The basic building blocks of social business, content, and community are still creating opportunity for change and disruption. However, the market for collaboration and social technologies has changed dramatically over the past 18 months. The confluence of personal productivity and increasingly agile business models is also shifting the way we think about work, the way we do work, and the people that do that work. Users are quickly becoming more comfortable with transitioning their personal productivity behavior into the work environment, particularly in how they interact with business applications. Social medial platforms like Facebook have been strong contributors to this behavioral change.

The announcement of Facebook at Work this week has ignited discussion around the ongoing value of dedicated corporate-sponsored enterprise networks (ESNs). The Facebook at Work solution is in private pilot with a small number of enterprise companies. Facebook will look to target global companies with over 100 employees. The information sharing model is such that the company news feed will only be accessible by users in that company on that instance. A company will 'own' all of the information in the newsfeed including content and other objects that get posted to the newsfeed similar to personal Facebook with the difference being that individual users are able to grant Facebook permission to use their information across Facebook platforms.

Facebook at Work is entering an established market that has now settled into a spectrum of use that span across internal communications, integrating the enterprise social network into mission critical business workflow and connecting customers partners and suppliers on the edge of the business. Facebook for Work doesn't link to users' personal Facebook accounts or the company's external brand presence on Facebook. This holds some challenges when transitioning into focus on the enterprise from the consumer model. Enterprise-grade security as well as robust administration controls, audit capability and tenancy options are just a few of the capabilities that need to be factored in.

According to the 2014 IDC Social Business Survey, the deployment of corporate-sponsored enterprise social networks is up to 85%, but within that number, 30% of organizations are looking for alternatives. The majority of ESN deployments are point solutions that add value to an individual or siloed activity, like sales automation or customer support, instead of creating a holistic end-to-end social network among employees, customers, partners, or suppliers. The power of ESNs is the ability to connect an organization's stakeholders across departments and functions for improved communication and collaboration. While there are many established players in the ESN market, Jive, Microsoft Yammer, Salesforce Chatter, IBM Connections, Tibco tibbr & SAP among others, those solutions have struggled due to a number of factors including lack of adoption, no executive sponsorship or, primarily, not having the ESN linked to any other business processes. Facebook has the advantage of connecting stakeholders across departments via its colossal user base (over 1 billion) but the complication is that the Facebook for Work solution doesn't allow personal Facebook accounts to link to Facebook at Work instances. Facebook will need to allow users to transition between accounts easily while offering adequate comfort to IT around security controls. Dropbox went through a very similar transition when initially positioning Dropbox for business and it will need to be solved quickly to avoid solution abandonment.

Connecting users inside the business is in contrast to solutions that enable conversations with customers, employees, partners and suppliers on the edge of the business through online communities. While many ESN's are adding external community capabilities, Salesforce Communities and tibbr Engage, in the majority of cases these communities are not connected to internal ESN instances. Companies are looking to simplify web properties but also enable a customer to have a seamless and ubiquitous experience across every community it is exposed to from that company or brand. IDC's 2014 Social Business Survey supports this notion, with "connecting with customers" as the top business priority organizations are targeting. This is also cognizant of the shift we have seen take place in the market from a more passive responsive type behavior to a more proactive and conversational engagement with customers, partners and suppliers.

With more and more customers and partners wanting to target a consolidated and consistent brand experience, the importance of connecting not only people and their profile behavior but data and information all together in a single pane of glass may help fine-tune how organizations are able to target all future potential customer interactions. Facebook are at the coalface of this shift with their focus on brand Pages but with Facebook at Work the company will need to quickly become relevant either to existing business processes or as an enterprise grade conduit to online communities. If the conduit route is the route Facebook choose to take, they will have other community solutions biting at their heels, like Lithium who acquired Klout last year to add context to communities.

IDC's research finds that organizations will not integrate disparate ESNs or connect online communities in the short term as other areas of business investment will take priority. Facebook will need to quickly decide what camp they belong to an start working toward options for customers. Organizations should consider the following when looking at investment in ESN or online community solutions:

  • Integrating social networks is complex and complicated from a technical integration perspective as well as a change management perspective. The skills gap that exists in connecting content, data, and a disparate network of users will create an ongoing challenge for social software integration projects in the foreseeable future. A number of specialized consulting partners like Social Edge and 7Summits are addressing some of this but skilled resources are scarce and in high demand but are essential to execute successful integration projects. This talent gap may be felt more in some industries, such as government, education, and utilities.
  • To expand the value of individual ESNs, organizations will look to connect the applications and workflow that are disconnected today. To connect expert networks of employees, customers' partners, and suppliers, organizations need to integrate social software assets with mission critical business applications to the broader business network to deliver additional value. SAP Jam and Oracle Social Networks are good examples of this today as they are both deeply embedded in business processes and customers of those process can easily expand the ESN to incorporate additional users.
  • Connecting networks of interactions is not possible or even required in every instance, so connections should be made where there is an explicit business need. Initially, it makes sense to target the customer service and support function because customer service requires quick insight into a customer's behavior and there are direct business metrics between the interactions of customers and how they are being served. As the business value of integration is proven, additional business functions will be connected.