Before social media hit the mainstream, we had no idea how engaging – or frankly, addictive – it would be.

This month marks the tenth anniversary for Facebook’s now ubiquitous news feed – an innovation from the social network giant's CEO, Mark Zuckerberg, that many users  initially detested.

Lessons Learned From Social Media

But over the past 10 years, as consumers of social media, we’ve become trained to receive and engage with information in the form of a feed. It’s now natural to us. And while the innovation was initially disliked, the Facebook News Feed is now the hub of the massively popular social media platform.

While enterprise software is drastically different than social media platforms in terms of content (no baby pictures, cat videos, Farmville games, etc.), the way we consume it doesn’t have to be.

What lessons can we take from the massive engagement levels of social media and how can we apply those learnings to work software?

Not All Content Is Created Equally

Initially Facebook’s News Feed was just a list of everything going on across your entire network in chronological order. However, as the platform started to collect data, Zuckerberg and his team quickly learned that all content is not created equally.

In the consumer world that means that your frieĀ­nd sharing (yet another) political status may not hold the same weight as your sister’s new baby photos, which again differs from an article shared by a publication you follow.

Instagram and Twitter also caught on to this – albeit a bit later. Social feeds are now intelligent, can figure out what you like – and what you dislike – and sort the information accordingly.

Bringing Enterprise Software Up to Speed

Unfortunately, this isn’t true with enterprise software as it currently exists.

  • Why should we have to go through the same labor-intensive processes to get information that has different levels of importance to us?
  • Why do we need to log into three systems to get information that will allow us to respond to one email?
  • And, why do we need to be on an email chain with 30 others welcoming someone to a department that we are not even part of?

There’s no rhyme or reason to the way we are fed information at work. That’s why a news feed for work is incredibly useful.

Business feeds can deliver personalized information in an organized way, improving productivity and efficiency.

Just as social feeds condense our personal lives into a cohesive stream, business feeds can push real-time information (like new hire updates, new sales opportunities, paid time off requests awaiting approval or marketing ROI reports) to make the workday easier for employees with too much on their plates.

Examples from Facebook, Twitter

Facebook and Twitter aggregate content from different sources based on what our contacts share — personal updates, news articles, YouTube videos and other content from third-party websites — and effectively aggregate it into one, easy-to-use, source feed.

Despite the fact that these sources typically deliver content in different forms, we’ve become accustomed to reviewing it in a single stream — like my favorite Android ads would argue, while the content may be different, it can all be presented in a similar way.

While Facebook used to encourage you to click away from the feed, Zuckerberg reorganized it to do everything possible to keep you from going to other tabs to see things such as video or photos.

Average users now spend more time than ever engaging with content in their feed, and further, they have become wired to repeatedly check back in for new updates they might see next.

Applications for the Enterprise

Today’s work software is similar to how we would interact with content before social media.

If you want the status of a new hire, you need to log into your HRIS, if you want information on a lead, off you go to your CRM.

While all these systems present information differently, work software should follow social media’s model to improve engagement by intelligently curating information from each system into a central feed where content, more or less, all looks the same.

From there, employees have access to the updates most important to them and can complete tasks assigned to them without clicking through to other systems — avoiding wasted time and dampened engagement.

Keep It Simple, Stupid

If there’s anything we’ve learned from the likes of Instagram, Facebook, and Twitter it’s that simple is always better. Unfortunately, work software is anything but simple.

Companies question why employees aren’t engaged with the systems they have invested millions in, but the reality is that the applications themselves are a maze to navigate – and that’s assuming employees know which app has the information they need and that they can remember which one of their dozens of passwords will get them access.

A central feed is all about simplification.

Whether it’s baby photos or a critical sales update from Salesforce, a feed shows you the most important things first and minimizes the information that is less relevant to the point of removing it from your feed over time if you never look at it. 

While the analogy between social media and work software isn’t perfect (face it, kitten photos probably beat approving expense reports every time), there’s a lot that we can learn.

By adjusting work software to fit the way we now consume information (and not the other way around), we can make enterprise systems — if not fun — then at least simple, personal and intuitive.

For me, that mission starts with creating a business feed that employees actually want to use.

Title image "Peach fuzz" (CC BY 2.0) by Ray_LAC