Are Intranets the Single Biggest Social Networking Opportunity?

Mukund Mohan commented yesterday on my post about Intranets:

Several of my peers are reporting “giving up” on putting stuff on the “intranet” and resorting to email stuff around. They obviously are not yet on the social network and wiki camp but Intranets are losing their effectiveness is what I concluded.

He’s really hit the target square – social networking and wikis for Intranets.

Now before you all start thinking I’ve gone off the deep end, drank the Kool-aid, or perhaps just been reading my own blog too much, let me clarify.

Social Networking is about connecting people. It’s about allowing them to utilize a variety of communication means to express and expound upon a common interest or goal. And what is a business community, if it is not a group of people who are working towards a common goal.

From the wikipedia entry for Social Networking Service:

A social network service focuses on the building and verifying of online social networks for communities of people who share interests and activities, or who are interested in exploring the interests and activities of others, and which necessitates the use of software.

Most social network services are primarily web based and provide a collection of various ways for users to interact, such as chat, messaging, email, video, voice chat, file sharing, blogging, discussion groups, and so on.

My experience has shown that most companies have internal communications issues. Failed communication costs money. (update 10:34 amChris Brogan has posted on this issue with an interesting take on the varied communications available, Pownce, etc.)

Think about email: it is by it’s nature somewhat exclusive. It’s a point to point means of contact. You send it to someone or some group and it resides in their little mailbox until it gets deleted. If someone else in the organization needs that bit of information, they don’t have access to it unless it is explicitly sent to them.

Yet much of what is going on in email is discussion about business goals. Think of a series of emails that between a project manager and a couple installers about the best plan to install a CMS system at XYZ Corp. Perhaps XYZ Corp has a Sharepoint Server, so if I’m one of the installers and not familiar with Sharepoint, I ask Chris Murray for information (because I know he’s a Sharepoint expert – and he is…). When some other PM and group of installers try to do a similar install, that information isn’t available to them.

Now let’s think along the lines of how that conversation would play out if we’d instead held it using discussion software or a blog. There’s something tangible there, which helps to build the body of corporate knowledge. We’ve put our information into a format which can be used by others, with or without our involvement, and basically, we’ve increased the intelligence of the organization.

So on the face of it, the idea of involving Social Networking in Intranets may seem to be the flavor of the month, but there is truly a business benefit.

The other thing that we’re missing is the use of the personal page on the Intranet. Give people the ability to set up their own pages. Think about MySpace – they have a page, which contains a profile to introduce them and their skill sets. They’ve also got information such as their schedule, their whereabouts, and even their preferred means of communication (Best way to get me is email).

Then let’s think about files and docs. Instead of saying “I’ll email the spec to you” you say “I’ll put it on my Intranet page.” There are a few giant benefits there:

  • Because the docs are on the intranet, their not posting the actual doc, but instead posting a link to the doc in document management.
  • The file is still subject to DMS permissions
  • If it gets updated, or deprecated, the user gets the right file or at least message a message that the doc is out of date.
  • You get past the heinous email file attachment limits. While file sizes have grown geometrically over the past few years, mail attachment limits have not.

Basically, we’re now giving our users the ability to slice and dice information on our Intranet. They can find stuff, and it can be represented on personal pages, as well as on product or project pages.

You see, it’s all about letting people communicate and find the information they need in a manner that is easy and comfortable for them to use. If it works, they’ll use it. And this can be made to work.

If you’ve got a company that has Intranet and Document Management needs, get in touch and let’s talk. We’ve got a solution.

One Reply to “Are Intranets the Single Biggest Social Networking Opportunity?”

  1. Mark, I think what you’re describing here is right on; people like this social stuff, and using it as you illustrate gives them a sense of ownership and control. Having the documents stored within the DMS is a critical part of this. People have the ability to publish and use the data as they wish, but corporate also can create pages and whole areas that reflect how they see the data. Everyone wins, and you get good feelings about the system across the board.

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