Internal Social Networks: The Next Evolution of the Intranet

Social networks are the backbone of social media, the places where we can virtually gather with likeminded professionals in different companies, locations, and industries. Leading platforms such as Facebook, LinkedIn, and Google+ are well known and understood. And they serve a great purpose for the vast majority of us.

From the perspective of the enterprise, however, public social networks are only good for talking to the outside world. They are not trusted platforms from a security or privacy standpoint. And they are completely out of the control of the IT, legal, and executive powers-that-be.

The Rise of Intranets

Going all the way back to the very late 1990s, a majority of enterprises came to the realization that they needed more scalable and manageable ways to share information within the company. They had already evolved from typewriters and hand-couriered memos to email. But information overload and an abundance of “reply-to-all” behavior had already started to push the boundaries of email capabilities.

And so came the inception of the Intranet.

This was a pretty obvious development at the time. Extranets had just become popular for sharing information securely with partners and customers. All you had to do was build a login-based site, create user profiles, and start using it to communicate.

Why not create a similar site that existed only inside the walls and firewalls of the company headquarters? Heck, inside the building, you didn’t even need to ask for a login. The client PCs were already logged into the company network.

This model worked very well for over a decade. But with the onset of so many cool social platforms outside the building, a static login site that needs to be managed manually by a webmaster has become cumbersome and, well, outright boring!

Internal Social Networks: The Next Evolution

In the past several years, businesses around the world have begun to open their eyes to the idea of a virtual water cooler. The freelance industry had already embraced this concept years ago, using tools like Basecamp to share large files and creative concepts across company boundaries. As larger companies engaged with freelancers and agencies on these platforms, they saw firsthand how powerful social networks can be for a wider variety of uses than they ever thought possible.

Today, we find many social tools that are built and sold strictly to be used internally. Sharepoint was originally offered as an internal content exchange and networking platform, but it is a bit cumbersome and hard to manage. As this space continues to grow, we see a pretty big shift to cloud-based internal social networks, such as Confluence, Chatter (for Salesforce.com customers only), and Yammer.

In adopting one of these platforms, businesses are forced to adapt many of their processes and communications. Here are a few highlights of the features and functionality now at the disposal of internal work teams:

  • Wikis
  • Blogs, with full WYSIWYG editors for all to use
  • Task and Project Management
  • Sharing, likes, and social mentions
  • Bulletin board-like discussions
  • Real-time notifications of changes or additional comments on discussions you are involved in
  • Responsive designs or full mobile apps for access on-the-go
  • Full internal search
  • Robust enterprise-caliber permissions and role management

As you can see, these tools combine the interactivity of the social web with the stringent security and permissions management that large companies and enterprises require. If you are still on an old tired Intranet, now is a great time to evaluate whether internal social networks are a better solution for you and your business.