If you must have in-house social tools, go with SharePoint

Our Microsoft blogger shares some practical advice on how to implement social networking at the office with SharePoint

I've spent the past week working with and deploying the various social networking tools in SharePoint 2010. It's jam-packed with everything from individual blog sites and profiles to simple I Like It and Tags & Notes options at the top of every page. Microsoft believes that by adding these features, IT can keep folks on its intranet and thus increase communication and collaboration within an organization.

Social networking: A promise that may not deliver
That may be true of some companies, but not all. The fact is, there are only three ways social networking tools will be used within your organization if you deploy them.

[ Read J. Peter Bruzzese's "Social media use at work: How to stop the cyber slackers." | Stay abreast of key Microsoft technologies in our Technology: Microsoft newsletter. ]

  1. They'll be ignored due to lack of desire to share info with fellow employees. People already post things to their personal blog or to their "real" friends on Facebook, so they won't participate in the artificial community at work. Another reason they'll be ignored is lack of training and people's fear of playing with new tools.
  2. They'll be abused, at least partially. I recently worked with a tool called Yammer, an internal messaging tool hosted online. People use it for company communication 80 percent of the time. Other times, it's all in fun, like debating favorite superheroes and so on. There is nothing wrong with having a little fun, of course. But time is money, and the more social networking tools you provide, the more time it requires to keep up with them. There is also the concern that inappropriate items might be posted to company blogs and message boards simply because that is what a person may do at home with their personal social networking.
  3. It will be used to promote collaboration among colleagues and actually improve company performance and productivity.

Typically, I'd mock the third option, and I had a chance to do so when meeting with a member of the Microsoft SharePoint development team last year to view various social networking features. But I was mildly made more open-minded when the developer told me he'd learned of a colleague's project that ordinarily he wouldn't have known about, thanks to its mention on SharePoint as part of a general request for help. This developer took a look, figured out what was needed, and aided his colleague.

I grant you that, depending on your company culture and the nature of your work, having an internal, open means of collaborating could be an excellent thing. At other times, it could just be a huge time-waster.

Who decides if social tools will actually help? Obviously network administrators and those in decision-making positions in the company need to determine if these tools will be a benefit and not a hindrance. Keep in mind that once you deploy them -- assuming people actually use them -- you'll be hard-pressed to take them away without a fight. Social networking is addictive; perhaps you've noticed that with people tweeting and Facebooking all over the place.

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