Updated: 27 May 2022
Enterprise Social Networks (ESNs) allow employees to connect, communicate and collaborate through a range of social media tools, such as discussion threads, social feeds and blogs.
But how does enterprise social networking provide value, and does your organization really need it?
In this article, we take a deep dive into enterprise social networking tools.
We discuss what they are, their key features and how they can deliver value to both organizations and employees.
Resources to create the culture you’ve always dreamed of
What Is an Enterprise Social Network?
Social media networks
Most people are familiar with external-facing social networking platforms such as Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and LinkedIn. In these social media networks, people connect or follow each other and can communicate using various tools.
Public social media platforms aren’t used for workplace communication. Encouraging team members onto a company-wide communication network makes more sense for several reasons.
Enterprise social networking
An ESN is a central communication platform or a private social network implemented within an organization that can only be accessed by staff.
The collaboration tools used in this enterprise collaboration software encourage social and informal communication, assist task management and can be used to improve employee morale.
Various products are available that are considered Enterprise Social Networks or have enterprise social networking capabilities. These include:
- Workplace from
- Microsoft Teams
The History of Enterprise Social Networking
The space is relatively mature; Yammer has been around in one form or another since 2008 (it was subsequently acquired by Microsoft), and Facebook launched its Workplace offering in 2016.
However, the space is still evolving and innovating. Eric Yuan, the CEO of Zoom (valued at $14 Billion), recognized the potential in ESNs for enterprise collaboration, investing $500,000 of his own money in Workvivo.
Many existing company intranets have a social networking component (‘social intranet’), although this may involve integrating a tool like Yammer or using a platform with extensive capabilities like Workvivo.
More ‘traditional’ intranets don’t have social capabilities and are regarded as outdated and a ‘clunky’ way of communicating.
Because they are not integrated, an intranet can encourage employees to interact with customers and contacts using external social media tools like LinkedIn or Facebook.
Usually, these interactions are not considered part of the ESN, although, as we will see, ESNs can play a part in driving employee advocacy.
Why Do Organizations Introduce Enterprise Social Networks?
One misconception some have about ESNs is that somehow they are not a ‘real’ work tool. This is simply not true.
A study by the McKinsey Global Institute (MGI) revealed that “twice as much potential value lies in using social tools to enhance communications, knowledge sharing, and collaboration within and across enterprises … estimates suggest that by fully implementing social technologies, companies have an opportunity to raise the productivity of interaction workers—high-skill knowledge workers, including managers and professionals—by 20% to 25%.”
Organizations that effectively introduce an enterprise social network can drive more efficient and effective work, better employee engagement and improved task and project management.
Companies who have adopted them have found them to be effective communication and collaboration tools across different locations and hierarchies, allowing them to share company-wide announcements, encourage spontaneous conversations and champion business processes and values.
For example, an ESN might be used to reduce the number of emails sent internally by introducing instant messaging. Team messaging can allow employees to communicate in quicker and more effective ways and encourage two-way conversations with real-time messaging.
Enterprise Social Networks can also:
- Create virtual spaces for specific groups
- Encourage cross-team collaboration through a central communication hub
- Enhance communication within remote teams
- Provide the ability for employees to ask questions and find people right across the organization through a centralized knowledge repository
- Support professional communities with similar business interests, for example, chefs in different locations who share recipe inspiration
- Document management that gives employees access to key resources that support their everyday work, crossing over with more traditional aims of intranets
ESNs also support employee engagement and community and culture amplification, allowing employees to socialize with each other or give kudos for a job well done.
What Are the Major Benefits of Enterprise Social Networking?
Nurturing and amplifying corporate culture
Corporate culture is such an essential aspect of an organization’s success. For smaller companies, expressing and maintaining company culture can be easier, especially if all employees are based in the same office.
But it can be a real challenge for larger organizations with distributed teams across multiple locations and even different languages.
It is also difficult when a company has been formed through a merger or multiple acquisitions and legacy cultures still exist.
Similarly, companies that grow rapidly often find themselves at a cultural crossroads, trying to preserve their original friendly or start-up culture while adopting a more corporate approach.
ESNs can help maintain a strong culture across an entire company or help to evolve a new one.
The cultural impact of an ESN can be highly significant, especially in hierarchical and siloed organizations where there is a general lack of transparency.
An ESN breaks down barriers across locations, divisions, teams, brands and hierarchies in ways that other communication channels, such as emails and intranets, simply cannot. This helps create a far more transparent, networked and agile organization that provides all the relevant information for employees to access easily.
Because an ESN reflects what the entire workforce is doing and thinking rather than giving you a sanitized, corporate and unauthentic view of your organizational culture, ESNs can have a much deeper impact.
They show the natural ways employees live company values and allow business leaders to listen to other team members and have informal conversations.
An ESN can drive a sense of community and allow new hires to quickly understand your company’s culture, regardless of their location.
Driving transparency and employee engagement
An ESN also establishes an unparalleled level of transparency across all employees, which can drive a sense of being part of something bigger, underpinning employee engagement across the entire organization.
Imagine being a team member of a big company with thousands of employees like VMware or Salesforce. An ESN lets your manager share some great work you did, which gets a comment like “Great job, really impressive work” from your CEO.
The kind of transparency afforded by an internal social network can change employees’ perceptions about the organization they work for and its leadership. An employee feels less like a little cog in a big machine and more like a valued team member.
Similarly, an ESN can help employees feel listened to and trusted, which, in turn, improves communication.
For example, leadership can use an ESN to ask important questions that lead to debates and inputs into future company strategy. Employees can contribute ideas that can lead to real change or key initiatives.
Using polls and other feedback mechanisms via an ESN means employees can influence everything from a full-on organizational strategic pivot to what foods should be included on the menu at the annual company off-site weekend.
A solid framework for communication
Enterprise Social Networks provide a highly effective platform for open and diverse communication in every organization.
One study found that 97% of employees believe communication impacts their tasks daily.
Rather than blitzing employees’ inboxes with hard-to-follow email threads, an ESN allows employees to have concise conversations displayed clearly on an activity feed.
Creating groups related to specific tasks allows the right people to be involved in the projects. Groups can be used for both work and social purposes.
For example, the marketing team might create a group to discuss the content marketing calendar. The accounting team doesn’t need to be part of that group and wouldn’t be notified of updates.
From a social perspective, maybe Jim from Marketing and Pam from Accounting both share an interest in the NFL; they might decide to create a fantasy football group that incorporates employees from all departments across all locations.
Whether for business or social communication, an Enterprise Social Network will provide a solid, ‘everything in one place’ platform for communication.
An ESN also helps support internal communications, providing important news and updates from leaders.
Company-wide knowledge sharing
ESNs are an excellent tool for knowledge sharing and learning, particularly in large organizations with multiple locations.
For example, if the EMEA sales team developed a new outbound lead generation process that generated 50% more leads, then the processes could easily be shared across the ESN by other sales teams in different countries.
What makes an ESN so powerful is its speed and ease. A new standard operating procedure and best practice could be written and uploaded into a group space within an hour, and the US Team could suggest an improvement to improve the process.
The relevant groups on the ESN can facilitate team members from other departments to ask follow-up questions about the processes to the team that created it. The answers are open for all team members to see, allowing for even greater knowledge sharing.
As well as all of the above, the ESN’s feed allows upper management to give kudos to the sales team that developed the process.
Tapping into expertise
Knowledge sharing can be key for new employees to settle into their role or tap the expertise of specialists right across the world.
Take the example of a new sales rep speaking with a prospect about a product who gets asked a question she hasn’t encountered before.
With an Enterprise Social Network, our new sales rep can easily put the question out there and crowdsource the answer from anyone in the company, regardless of whether they are based on the same floor as her or in a completely different country.
Alternatively, an ESN may contain a cloud-based knowledge repository, allowing the rep to search for the answer within a knowledge base.
Similarly, an employee might need to source a person who can speak Latvian or an expert on the marine industry. These might sound like obscure examples, but they are the types of questions that come up daily in any medium-sized or large organization.
Sourcing a colleague you’ve never met before is tricky with email alone. Using an ESN to crowdsource answers to questions is quick and easy. You can tap into the collective knowledge of your organization and get answers to even the most obscure questions quickly.
Remote workers feel like part of the team
A survey by Expert Market found that 93% of the businesses they spoke to planned on staying hybrid after the pandemic. Enterprise social networking is naturally a great fit for remote workplace communication. Here are a few reasons why:
- Remote employees won’t benefit from asking the person sitting next to them a quick question, but they can easily ask a question via the company’s ESN
- Remote employees won’t have access to a folder of printed sales scripts, but with an Enterprise Social Network, they can access document sharing easily
- Remote employees can also easily understand and buy into the company culture, thanks to an ESN
Many of us are working remotely in the current conditions caused by the pandemic. An ESN has never been so powerful as it is today.
Many of the benefits mentioned above relate to culture and communication, but an ESN can also drive efficiency through improving key processes within your organization. More focused collaboration, knowledge sharing and improved employee onboarding can significantly increase efficiency and productivity.
For example, take our sales team again. Let’s say they need to respond to an opportunity quickly. An ESN can help them assemble a team and find a specialist who can impress the client. They can put together a sales deck quickly, access best-practice templates and then coordinate follow-up activities via a special group set up for the opportunity.
See how easily you can supercharge your internal communications through an ESN without worrying if people will actually use it.
Watch our recorded webinar where we show you how 300,000+ of your peers use an Enterprise Social Network to bridge communication gaps across large and expanding organizations.
Fifteen Key Features of an Enterprise Social Network:
1. Access for everybody
An ESN should facilitate access for all your employees. Otherwise, you create a digital divide. For example, a true ESN should allow access to your frontline, desk-less employees, like machine operatives, nurses or chefs, even if they don’t have corporate email identities.
2. An activity feed
Your ESN should have a familiar activity feed allowing employees to post content with images, videos, documents and more. The activity feed is often the heart of the ESN, where employees can be kept up to speed on the latest updates, events, activities and news.
3. Ability to interact and contribute
ESNs should allow employees to like, comment and share content, as well as useful features like #hashtags and @mentions to get the best from the tools.
4. Employee directory and profiles
An ESN should provide an employee directory so that employees can find out about their co-workers, reach contact details, locate experts and more.
5. Follows, communities and groups
Employees should be able to follow each other and topics and be members of different communities and groups. These ‘follows’ and memberships usually define what goes into the activity feed.
6. Give everyone a voice
An ESN should give everyone a voice, not only the ability to comment and publish status updates but also through employee blogs and the option to ask questions. Everyone is a publisher.
7. Track goals and values
An ESN should help bring company goals and values to life with quick and easy links to posts, with the ability to align posted content to a goal. This strategic alignment can provide an intuitive way for employees to plan their daily activities with company goals and values in mind.
8. Celebrate success and recognize outstanding performers
Features like shout-outs, awards and badges can give an employee or team well-deserved public recognition and help them feel more engaged with the organization.
9. Easy collaboration
Your ESN should allow you to collaborate with colleagues across locations and departments using groups or workspaces. In Workvivo, this feature is called Spaces, and it can help you share targeted updates, questions and shout-outs. Ideally, an ESN should also allow you to post content across multiple groups.
10. Integration with other platforms
Ideally, your Enterprise Social Network should have out-of-the-box integrations with other communication apps and content management systems so that employees only have one place to get core information.
For example, Workvivo has integration capabilities with SharePoint, Slack, Zoom and Microsoft Teams. It provides centralized access to apps and content directly from the activity feed, as well as real-time chat integration with Slack and Teams. This allows you to communicate straight from the activity feed through best-in-class messaging technology.
11. Supporting leadership communications
An ESN should allow your CEO or leadership team to communicate and create a dialogue with all employees in various ways, such as through updates, blogs and even town halls. For example, with Workvivo, you can easily embed Zoom meeting invites and start meetings directly from content posts or news and events postings.
12. Measuring adoption
A good ESN should allow you to analyze behaviours such as active users, logins, posts, likes, shout-outs and comments to see trends over time, by location, department or time of day. This gives you valuable insights into better communications and trending topics across the enterprise.
13. Employee feedback and pulse checks
Employee feedback should be easy to gather. Workvivo has quick and easy surveys that enable frequent pulse checks on employee sentiment, allowing organizations to garner valuable feedback from employees.
14. Foster employee advocacy
Social advocacy can amplify specific internal content by enabling employees to share on their social channels such as Twitter, LinkedIn and Facebook.
As well as that, employees can be a great driving force behind the success of your hiring efforts. If you need to hire a new employee, a social advocacy feature means your employees can share the job post across their social networks.
15. Incorporate your branding
Your Enterprise Social Network should be fully customizable, allowing you to add your branding, including your logo, backgrounds, labels and colours. This can be a solid way to reinforce brand and tone across your business.
The Value of the Enterprise Social Network: Conclusion
Your ESN should be an all-encompassing employee app, giving employees across the organization seamless communication, whether they are in-house or remote, or sit at a desk or out in the field.
All of this is possible with Workvivo.