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Enterprise Social Network (ESN)

Definition

Enterprise Social Network (ESN) refers to the internal online communities created by businesses. These tools are the successors to company intranets, and they provide organizations with an online space that employees can use to communicate, share information, and track projects.

Modern ESN platforms are typically cloud-based, meaning employees can log in and access them on the go. They are great for remote or distributed teams who need access to team communication wherever they are. 

ESNs are typically easy for employees to use because they share features with regular social media platforms. These typically include posting, comments, groups, and reactions. 

Good ESNs are far more secure than open social media tools. The most significant reason for this is that they are only accessible to people within the organization. No one else can create an account—although some tools allow businesses to create spaces that they share with clients or other third parties. 

Businesses have plenty of options for platforms they can use to create an ESN. We’ve listed some of the best ones at the end of this post.

Enterprise Social Network vs. Workforce Messaging
Many businesses use workforce messaging tools like Slack or Microsoft Teams for internal communication. While these share some ESN features, they aren’t the same thing. They lack features like news feeds, profiles, and knowledge sharing. To put it simply: an ESN is the business equivalent of Facebook or LinkedIn, while a workforce messaging tool is WhatsApp. Many organizations choose to use both types of tools. 

How do ESN tools create business value?

ESN software benefits companies in many ways. Here are some of the most common reasons businesses choose to implement these tools. 

Streamlined communication

Have you ever opened an email thread and then spent five minutes scrolling through messages trying to work out the context to the latest email? If so, you know the benefit of streamlined communication.

ESN tools typically organize communication into posts and threads. It’s easy to separate communication topics and look back through the thread to gain the context of the discussion quickly. 

Messaging other people at your organization is easier too. Instead of searching for the email address of the person you want to communicate with, simply click on their name and send them a direct message. You can then communicate in real-time. 

Depending on the tool you choose, you may also get access to advanced communication features like video conferencing or the ability to connect third parties and clients. 

Better collaboration

Enterprise social networking tools help break down walls between teams in your organization. 

Information is no longer kept in silos. Employees can collaborate with the best people for the job, not just the people they communicate with regularly. 

Communication features undoubtedly help with this. As does the ability to search for other employees in your organization. These tools help break down walls across the organization.

But these aren’t the only ways that ESNs improve social collaboration. 

Many tools have features that let you upload and share documents. For example, file sharing makes it easy for anyone to access the files they need to get work done. Others include task management features that keep your entire team on track at all times. 

Improved knowledge access

One of a businesses’ biggest assets is the knowledge and expertise its employees hold. If you can share this knowledge throughout your company, you’ll end up with a more informed, knowledgeable workforce. 

ESN tools are an excellent way to improve knowledge sharing. The obvious way this happens is that people can use the tools to ask and answer questions. But it works in many other ways too.

Think about when someone receives an answer to their question on an internal board. It isn’t just them that can see the answer—anyone with access to the board can see it and use the information it contains.

And employees can benefit from this answer for years to come. You just need to choose an ESN with message search features or the ability to highlight helpful questions in sticky posts. 

Another way ESN tools help is through built-in knowledge bases. Teams can create documents around specific processes used at work. Anyone with access to the community can access the knowledge base and the insight they contain.

Other ways you can use your ESN tool for knowledge access include:

  • Sharing videos or resources
  • Holding meetings or Q&A sessions
  • Posting company-wide announcements

Higher productivity

You won’t be surprised to hear that with better communication, knowledge access, and collaboration, businesses that use ESN tools also improve productivity. 

It’s easy to see why: employees have faster access to the tools, people, and information that help them do their job. 

Take this study reported in the Harvard Business Review. It found that employees who used internal social tools were “31% more likely to find coworkers with expertise relevant to meeting job goals” and “88% more likely to accurately identify who could put them in contact with the right experts.” 

More effective remote work

Social software is useful for businesses that work in an office. They bring improved collaboration and communication features to these employees. 

But these tools really come into their own if you have a remote or blended way of working. 

ESNs make it easy for employees to communicate, no matter where they are in the world. And they also replicate the sense of community found in an office, ensuring remote employees feel like an essential part of your team. 

Managers also benefit. They know that remote team members have access to the same information as on-sight employees. They don’t have to take extra steps to keep remote employees up to date. 

Improve employee engagement

Enterprise social networks can improve employee engagement and help you build a company culture. 

It does this in many ways. For example, easier communication and collaboration ensure everyone is connected to the company. While using the community during onboarding can help new employees instantly feel a sense of belonging. 

And management can use the tools to understand better how engaged employees are. It’s easy to run surveys to let employees have their say on how the company is run. And you can also use the ESN’s analytics features to see how people interact with the community. 

Features to look for in an ESN

The exact features available in an ESN depend on the platform. Some focus on messaging and communication, while others have complete digital workspace functionality.

The majority of tools offer some of the features included in this next section.

Collaboration

Team collaboration features are central to your ESN. Most solutions have multiple features that make it easy for people to work together and communicate. 

Collaboration tools allow employees to:

  • Create groups for different teams
  • Make and respond to posts
  • Post status updates
  • Connect with people throughout the organization
  • Instant messaging 
  • Communicate via video and audio 
  • Share files and other multimedia

Integration

Your Enterprise Social Network should integrate with the tools your business uses. This ensures it is part of a streamlined workflow process. 

ESNs may integrate with:

  • Productivity tools like GSuite or Office 365 
  • HR tools to help with managing leave or payroll
  • Learning tools to offer training 
  • Scheduling and time management tools to keep employees on task

Additionally, open APIs allow you to integrate the ESN with any tool that you use, even if integrations don’t currently exist. 

Security

The conversations that take place in ESN tools often contain sensitive company information. Because of this, the tool you use must be secure. 

Features to look out for include:

  • Only allowing those with a company email address to sign up
  • Data encryption
  • The ability to enforce two-factor authentication
  • Activity monitoring
  • Restrict community access so people can only visit when using the company VPN
  • Create password policies to ensure people use strong passwords

Analytics and reporting

Analytics and reporting provide relevant teams with essential insight into how your people use the tool. Drilling into this data can provide insights into your company and help you strengthen your culture. 

Analytics can show you information about:

  • People: This helps you understand how many users your ESN has, and how many of them actively use the tool.
  • Content: This helps you understand the content your community creates and the people and groups that create the most content. It can also show the types of content people find useful.
  • Groups: This shows the groups that are the most active on your platform. Use these as best practice case studies when encouraging adoption.

Knowledge library

Enterprise social networks offer multiple ways to store your business knowledge. This helps all employees gain access to the information they need to work effectively. 

Look for the ability to:

  • Create a knowledge base that anyone in your organization can add to
  • Store documents and files that contain helpful information
  • Highlight exciting questions and answers
  • Share updates and mark them as important
  • Create internal company wikis

Enterprise social networking platforms: 5 top options

There are plenty of ESN platforms available. They tend to be SaaS products that you pay a monthly fee to use. 

Here are five of the most notable tools. 

Tribe

Tribe website

Tribe is a customizable community platform that lets you build a community to meet your exact needs. Businesses mainly use it for external customer communities, but because of its feature set it is also suitable for internal ESNs. Here is an example of how IBM bulit a thriving ESN with Tribe for their CSR program.

The tool has many collaboration features that enable your team to work together. You can create groups or channels for different teams or use cases, and it’s easy for anyone to create and reply to posts. Users can create profiles and all relevant content is shown in a feed when they log on.

Tribe has powerful knowledge-sharing tools. You can create a searchable knowledge base that anyone can access and highlight useful learning resources in the sidebar. Tribe also integrates with a wide range of tools and lets you add your own functionality via a powerful 'Developer Portal'.

Workplace

Workplace website

Workplace is the ESN tool from Meta, the company behind Facebook. Its solution has many of the features that your employees know from Facebook, making it easy for them to use. But it provides this in the form of a private network only employees can join. 

The software offers plenty of features built specifically for businesses. You get the ability to mark posts as important so everyone sees them, integrations to connect with other business tools, and access to analytics and reporting so you can see how people use the network. 

Speakap

Speakap website

Speakap is a full-featured ESN built to keep disseminated teams connected. It has features like groups, events, and file sharing. It also helps your business share updates with employees and then see reports about how the message performed. 

The tool integrates with tons of business tools so employees can access all they need from within the mobile app. For example, they can see payslips if you integrate payroll software or access training if you integrate an LMS. 

Microsoft Yammer

Yammer

Yammer is the ESN from Microsoft. It has features such as a social news feed, groups and topics, and document sharing. One of the tool’s biggest benefits is its integration with other Microsoft 365 products. 

It brings the social experience to Office, Teams, and Sharepoint. Another cool integration is the ability to deliver live events, for example, for training or meetings. You also get in-depth reporting and analytics features to see how people use the tool. 

Salesforce Chatter

Salesforce Chatter website

SalesForce Chatter is an ESN with plenty of popular features. Users can create profiles that enable them to contact others at the organization. When they sign in, they see a feed of the most important conversations and recent company news. 

Meanwhile, teams can easily create groups to help them collaborate on projects, clients, or campaigns. The tool also has file storage and sharing features, plus the ability to share answers to common questions.