Social Networking on Intranets (Jakob Nielsen’s Alertbox)

I suspect most will receive the AlertBox update anyway (Social Networking on Intranets (Jakob Nielsen’s Alertbox).  But i just thought i would support the findings highlighted by their study based on the experience we have had here with our pilot.


Perhaps more than any other corporate intranet innovation, social software technologies are exposing the holes in corporate communication and collaboration — and at times filling them before the (usually slow-moving) enterprise can fully grasp (and control) the flow.

Here are some things that might surprise you about the social media initiatives we studied:

  • Underground efforts yield big results. Companies are turning a blind eye to underground social software efforts until they prove their worth, and then sanctioning them within the enterprise.
  • Frontline workers are driving the vision. Often, senior managers aren’t open to the possibilities for enterprise 2.0 innovation because they’re not actively using these tools outside of work. Indeed, many senior managers still consider such tools as something their kids do. One of the dirty secrets of enterprise 2.0 is that you don’t have to teach or convince younger workers to use these tools; they expect them and integrate them as easily into their work lives as they do in their personal lives.
  • Communities are self-policing. When left to their own devices, communities police themselves, leaving very little need for tight organizational control. And such peer-to-peer policing is often more effective than a big brother approach. Companies that we studied said abuse was rare in their communities.
  • Business need is the big driver. Although our report discusses specific tools (blogs, wikis, and such), enterprise 2.0’s power is not about tools, it’s about the communication shift that those tools enable.
  • Organizations must cede power. Using Web 2.0 technologies to communicate with customers has taught many companies that they can no longer control the message. This also rings true when using Web 2.0 tools for internal communication. Companies that once held to a command-and-control paradigm for corporate messaging are finding it hard to maintain that stance.

I think one of the biggest lesson we ahve learned so far in what is essentially a 6 month pilot is things take time to build and grow across a large organisation.

… particularly on an enterprise level. Most of the people we interviewed during our initial research said, “come back next year” if we wanted a case study of their company’s use of social features. It’s easier on the Web where the proverbial two guys in a garage can seemingly create and launch a hugely successful site in an instant. Of course, we never hear about all the people who try this and fail to get any traction. In the enterprise, it’s a bad idea to throw features at the wall “to see what sticks” because the spaghetti that fails and falls disrupts employee productivity.When you consider that successful adaptation of Enterprise 2.0 tools requires the organization to change its ways, it becomes clear why these projects don’t happen overnight. Yes, pilot implementations can go live in a matter of days, but the political and cultural changes needed for useful and widespread use take longer.

Although there’s no single answer, across our case studies, 3–5 years seems to be a common timeline for social intranet projects. This is a good time to remind you of the French general: when told that it would take a hundred years for newly planted trees to grow big, he said, “better get started now.”