Originally published July 8, 2015

When starting an Enterprise Social Network (ESN), it’s important to explain to targeted users

  1. Why should they use the ESN: What are the advantages and benefits?
  2. When to use the ESN: What is does better than other ways of working
  3. How should they use the ESN: Train them on using the ESN effectively

Numerous tradeoffs must be made when selecting and implementing ESNs. Here are ten categories to consider. There are no right or wrong choices. Each organization needs to choose according to their culture and requirements.

1. Size

Small vs. large

  • Small enterprises and large enterprises have different needs for ESNs
  • Does the ESN you are considering provide for these and allow for easily-configurable options depending on those needs?
  • This may affect the ESN you choose to implement
  • Example — New joiner process
  1. Small organizations may want to suggest creating new groups and following popular people
  2. Large enterprises may wish to only suggest groups to join

2. Culture

Open vs. closed

  • Does your enterprise operate transparently?
  1. Are people willing to openly ask for help?
  2. Is there routine collaboration across organizational boundaries?
  3. If so, implementing an ESN will likely be successful
  • Or is there strong hierarchical control?
  1. Are people afraid to expose their ignorance?
  2. Do organizations tend to operate mostly within their own silos?
  3. If so, merely rolling out a new tool is unlikely to result in more collaborative behavior
  4. You have some work to do before implementing an ESN

Try out vs. perfect

  • What does your organization expect?
  1. Try out and iterate — start quickly, learn as you go, continuously improve
  2. Perfect before launch — plan, pilot, solicit feedback, review, modify, launch

3. Leadership Style

Lead by example vs. do as we say

  • Leaders of the organization should
  1. Ask everyone to use the ESN
  2. Regularly use it themselves
  3. Show the way for members of the organization to do the same
  • Avoid
  1. Ghost writing
  2. Corporate-speak
  3. Posts which sound like press releases
  • Encourage leaders to
  1. Use their own authentic voices
  2. Ask and answer questions
  3. Share what they are doing and thinking
  4. Make time for doing this regularly — at least once a week
  5. Look for opportunities to recognize and praise those are using the ESN effectively

4. Topics

Actively garden vs. leave alone

  • User tagging is an important part of linking posts on specific topics to make them more visible.
  • The problem with folksonomies is that variations of topics tend to proliferate
  1. Multiple spellings
  2. Abbreviated vs. spelled out
  3. Singular vs. plural
  4. Hyphen vs. underscore vs. no space
  • Decide if you want to
  1. Look for these variations and try to reduce them — Need the ability to merge and delete topics
  2. Let the system work on its own — Need aids for those adding tags to see all of the variations and the popularity of each so they can select tags that are in greater use

5. Members

Require actual names vs. anonymous users

  • ESNs differ from public social media tools such as Twitter
  1. Identity of each member should be clearly defined so that other members will know who is posting
  2. In Twitter, anonymous accounts and organizational accounts can exist (e.g., The New York Times)
  • In ESNs, it’s important to know who is posting
  1. Even if it is on behalf of an organization
  2. Enable direct contact such as a phone call or email
  • No one should be able to hide the identity of the person making a post
  1. People should be accountable for what they post
  2. Encourage use of photos in profiles rather than avatars or images

6. Content

Allow attachments and content pages vs. conversations only

  • The legal and risk departments of some enterprises, especially those in regulated industries, are concerned that some content posted in ESNs may prove problematic if it is the subject of electronic discovery
  • They would prefer to prohibit the posting of such content altogether, or if that is not possible, to limit its persistence
  • You should discuss this issue with your legal and risk departments
  1. Will attachments, wiki pages, and other content which is not part of online conversations be permitted?
  2. Is it possible to prevent such content?

Retain vs. delete

  • Will content be kept indefinitely or deleted after a fixed period?
  • If deleted, what is the right length of time to retain content before purging it?

Push vs. pull

  • Do users plan to use the ESN to push content as if it were email?
  • Or do they want to attract people to choose what to consume and respond to?
  • Discourage ESN for push; educate how to use it for interaction

7. Integration

Standalone vs. integrated

  • ESN vendors continue to add functionality to their offerings in the hope that their customers will use their ESN for all types of collaboration and knowledge sharing
  • Most large enterprises already have other systems in place and will want their ESN to integrate into those tools
  • Examples of such systems are Microsoft SharePoint, Microsoft Office 365, Salesforce.com, SAP, etc.
  • Can the ESN be integrated with preferred systems of record and knowledge repositories so that content contributed in the ESN can be tagged/found using enterprise search?
  • If you need to integrate your ESN with other software, review the details of each point of integration, including:
  1. Content/Document/Knowledge management system: can the ESN be embedded on a page and used from there without having to leave that page?
  2. Calendar: Can events created in the ESN be added to the office automation system calendar?
  3. Email: Can conversations in the ESN be initiated and replied to entirely through email?
  4. Search: Can conversations and other ESN content be found using enterprise search?
  5. Single Sign On (SSO): Can users access the ESN without having to enter a separate ID and password?
  6. Activity stream: Can the activity stream displayed by the ESN include activities from other enterprise systems such as CRM, ERP, HR, etc.?

8. Technology

In-house vs. cloud-based

  • Do you need to host the system due to security and access requirements?
  • Or can it be based in the cloud?
  1. Pros: flexibility, frequency/speed of updates, better performance/availability
  2. Cons: unexpected functionality/UI changes, training/documentation must be frequently updated

Single vs. multiple tools

  • Given the ever-increasing functionality available in ESNs, some of the functions and features will replicate those already available in other existing enterprise systems
  • For example, wikis, blogs, lists, events, discussion boards, files, etc.
  • You will need to decide if there should be a single preferred offering for each of these functions
  • For example, you may decide that
  1. Conversations should only take place in the ESN and not in the discussion board function of another tool such as SharePoint
  2. The wiki feature of the ESN should be disabled and that the one available in your enterprise wiki should be used instead
  • It may not be possible to disable functions in your ESN, so take that into consideration when choosing the preferred alternative

9. Networks

Single vs. multiple

  • Some ESNs operate as a single network, and some allow multiple networks
  • You should decide if you want there to be a single network for everyone in your organization to use, or if multiple networks should be allowed
  • If multiple networks are allowed, fragmentation and isolation can result
  • For example, if there is a global network, but also local networks for each region or country, useful information that is shared in one network and would be of interest in other networks may be missed
  • See item 10 below on groups for more about this

Internal vs. external

  • Some ESNs work only within a single enterprise, and some allow people to be invited to join who are outside the enterprise
  • If you need to allow clients, partners, and other third parties to collaborate with people in your organization, then the external network option may be useful
  • If you don’t want to allow outsiders into your network, then be sure that the security of the ESN can prevent this

10. Groups

Controlled vs. unlimited

  • Should anyone be able to create a new group?
  • Or should group creation be centrally controlled?
  • Check to see what is possible in the ESNs being considered

Open vs. closed

  • Should groups be open to join, open to read and post, and readily findable in search?
  • Or should private and hidden groups be allowed, and if so, under what conditions?
  • Both open and closed groups have valid reasons to be offered
  • Some discussions and content need to occur in a private setting with a limited audience
  • There should be a clearly stated preference for open groups
  • The value of ESNs is largely due to the ability of everyone in the organization to benefit from participating in open and easily discoverable discussions

Broad vs. narrow

  • How broad or narrow should the topics of groups be?
  • Should multiple groups focused on the same topic be encouraged or discouraged?
  • Try to have a smaller number of groups, each with a larger number of members
  • A single, large group for each important topic, used for collaborating across all organizations and geographies, is more effective than having lots of separate small groups for each possible subset of the topic


  1. Enterprise Social Network Tradeoffs
  2. Articles and Presentations about Enterprise Social Networks
  3. Threaded Discussions and Enterprise Social Networks (ESNs)
  4. Presentation Version

What other tradeoffs do you think are important when implementing an ESN?