Enterprise Social Networks: Leaping from Bad to Worse

In this three part series, we’ll explore the two biggest problems companies face when adopting a new Enterprise Social Network, and show you how to fix them. Here in part one, we’ll be be covering what those problems are, and where they come from.

Information indexing, search, and recall are amongst the most heavily marketed features of Enterprise Social Networks (ESNs)—or email-killers as they are occasionally (and more accurately) known. For instance, Slack, the new and wildly popular ESN, lists it as one of the key reasons for using the system: “Everything in Slack—messages, notifications, files, and all—is automatically indexed and archived so that you can have it at your fingertips whenever you want.” Most other ESN do exactly the same thing. They promise to put “all your information at your fingertips whenever you want.” But the reality is far less rosy than ESN marketing and sales departments would like you to believe.

When an ESN (be it Salesforce Chatter, Slack, Yammer or any other platform) is first introduced, users see an empty shell of a system that contains little or no useful information: no messages, notifications, files, and all. This information vacuum causes an instant loss of engagement for the vast majority of users. Later enterprise-wide efforts to recapture that lost interest are often unsuccessful: the system is already marked as in users’ minds as a waste of time. For a company that just committed to an ESN initiative, this is already bad news.

But it’s about to get worse. It takes a clearly defined and well articulated ESN strategy, it takes effort, and it takes investment to ensure that a new ESN has enough information to keep users coming back. But even the best thought-out ESN adoption can rapidly move from a state of no information, to a state of far far too much. Remember how “everything in Slack […] is automatically indexed and archived?” That’s true for most ESNs. In a short time, an actively used ESN becomes a vault of countless conversations, files, notes and announcements. This is not as good as it sounds. In fact, it’s a huge problem.

Independent research estimates that over 80% of conversations indexed on Yammer, one of the most prolific Enterprise Social Networks, have no long term value at all to either the company, or its employees. Those conversations might have been hugely productive for the people having, them at the time they were having them. But five years down the road no one will be looking for the entirety of a the 2000 word discussion about the color scheme of the website, or about how to format the help documentation. That’s not long-term knowledge. And yet all these short-term conversations are mixed indiscriminately in the search results with the truly useful long-term information—the final decision about how help documents should be formated; the project reports, the templates and the source code. Finding anything useful in the tsunami of short term chatter is nearly impossible, so users come up with their own alternatives for storing data. Often, these involve moving information out of the ESN, causing exactly the sort of information fragmentation that the ESN was brought in to stop.

Our research confirms this. Our recent survey revealed that an average ESN user spends around 5 hours per week using the system, with a bulk of that time spent on searches. Nearly 70% of respondents reported that the information they were looking for was difficult or impossible to find. Over 50% of users said they rarely find what they are looking for, despite spending hours each week trying. Over 65% of users admitted that they resort to storing information outside of the system.

It might look like there’s no good solution—like the transition from “not enough” to “too much” is almost inevitable. Making an ESN work for you in certainly hard, but there are steps you can take to manage both immediate ESN rejection, and long-term information overload. For how to improve uptake, and get workers engaged with a new ESN, check out part two in our series: Rollout An Enterprise Social Network In Your Company, The Right Way. And if you want to learn how to deal with the long term problems of information overload and information fragmentation, we’ll tell you in part three: How To Keep Users Using An Enterprise Social Network.


Alec Pestov and the Meemim team

Meemim, the perfect balance between “not enough” and “too much”.


Alec Pestov
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