There's a social enterprise revolution going on and your intranet is right in the middle of it.


The social tsunami that has swept the consumer space has also spread to the corporate world, where social enterprise tools have been gaining user traction and executives are getting excited and anxious in equal measures about getting "Facebook for the enterprise."

For organizations using Microsoft SharePoint, the upcoming 2013 release -- which is bringing a full battery of social capabilities, like micro blogging, activity streams, following and communities of interest -- may have you seriously considering adding social capabilities to your intranet.

Add to this is the game-changing acquisition of Yammer by Microsoft and even the most hard bitten Luddite realizes they need to give some serious consideration to the use of social in their organization.

Of course, many organizations will have already been thinking about how to "socially enable" their intranet already, but have not yet been able to get it underway.(Perhaps you wanted to get started on social using SharePoint 2010, but just couldn't figure out what to do with those "Tags and Notes" -- I know I still haven't!)

When is the best time to turn your SharePoint intranet into a social intranet?To answer this question, we need to be clear on what we are talking about when we say "social intranet."

Fundamentally, a social enterprise is going to put more emphasis on staff as individuals, on the establishment and support of peer to peer networks and on encouraging transparency.Let's break this down:

Staff as Individuals 

An organization is made up of people.What are coolly referred to as "resources" in the classic workplace model are also and ultimately, individuals i.e., people, with ideas, opinions, emotions, desires, goals, etc.

People, when in decent shape, like to help, to share, to offer suggestions, to be recognized and acknowledged.A social enterprise seeks to empower its people and social intranets can play a major part in this, providing rich user profiles that include meaningful information and providing tools for staff to express themselves.

Peer to Peer Networks

Organizations are built on command hierarchies, policies and processes.People however, work both within and outside of the standard systems, establishing peer networks that are not limited to their immediate teammates or "process connections."  

Jon Husband refers to these deep connections as the "wirearchy" and for staff, it is these peer networks that provide the deepest workplace connections. An intranet is traditionally a company to worker communication. A social intranet will extend on this by allowing staff to engage with one another.


The previous elements (staff as individuals and peer to peer networks) are arguably just descriptions of collaboration.And perhaps they are.This last one, transparency, is what most distinguishes a social enterprise.It describes a manner of working in which a person's activities are visible to their workmates.

Learning Opportunities

This can include what Harold Jarche calls narration, whereby workers proactively share their knowledge, via micro blogs, for example.Transparency represents a fundamental shift in the modus operandi for staff interaction and it creates a workplace where staff are more in tune with one another.A social intranet will provide a means for staff members to know what each other is doing.

Where SharePoint Fits In

With the above in mind, organizations using SharePoint can start their social intranet journey in a number of ways:

  • By ensuring their staff My Site Profiles provide rich information that goes beyond just the standard Active Directory items (like name, title email and phone) to include insightful data like areas of expertise, topics of interest, recent projects and even recent publications.
  • By providing a means for staff to respond to intranet content.Add the ability for comments to be added to news items. Put in place blogs -- blogs from the CEO and recognized subject matter experts are generally well-received.
  • By providing tools that enable staff to connect with their peers.Use team sites to create communities of interest, where community members can collaborate. The obvious use cases relate to projects, but there may be others, for example relating to subject matter expertise.
  • Lync (Microsoft's corporate instant messaging tool) is a great way to get this started with great IM features and good integration with SharePoint.The downside is that it is a 1-to-1 tool, so doesn't support transparency.
  • If you want to get social style communications happening straight away, consider implementing a third party social tool like Yammer or Newsgator.Both are easy to use and will provide a great starting point in social concepts for your organization.Newsgator has the advantage of tighter integration with SharePoint, providing a seamless user experience and a better execution of the transparency concept.Yammer, though lighter in social features than Newsgator, is easier to implement and, thanks to the Microsoft acquisition, offers some promise of future SharePoint integration.
  • Finally, SharePoint 2013 will be a valid option for a move to a social intranet.Based upon the recent preview release, it won't match the leading players like Newsgator for features; however, it will provide an excellent base set of social capabilities, sufficient perhaps for many organizations who are just starting their social journey.

Is Now the Time?

When is the best time to turn your SharePoint intranet into a social intranet? As can be seen from the above, there is probably nothing technically stopping you becoming more social with SharePoint now. However, you will also need to take into account whether your organization is ready to become more social.

This is a more difficult question, bringing to bear issues of organizational culture, demographics and change management.The ubiquity of consumer social tools means that most employees will have some awareness of social collaboration and will have formed a view of its worth.Some will be champing at the bit to have social tools used at work; others will have a more negative view; and like any good new technology wave, the bulk of people will sit in the middle of the willingness for change bell-curve.

This is a big topic, but my general view is that, unless your organization is knee deep in Gen-Y types, take an incremental approach, bringing in social capabilities gradually, allowing familiarity and competence to grow over time.

Image courtesy of il67 (Shutterstock)

Editor's Note:  To read more of Andrew's thoughts on the potential of SharePoint 2013:

-- SharePoint 2013: 7 Features Users are Going to Love