Remember when Intranets were all the rage? I do, I wrote a paper on them way back in 1995 that was at their height of interest. The idea was to produce a corporate Web portal that was just for internal use, to enable staff to share documents, best practices, customer information and the like. Well, the time has come to retire your Intranet, and look at the new crop of enterprise social networking products that are designed for that purpose.
Originally, these products were called microblogs or Twitter-behind-the-firewall. The latter appellation was because they took the Twitter user interface and presented a small text window to type a brief message in, and then displayed the stream of status updates in a similar fashion.
But in the past several years these products have become more capable, and can be very useful as the next-gen Intranet. For example, you can share files with comments them, such as if a team is collaborating on a presentation slide deck for example. Altimeter Group’s Brian Solis has written an excellent analysis of why you should use these products here.
These tools might also be a better place to start than using a standard blogging tool such as WordPress or even Facebook for your internal communications. A recent study from UMass at Dartmouth shows that nearly 3/4s of the Inc. 500 (the fastest growing 500 American private companies) are using Facebook or LinkedIn, which is about twice the percentage that are using corporate blogs. “Ninety percent of responding executives report that social media tools are important for brand awareness and company reputation. Eighty-eight percent see these tools as important for generating Web traffic while 81% find them important for lead generation. Seventy-three percent say that social media tools are important for customer support programs.”
These tools (like the screenshot of Socialcast’s Town Hall feature above) mean more than a “Like” button on a particular page of content: it is a way to curate and disseminate that content quickly and easily. It has replaced the Usenet “news groups” that many of us remember with a certain fondness for their arcane and complex structure.
Let’s look at a few of the distinguishing features for this class of products.
- Team workspace. You can segregate your work teams by project and have all the materials for that project in a single place for easy access. These spaces can be persistent to serve as an archival record for completed projects, too.
- Activity stream. The Twitter-like stream is useful to keep track of what your colleagues are doing in any given day.
- Presence detection. Like corporate Instant Message tools, you can keep track of when your co-workers are in the office or ask them quick questions via text or video chats.
- Document collaboration. You can edit documents in real-time to shape a particular deliverable for a client without having to do serial emails.
- External services connections. Many of these products can search and interact with CRM systems, SharePoint servers, Salesforce (see the screenshot below from Yammer), emails, and other external services.
- Mobile clients. Most products have specialized clients that have been optimized for iOS and Android phones.
- Public or private deployments. You can start with a public cloud deployment of the product to try out, and then move your system to your own server behind a firewall for the ultimate security.