5 Top Enterprise Social Networks to Consider for Your Business [Expert Review]

Too much noise, not enough collaboration, too many emails flying about the place...

So you figure your company would benefit from using a social network. Great idea - there are tons of benefits for your employees. But where do you start in choosing one?

To help you out I’ve chosen five of the top enterprise social networks you should consider, and I've asked experts in the field (practitioners, not vendors) for their thoughts on the pros and cons of each one.

Without further ado, let's dive straight into our first, IBM's Connections.

1. Connections

According to the sales copy on their product page, IBM's Connections is a social network that helps empower and engage people in an organisation, inspiring innovation and engendering trust. 

Connections Standout Features

  • Connections is a SaaS system that runs on your mobile or desktop computer
  • The software has a homepage function with a social activity stream, profiles, communities, mail, bookmarks, file-sharing and discussion forums
  • Blogs and wiki pages also make it very easy to share and collaborate with co-workers.
  • Connections integrates with Microsoft applications, such as SharePoint, Windows Explorer, Outlook and Office.

Here is a video introducing Connections…

I asked Jenni Field who heads up Communications at SSP Group for her take on the pros and cons of IBM connections...

Jenni Field Group Head of Communications at SSP Group

What rocks about Connections?
The file sharing is the best part of Connections for our business. Being global we often use free file sharing services to share large presentations and commercial information which isn’t secure. Connections gives us a secure place to store all our documents and share them throughout the business. As the business culture and organisational design has shifted the role of Connections has also changed – so I think what rocks now will probably be different in 12 months as the business evolves. Having something that can do so much gives you the ability to support many different areas of business process

What, if anything, could be improved? 
The ability to cut through the noise. It is very 'social' so it's difficult to push through the likes and comments to get news out. It is a regular annoyance from the end user who would prefer a daily update of news, not daily updates of the social side of the tool

Second in line is Jive, another popular choice...

2. Jive

Jive’s mission is to empower people and organizations to work better together by improving the way they connect, communicate and collaborate and is a relative new kid on the block. 

According to their sales page Jive helps your employees, customers and partners work better together. In fact Jive goes as far to say that new communication tools increase productivity by 15% when social collaboration tools are adopted – ‘think outside the mailbox’ (see below excerpt from their infographic)
Jive - think outside the mailbox

Let's look at Jive's key features...

Jive Standout Features

  • Jive is a mobile-ready ESN with similar profile functions.
  • One of Jive's most unique features is "Recommendations." It's similar to Facebook's "People You May Know," but instead, suggests profiles of people you should get to know in your company, based on shared interests and related areas of expertise.
  • Its "Structured Outcomes" feature also makes it easy to tell co-workers which tasks are complete, and which still need to be finished.

Here’s an intro video to give you a flavour of Jive:

I asked Tony Stewart, International Internal Community Manager at NBCUniversal and avid user of Jive…

Tony Stewart International Internal Community Manager at NBCUniversal

What rocks about Jive?
It does so much! A really complete ESN, with everything you want from Social Sharing as you’d expect – video, photos, status updates, blogs – but dig deeper and there’s an incredibly rich collaboration toolset that allows you to sync and share files, collaborate in projects, set milestones and a host of other ‘getting work done’ tools. I think this really differentiates it from the other platforms in the market.

What, if anything, could be improved? 
It does so much! This can be quite an intimidating barrier for those new to ESNs in the workplace or trying to explain how the platform operates, especially for someone who’s visiting the site without handholding. Also there are times that some functionality doesn’t work as well as it could, spread a little thin you could say. But with proper education, onboarding, and an enthusiastic Community Manager (!) these can be overcome.

Third up we have Socialcast...

3. Socialcast

Socialcast is another feature packed platform allowing employees to freely converse, share files, and get notifications - and all this possible on the go from a mobile app. They also cite some pretty amazing ‘productivity gains’ to be had from ESN…


Socialcast Standout Features

  • SocialCast is another ESN optimized for mobile or desktop
  • It provides a centralized workplace and communication center for employees.
  • You can create public or private groups, share documents and manage your projects via SocialCast.
  • A notable feature is the "Task Timeline," which displays which tasks you need to do today, and which are queued up for tomorrow.
  • The Socialcast Org Chart also helps employees keep track of company hierarchy

Here’s an intro video to help you familiarise yourself with Socialcast…

Lets hear from an expert. Over to Jeff Ross, Community Strategist/Manager at Humana…

Jeff Ross Community Strategist/Manager at Humana

What rocks about Socialcast?
Socialcast continuously improves their platform and pushes out updates nearly every quarter on everything from major new features to nice tweaks in existing functionality. They are very responsive to customer suggestions for improvements, having implemented many of the changes we have suggested in our 5+ years of using the platform. I couldn’t be happier with their product growth and customer service responsiveness from a product development/improvement perspective.

What, if anything, could be improved? 
There is room for improvement in the administrative reporting available. While many reports are included, it would be better to have highly customizable reports based on selected data captured rather than reliance on the various canned reports. Also, the tech support since being purchased by VMware has increased the time to issue resolution with reliance on slow email conversations across time zones rather than calls with tech support to identify and resolve issues quickly.

Fourth up we have Yammer...

4. Yammer

Yammer was one of the first ESNs to hit the scene back in 2008 and sold to Microsoft in 2012. As well as all the functionality you’d expect for connecting and sharing with colleagues, Yammer also has a vibrant app eco-system and great mobile connectivity.

With Microsoft now at the helm, Yammer is becoming embedded into their latest cloud based Office offering (called "Office 365"), meaning you’ll able to seamlessly work across office mainstays PowerPoint, Excel and Outlook with Yammer.

Yammer Standout Features

  • Optimized for desktop and mobile use
  • Company networks are private, so you must have a verified company email in order to join.
  • The user interface is similar to Facebook, with status updates, pages and "follow" capabilities.
  • "Notes" functionality allows co-workers to produce content on the fly in a simple format
  • Able to annotate documents within the browser

Here’s an intro video to give you a feel for Yammer…

Let’s hear what Melanie Hohertz, Online Communications Lead at Cargill, has to say about using Yammer…

Melanie Hohertz Online Communications Lead at Cargill

What rocks about Yammer?
Yammer has the promise of integration with the power of the Office stack powered by the Office Graph. Multi-user collaborative editing of files native in the tool is imminent. Mobile apps are robust, and companies have options for external networks, and external-participant conversations and groups.

What, if anything, could be improved? 
Other tools can and have eclipsed current stand-alone Yammer functionality and even Yammer-SharePoint functionality. A lot depends on whether Microsoft integrates integrates Yammer well in the O365 ecosystem, such as quickly connecting the platform with the new Outlook Groups.

And finally Chatter, another popular choice.  

5. Chatter

Chatter is owned by Salesforce, one of the biggest cloud computing companies in the world. Chatter is their social network product which can be used integrated through their other IT offerings or as a standalone product. 

Chatter Standout Features

  • Chatter is optimized for mobile and desktop use
  • Chatter Connect provides a social network experience, while Chatter in Apex allows creates custom Chatter experiences in Salesforce.
  • Able to create separate communities in a centralized location for streamlined communication.
  • Connections allows for painless integration with Microsoft applications, such as SharePoint, Windows Explorer, Outlook and Office.

Here’s an intro video to give you a feel for Chatter…

Now let's look at a business application of Chatter. 

GE (General Electric) have really benefited from using Chatter, adding deep levels of collaboration to GE Aviation’s sales efforts. Sales reps use Chatter to share documents, answer questions, and get instantaneous feedback. 

Check out GE's 'Social Story' below...

Beth Comstock CMO, GE

Talking about Chatter...
What might've taken a team—in the best case—a week, can now be done in minutes

The immediacy and the touch points of Chatter change commercial business as we know it

Social networks give you continual real-time feedback, unlike anything you can get from a focus group, plus, they are a great source for ideas for future inventions

Source: http://www.salesforce.com/uk/customers/stories/ge.jsp


I hope this article has given you plenty of food for thought. 

Each of the products we've looked at have their own merits.

The big players such as Yammer, IBM and Chatter have great integration with other desktop systems, so it depends to some extent on how important that integration is to your business.

As standalone ESNs, Jive and Socialcast have raving fans, and plenty more new players are coming to the scene every year.

Remember with most of these products offer some kind of freemium product for you to test-drive.

Which ESN looks the best to you? Drop a comment below...

Many more ESN case studies can also be found on allthingsic

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About the Author Gerard

Hi there. I'm Gerard Richardson, a social business consultant with over 10 years experience working across large multi-nationals in digital communications, both internal and external facing. This site is called thenetworked.org and is my blog / scrapbook / live journal all about the power of social networks for business. Welcome aboard!

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