The difficulties that companies have had in deploying enterprise social often start right at the beginning. It’s not hard to understand why choosing a product can be tough since most enterprise social networks look almost identical. All the basics are there in just about every product including microblogging and conversations, groups, and document, file, and content sharing. Security and other major enterprise deployment factors are also similar across vendors and products. On the surface, all enterprise social networks look the same. The path to value, however, lies in some key differences.

Recent Neuralytix research has identified two areas where enterprise social network products differ in significant ways. These features affect how well the software helps teams to act on shared information, decision making and content.

Difference #1: Support for Social Workflows

The first is support for social workflows. Social workflows are more dynamic and less formal then their more formal brethren but are the stuff of normal business. Formal workflows are important for repeatable processes that have defined paths and well known inputs and outputs such as approving an expense report.

That’s not the majority of the work that knowledge workers engage in. Creative, innovative and collaborative work is more fluid. Group task management, simple if-then rules and templates that provide a starting point for typical work situations allow teams to follow up on decisions or organize work around shared content. They give control to the team members themselves and not a business process analyst. These features help turn sharing into actions, enabling the team to accomplish something rather than simply sharing and conversing about what they should be doing.

Difference #2: Integration Options

The second big difference is in integration options. Enterprise social networks have value in and of themselves but that value is more limited when they don’t plug into the other software that knowledge workers typically use. Knowledge workers want to encounter enterprise social networks wherever they are doing their work. The more options there are for integrating into common enterprise applications, such as CRM or ERP or important homegrown applications the easier it will be for knowledge workers to stumble across instances where it can help them accomplish their work.

Learning Opportunities

This is especially true when integration allows the sharing of business objects. It’s much easier to take action on a sales opportunity when you can actually share the opportunity object with people who don’t have access to the CRM system. Team members would then have critical information at their fingertips and can do what is necessary to drive it to the win column.

There are lots of other differences as well. The user experience matters a lot as does cost. These have to be evaluated. They are, however, only important after the ability to actually provide real value -- value through getting work done -- has been ascertained. The decisions up front are the most important ones. Success or failure starts right at the beginning.

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