There is a very real threat to the ideals of social business/social enterprise applications and it’s called the activity feed. Yes, you read this correctly. Activity feeds have been lauded by many for bringing interactivity and improved internal communication to the enterprise, but if they’re not managed correctly, activity feeds can very easily become a train wreck in the enterprise. What do I mean?

Improved Collaboration or Increased Diversion?

Consider the story of a recent client of mine who logged on one morning to find 94 email notifications from an activity feed regarding a cycling group within his company. These 94 emails ultimately had very little to do with his immediate areas of focus at work, but did pull dozens of his fellow employees into a drawn-out online discussion that continued to have very little to do with the company’s mission. So not only were these employees chattering away on an activity feed about their past weekend’s fun, they were also populating numerous in-boxes with notifications of every step and update of the activity feed. Does this sound like improved collaboration or productivity to you?

The root of activity feeds can be directly linked to the still-too-common desire by enterprise leaders to develop and facilitate a ‘Facebook-like’ experience for their employees. I’ll get into this a bit more later, but for social business/enterprise applications to be most effective, they need to focus more on the document or task at-hand and less on the user. This means a little less of the warm-and-fuzzy and a little more focus on productivity.

Getting back to activity feeds, a case can be made that the employees engaged in particular forums are coming together online and maybe even developing some ties that could be useful in the workplace. And that they could have set up folder rules or an auto-delete function to avoid getting all of this communication. But if they set up these boundaries, what about the times when these very same people miss something truly legitimate and useful because of the limiting parameters?

Productivity Trumps Everything

Activity feeds can be a valuable part of a social business/enterprise experience, but I would maintain that they need dedicated human support and facilitation to ensure that they’re staying on course. As enterprises roll out significant budgets and infrastructure investments to support the development of social business/enterprise build-outs, they should make human resources investments for dedicated site managers to not only govern areas like activity feeds, but also encourage company employees to get and stay involved in areas that really matter. These include corporate learning centers, document creation and management and new business development, among many others.

And for those still focused on comparing social business/enterprise applications with Facebook, remember that Facebook employs a growing staff of employees to encourage its users to get involved and stay involved.

From Activity Feeds to Activity

As I mentioned earlier, focus in the social business/enterprise sector should be squarely on the document or task at-hand, NOT just on the user via activity feed-like offerings. This may come as a shock to many in our industry, but for social business/social enterprise applications to truly reach their potential of delivering vastly improved collaboration and productivity, we need to stop the fixation with end-users alone. Activity feeds can and even should be valuable parts of a solution, but they should not be the focal point or you risk facing a train wreck of either endless and distracting notifications -- or missing important data because you’ve shut off your activity feed altogether.

If the underlying user experience is poor, you still won’t have adoption -- so you need much more than just activity feeds.

As more enterprises take the social plunge, it will be interesting to monitor where things go from here. One thing I am certain of is that the most effective social business/enterprise offerings have more depth to them than providing endless streams of activity feeds and updates. At the end of the day, overall user experience and productivity still drives adoption, regardless of the application or program involved.

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