Now that Workplace by Facebook is here, the big question is whether the behemoth consumer social network can effectively work its magic inside the enterprise.

Arguably the most endearing argument supporting Workplace is the likely familiarity of the interface to the majority of end users, easing the adoption challenge.

In truth however, the majority of existing enterprise social networking (ESN) tools have been modelled on consumer social networking tools, so many Facebook features have already been experienced inside the enterprise.

The Simple 'Like'

Let's look at the most ubiquitous of social networking features, the simple "like."

The Facebook ‘Like’ has spawned the term the "Like Economy," where commentators have analyzed how economic value has been derived by Facebook and it ecosystem of partners.

Facebook has been able to leverage the simple "Like" into a powerful recommendation system, from not only experts, but also trusted friends.

By making their social badges available on third party web sites, consumer social networking sites have been able to provide another channel for information consumption, the social channel.

Users are exposed to what their friends are appreciating with a "Like," which subtly works as a powerful and effective recommendation system for owners of that content.

Who Benefits From 'Likes'?

It’s therefore not surprising the "Like Economy" beneficiaries beyond the advertising revenue gained by the social networking platforms are the "Commercial or Company” pages provided by sites like Facebook and LinkedIn.

By encouraging users to “Like” their pages, they are in effect feeding their content into the huge social graphs that these sites command: A now proven recommendation engine for their respective businesses.

A Mismatch of Economic Models?

In the early days of ESNs the leading research media were quick to survey the leaders of the early adopting major corporations, looking for reasons why they were looking to adopt ESNs.

According to HBR: “The bottom line: the most important impact of social media technologies comes from who — and what — they empower, not just the information they exchange. "

A more recent study by McKinsey found “According to executives, the social tools that enable employee collaboration — through real-time, group-based interactions that can be accessed across platforms — are most valuable.”

So broad based collaboration, empowerment, not just information exchange … Isn’t there a mismatch here with the content recommending and advertisement driven model of the “Like Economy”?

Now there is nothing wrong with useful information exchange. Who doesn’t value that?

But are we under-selling the true potential of ESNs, while also risking disappointing the corporate sponsors who have clearly stated their hopes and expectations for ESNs?

Benchmarking Yammer

My company, SWOOP Analytics, has been conducting benchmarking studies of Yammer installations for close to a year now.

So far we have analyzed Yammer installations from some 36 organizations of all sizes, industry sectors and geographies, so we think we have a good handle on how organizations are using ESNs.

One of the metrics that we calculate is %Recognition, which is essentially “Likes and Mentions.”

It’s our way of understanding the degree to which an organization has adopted “Social.” We can say that in the “Enterprise Like Economy” that percentage stands at an average score of 55 percent, with one organization scoring 78 percent.

This means over half of all activities undertaken on an ESN are the simple “Like.” We have seen several groups with up to 2,000 postings without a single written reply.

We can only assume these groups are broadcasting groups i.e. no need to reply (for privacy reasons SWOOP does not collect contextual data).

The Problem with Just Being Social

What we can conclude from all of this is that the enterprise has adopted “Social” even before the advent of Workplace.

Learning Opportunities

The information dissemination strengths of consumer social are more than likely already being enjoyed by many ESN adopters.

But as HBR noted, enterprise leaders are looking for more than information exchange from ESNs. Collaboration requires people to interact, debate, converse and hopefully converge on profitable actions that could not have been achieved pre-ESN.

It’s the conversations, their breadth, their depth, their meaningfulness that should be the key performance indicators for the ESN.

A measure like the number of conversation threads per user can simply assess this. A key problem we face with the ubiquitous “Like” is that it can be a conversation killer. Let’s think this through.

When you choose to “like” a post what you are doing is adding your personal endorsement to the information contained in it.

By not offering a written reply you are choosing to not add any extra content of value to the information, so it’s the end of conversation as far as you are concerned.

What if you are involved an intense and hopefully constructive debate online. What is the best way to end this debate? Simply post a “Like” to your antagonist’s last post. End of conversation!

How the Enterprise Can Become Social

My suggestion is a simple one, yet one I have yet to see implemented in an ESN, including Workplace. I would like to see two new social buttons:

like or dislike - and why

With these two simple additions, rather than shutting off a conversation we are inviting participants to extend the conversation.

With the first button we are inviting participants to not only endorse, but also add their own additional value.

The second button introduces something that has generally not been favored by social platforms and that is the Dislike button.

However, by adding the opportunity to provide reasons for your dislike, the conversation can more likely be extended and lead to a more constructive outcome.

In summary, while we might welcome the arrival of Workplace into the ESN community, we should be cautious in welcoming the “Like Economy” that comes with it.

While it may help amplify the information exchange across the enterprise, it may also be killing off the critical conversations that enterprises need to meet the expectations that enterprise leaders have placed on them.

Title image "Like" (CC BY-SA 2.0) by luca.sartoni

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