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Some managers may still view them with suspicion, but Enterprise Social Networks (ESNs) are an increasingly common part of the modern workplace, and in cases, replacing intranets. The emergence of consumerized IT has lead employees to expect user-friendly systems that offer the UX and functionality they can find on the Web. A number of ESNs have stepped up to try and meet these needs.

For those thinking about investing in an ESN for the first time -- or who are fed up with their current one -- there’s a range of platforms to choose from. However, picking the right ESN for your organization is far from easy.

Different platforms cater for the needs of different kinds of businesses. The ESN appropriate for an international corporation will be very different to that required by a small company of 30 employees. Considering the scale this kind of investment can represent, choosing the right ESN for your company is therefore a serious responsibility.

For example, for small companies with only a handful of staff, large scale ESNs will be almost completely pointless and their capabilities unused. Who needs “social search” when all colleagues are in the same room? On the other hand, ESNs focusing on Instant Messaging may work well for a company where employees are always on the road and need to stay in touch. 

Let’s look at some options.

1. Yammer

When compiling this kind of list, it's impossible to ignore Yammer, the ESN tied in for free (almost) with Office 365. Any company that uses Microsoft’s comprehensive enterprise IT platform can also use Yammer, which gives it an enormous advantage in terms of market share. Yammer integrates with the whole Microsoft suite -- including SharePoint -- making it useful for file sharing, collaboration and people search.

Additionally, subscribing to Microsoft’s universe gives users access to the company’s new developments. Microsoft Delve is one such development. It uses AI to find useful information for individual users and will also search posts and updates in Yammer to let you know what’s useful for you.  

Yammer is a great choice of social Intranet for any company already bought into the Microsoft way of thinking.

2. Slack

As opposed to Yammer's approach of offering everything, Slack goes straight for the jugular and focuses entirely on communication. Slack is a team communications tool and it’s tempting to make parallels with popular consumer tool WhatsApp in that it allows users to chat instantly, form groups and share files and images. Being enterprise focused however, it does a fair bit more: it allows smart search of conversations and integrates with most major file sharing services.

What users really like about the tool is that it helps avoid the headache of enormous email chains and makes finding and sharing information a lot easier. Popular with small teams within organizations of all sizes (it counts eBay, Lonely Planet and Yelp clients, among others), it’s also growing very quickly.

Slack is a great choice for those that need better comms tools, rather than somewhere to put documents or the latest lunch menu.

3. Facebook at Work

Given that the world’s most popular social networking site has been using its own version of Facebook at Work for over 10 years, its late arrival to the ESN game comes as a surprise. What it can bank on however is the familiarity users have with the platform.

For most workers, Facebook at work will take no training and so chatting, joining groups and setting up events will be second nature. But its global fame might also be its weakness, as more conservative managers may worry that work accounts (which can be linked to personal accounts) may lead to distraction and misuse.

Not yet widely available, Facebook at Work could be the perfect tool for those wanting to capitalize on current use in the workplace of the consumer version.

4. Cotap

Many companies in the crowded ESN market offer similar things to one another. This is definitely the case with Cotap and Slack. Cotap also allows instant messaging, file sharing, syncing across mobile devices and aims to cut out emails.

What distinguishes the two competitors is the market they aim for. Slack is undoubtedly a white collar affair, with a big desktop component. Cotap aims for a far larger market, such as workers in hotel chains, cafes and warehouses and focuses 100 percent on mobile apps.

A good option for those who need to stay in touch on the move, via mobile phones and tablets.

5. Jive

Jive was one of the first major social Intranets and has been around in various guises since 2001. While it may not be as ubiquitous as heavyweight competitors, some big name clients have adopted it. Its extensive experience provides Jive with solid credentials and has inspired genuinely useful features such as endorsements, rich profiles and “purposeful places” -- areas dedicated to collaboration around specific business practices.

Good for those looking for a more rounded Intranet experience, without compromising on social features.

Is Your Intranet Social?

ESNs are increasingly common in workplaces, and for those signed up to Office 365, essentially unavoidable. For those who haven’t yet signed up to an ESN, concerns about whether they offer a quantifiable ROI are understandable. Yet when deployed correctly they can offer considerable benefits, not least offering a real boost to employee engagement.

More than anything, it’s essential to choose a specific ESN which corresponds with your company’s needs. Fortunately, though, there’s a wide enough variety out there to find something which will work for almost any type of organization.

Creative Commons Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 2.0 Generic LicenseTitle image by  marfis75