I was with a customer last week discussing the options available in building a corporate intranet that would encourage the social elements of on-line collaboration (posting photos from the company Christmas party, recruiting the company 5-aside football team, even photos from employees’ holidays). Sharepoint had been tried and had failed and the conclusion was to just use Facebook. Now, whilst creating a group on Facebook for employees only is interesting, and I would more than advocate doing so as a pilot or experiment, I’m not entirely convinced that Facebook should become “the Intranet”. I found a great article on CMS Watch, by Tony Byrne, “Is Facebook in the Enterprise an Oxymoron?”
He makes a great point around using Facebook to market your company outside your organisation, that “people join Facebook because they don’t want to hear from your company”. The same could be true of using Facebook internally, even in the meeting with the customer just recently we already started talking about the potential need to have two Facebook identities, one personal and one work related. Using Facebook as the official intranet actually starts to get very confusing indeed.
Instead, organisations should identify exactly what the problem is in their organisation that needs solving, then identify the elements of social-networking sites that could provide a solution and look to implement those inside the firewall. There’s no point trying to take advantage of Facebook’s ability to connect people if everyone knows everyone within the company. There’s also no point in deploying the ability to share information with your colleagues if the problem is that the workforce is geographically distrubuted and large enough that people don’t actually know who they should be collaborating with.
My attitude is best summed up by Byrne’s conclusion – company culture needs to start with “how can we help our employees be more effective?” If the best way to make them effective is to give them tools which can be abused, then so be it. The benefits of mobile phones and internal internet access far outweigh the risks that employees will misuse them. The same is true of Web 2.0/Enterprise 2.0/whatever you want to call it collaboration tools. Specifically, Byrne says, the attitude needs to be “how can we support them [our employees] in the way they really want to work (as opposed to the way we think they want to work)?” This captures the influx of Generation Y employees who would struggle to communicated without instant messaging or access to Facebook as well as our focus on the fact that tools need to provide value to employees if you want to have any hope of widespread adoption. You need to focus on exactly what the problem is, put the tools that solve these problems in the hands of the workforce, and watch. The useful ones will be used, and the low value ones will fall by the wayside.