Yammer, with its company-wide reach, is best suited for announcements, and Teams works best for conversations and collaboration within smaller groups. Furthermore, they integrate seamlessly with SharePoint. Teams automatically creates an Office 365 Group and SharePoint Team Site for each Team you have, and you can add SharePoint document libraries as tabs within the Team interface. You can link to SharePoint pages and documents from Yammer, and you can embed Yammer newsfeeds on SharePoint sites. For extended functionality beyond these built-in features, a 3rd party add-on like Harmon.ie can provide additional integration.