There’s a four-word phrase associated with enterprise social networking. It makes mcringee cringe every time I hear it. And people say it so nonchalantly. Facebook for the Enterprise–FBFE. It’s about to become the acronym I hate the most. Sorry, I’m about to rant. I’ll try to keep it brief.

Yes, enterprise social is actually social. But it’s not that flavor of social any more than a work meeting is similar to a birthday party. Yes, both events are a bunch of people getting together for a similar purpose, but the objectives and the results are very different–syntax vs. semantics.

For the consultants out there, please stop saying (even informally), “Well it’s basically Facebook for the Enterprise.”  Stop now. It isn’t. You’re doing more damage than you realize, by dismissing with a hand wave and shrug of the shoulders, social as the revolutionary technology it is. If you need to resort to simple metaphors for a customer who has never heard of it, try “it’s the evolution of email and public folders” or “a better way for teams to talk to each other, do groups and share files.” Both of these are incorrect to a degree but less damaging, because at least some sense of value at work is conveyed.

Just because employees can easily post photos and videos does not make it Facebook. It makes it a collaboration technology, just as valid as email, SharePoint, OpenText or Liferay. How is it that we have asked for this kind of functionality in our content management systems for so long–the ease of posting like an email, the ability to richly share documents without duplication, and the ability to let other people collaborate on the content–and when that technology now exists, we compare it to a consumer site that many people joined to see pictures of their family?

There’s no doubt that the user experience is different than a traditional content management system and informed by consumer technologies, but this new found ease to a long felt pain has brought with it somehow the notion that this isn’t real enterprise technology. Why? Because it’s actually easy to use? Have we conditioned our enterprise users so much to expect pain in creating and sharing information in our collaboration systems? Just a few years ago, people used to be concerned about putting their credit card info into Amazon (and Amazon had a phone number you could call to give the details, because a random person in a call center was so much more secure). Now, the vast majority of us happily eFile all our precious tax return information without a second thought because of the convenience. What was once a painful experience in printing, collating and mailing is now electronically signed and communicated in mere seconds to the government. Why shouldn’t our business users expect that sharing work conversations and the documents that go with them should be at least as easy as submitting a tax return?

I believe the goal of enterprise social is to be a transparent layer of connectedness (see my previous blog on Holding It Altogether with Social). How so?

  • Transparent in the enterprise applications where we interact – the conversation around the content we create is not stored in a separate application that breaks the flow of work but instead is surfaced in the applications where we create and contribute to the content, whether that is in Office or SAP, creating the context we need
  • Transparent in the way we communicate with members of the team to which we belong
  • Transparent in demonstrating our expertise, our ability to have a voice, regardless of whether it is formal part of our role
  • Transparent in the way we understand how our contributions are part of the whole organization
  • Transparent learning from all parts of the company, getting feedback, iterating, innovating; the more people you have connected in the network, the more valuable it becomes
  • Transparent in how your internal network can come together in problem solving for your external networks e.g. customers

So transparent, in fact, that this social layer is just the way that you do work. Not paying it any more attention than you do when you flick on a light switch or get power into a device. Because that’s what social is for your enterprise. It’s the power grid for your company’s information for everyday collaboration.