Native Social Features, the Gateway Drug to Enterprise Information SilosThe gateway drug to enterprise information silos

We were all warned about the danger of gateway drugs. Just one moment of indiscretion using Bad Thing X would undoubtedly lead you into a lifetime of abuse of Bad Thing Y, which would eventually ruin your life. After that, you might start skipping school, join a rock band, get a tattoo or drive off in a Volkswagen Beetle for the summer with no distinct purpose.

The same rule applies in enterprise software, where lightweight native social features inside purpose-built business applications are Bad Thing X. Today, there is a real problem threatening companies attempting to become a truly social business: lightweight social features baked into purpose-built software are the gateway drug to collaboration failure.

'Yes' to Collaboration with Purpose

Let me be clear: I am an advocate for the concept of Purposeful Collaboration as defined by Constellation Research Vice President and Principal Analyst, Alan Lepofsky -- the concept that enterprise social software must be launched to meet specific business needs and must integrate seamlessly into existing business systems and employee workflows. An enterprise social network must facilitate the informal social connections that power corporate information flow outside of the tools that employees have been prescribed by IT. Social technology must be an enabler of both organic human interactions and learned behaviors required to operate within already-entrenched systems and processes.

I advocate that the only way to achieve this is by deploying one enterprise social networking tool and integrating it into all other business systems as the singular dialogue engine for commentary and collaboration enterprise-wide.

Vendors and the Social Bandwagon

What I do NOT support is the use of basic “social” features such as commenting, liking and status updates that now come baked-in to purpose-built software. As I define it, purpose-built business software is a system or tool deployed to a team, department or group for a highly specialized purpose. For example, bug tracking software used by engineering, a knowledge-base platform for call centers, learning and development training modules for HR, and SharePoint when it’s used as a corporate broadcast mechanism. These tools are launched for a defined activity or are only relevant to a certain function.

Purpose-built software vendors are jumping onto the “social” bandwagon and including lightweight collaboration features such as commenting, liking and sharing inside their tools. But there is a real danger in encouraging employees to use these features: one quick stroke of the keyboard could lead you down the rabbit-hole of keeping all of your work conversations off in a silo, hidden from the rest of your colleagues. This truly is a worrisome practice that has the possibility of destroying all of the gains being made inside a company seeking to become “social” -- when the “social” features of multiple systems and tools are used, employees take a step backward and continue to silo their conversations at a team or function level.

The Manager’s Dilemma

We all know that deploying an enterprise social network is, well, work. And it can take time in big companies. Meanwhile, employees are demanding real time social and collaboration tools NOW. What’s a manager to do when there’s a need, and a solution, but the solution is completely out of their hands? The path of least resistance is now deploying purpose-built tools that include social features, but the slippery stepping stones on this path look something like this: