Social networks like Twitter, Facebook and LinkedIn are gigantic portals that do one thing exceptionally well. They bring people together. Whether it's 140 characters, a wall post, or a 3rd degree connection – strong social networks create robust virtual environments for us to park our digital identities.

But Social Networks go beyond consumer purposes. Today, they connect businesses, non-profits, governments, and organizations better within each other. “Niche” social networks help employees better collaborate. They give members a chance to connect. They help employers stay in better touch with staff.

The way we leverage social is changing. At Icreon, we realize the incredible value in creating communities that are able to share information, resources, and intelligence with each other. We build platforms that make it easier for people to feel like they’re sharing knowledge, not just data.

Social Network Basics

  • Niche Distribution

    Niche Networks take a small population and build strong communities. Sneaker lovers, theater goers, movie watchers, bird watchers – finding a dedicated, valuable community is the easiest way to create rich data for advertising-based models.

  • Multi-channeled

    Today's social network doesn't exist on the web. It doesn't exist on mobile. It exists everywhere. From iPhones to Windows PCs to Android tablets to Macs to iPads, social networks are only as strong as ensuring your users have access to its functionalities.

  • Access-based

    Your users, whether they’re for your consumer-based company, or for your business applications – should be tiered into multiple levels. For example, you may have moderators who need special privileges to monitor and delete content created by the community.

  • Predictive Analysis

    We build Niche Social Networks because we know the value of bringing people together. Today, social networks generate large amounts of data, and we use Big Data tools to understand deeper trends within communities.

  • Selective Filtering

    As your internal network grows from 1K to 5K or your social network goes from 75K to 1MM – more users mean more data. We build algorithms to ensure you don't inundate users with information, and instead, show relevant streams of the most important content.

  • Gradual Engagement

    Whether you're building an application for your employees or for millions of customers, user onboarding is key. We design systems that help users gradually learn your platform to decrease the chances of user abandonment.

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The new wave of ESN is a different beast

The traditional understanding of the enterprise social network revolves around one idea:

ESNs are internal websites that help employees get work done.

This is a good baseline of what the purpose of an enterprise social network should do, and ten years ago, it would have been a fairly comprehensive definition. But as social networks have continued to evolve, they’ve stumbled into a few major roadblocks, mostly owing to sub-par execution which has lowered their profile and clout in the workplace. Here are a few of the most common issues that plague enterprise social networks, according to the Worldwide Intranet Challenge:

  • Information is difficult to find
  • Staff is unable to contribute sufficiently, making the intranet feel less interactive
  • The intranet fails to actually help with the completion of work tasks
  • Content is not kept up-to-date
  • The design is lackluster

These issues turn enterprise social networks into a vicious cycle: When users run into friction in the ESN, they stop contributing. When they stop contributing, the content takes a nosedive. When the content fails, users exit the platform in droves. When usage numbers fall, the social network fails. And when the social network fails, stakeholders begin to view the entire idea as non-essential or even harmful as part of a larger overall IT strategy.

Here at Icreon, we frequently talk to businesses who have had bad experiences when implementing social networks, and we understand the realities that affect them. But there are ways to turn the tide in your favor when it comes to ESN, which requires us to adjust the ways in which we currently perceive them.

What do ESNs Need?

To some businesses, the very idea of social networks can hit a nerve. Indeed, the word carries a bit of a stigma—as we discussed earlier, some businesses have already had problems with past ESN attempts, and have become wary when it comes to implementing new technologies that bear even a slight resemblance.

But the truth is, there's nothing wrong with social networks themselves.

Instead, our problems stem from the limited view of social networks as static content-stores. This idea has led to narrow authorship and participation capabilities, feeble use cases, and an overall lack of reasons to use the system over time. When a user posts a piece of content, the relevant parties are expected to find and use the content accordingly.

Instead, what ends up happening is that this content falls apart: Users have trouble locating it, they don’t want to take the time searching for it, and they ask the original poster to send it as an email instead. Under this dated "Social Network 1.0" approach, content is expected to perform on its own, even without being placed in any business context whatsoever.

What enterprises need is an altogether more social solution—one which treats employees as part of a larger, interconnected web of content that actually appeals to them. They should be able to contribute to a social network, and they should be able to see easily view and navigate the content that matters most for their workflows. Luckily, for the last five years we’ve been seeing a shift toward social networks which address these issues very well—a shift which has been influenced by the quickly-evolving world of social media.

How Social Network 2.0 Can Help

You don't have to take our word on the impact of social, contextualized networks: According to a recent report from McKinsey, businesses can see a 20-25% boost in productivity when they implement social collaboration and communication technologies. On top of this, all it takes is a quick look around to see that of all the turnkey social network solutions, we’re seeing social platforms like Slack and Yammer jump to the forefront of the pack, mostly owing to two factors: their ability to Specialize and Contextualize both employee workflows and system content. These two criteria are the cornerstone characteristics behind Social Network 2.0, and if your own solutions aren’t built with them in mind, you may already be behind the curve.


One big issue that social networks run into is that they attempt to accomplish too much at a time; they bite off more than they can chew. Due to budget, time, and other resource restraints, enterprises can rarely create multi-faceted platforms that prove to be more efficient than their already-established counterparts. Why would my employees try to communicate with one another via social network when they already have Skype?

The solution to this problem, of course, is to choose specific functions for your social network to accomplish, and then execute to a point of laser-focus.

To create a social network that specializes in a certain area, you first need to figure out what your business needs, and then seek to fill that void using a custom intranet. According to James Robertson-one of the foremost experts on social networks — these functions should work to address the following business needs:

  • Content Storage
  • Internal Communications
  • Activity Planning
  • Team Collaboration
  • Company Culture

Instead of trying to develop a platform to handle every single internal company function, make a social network that specializes in what your team members need most help with, and if possible, something for which quick and easy solutions aren’t already available. If you need to force your team members to use your ESN just to improve adoption, then you’re doing something wrong. Instead, you should be implementing a platform that your employees actively want to use, even if that requires you to forego an over-ambitious array of functionalities.


Aside from not offering compelling functionality, the other big problem with business social networks is that they fail to fit within the larger context of business operations. If an administrator on your social network publishes a list of policy documents, what is your system doing to bolster that content? Is it sending a notification to relevant team members? Does it even support the ability to tag or notify users? Without social context, content has a way of disappearing into the ether of an intranet system.

This is where consumer-oriented platforms like Facebook, Twitter and Pinterest have really helped to move the needle: By making content relevant—and more importantly, interactive—these platforms have helped ESNs stay relevant without sacrificing functionality. Slack, for instance, is a platform which ostensibly looks like a simple chat interface, but which integrates with services like Google Drive, Asana, Dropbox, GoToMeeting and Heroku to let users implement content in the ways that best suit their own workflows.

The big problem with platforms like Slack and Yammer is that they are not suitable solutions for every organization. Depending on your team’s size, workflows and needs, the ideal tool could look very different from what these platforms offer. What Slack, Yammer, and other social intranets do provide, however, is a good example of what Social Network 2.0 can do for your business, and how you might consider implementing it for your teams.

"Social Network" doesn't have to be a dirty word. Whether you're trying to create a new system from the ground up, or simply trying to upgrade your existing system, there is a wealth of changes that you can implement to bring your internal platforms to the standards of Social Network 2.0. Regardless of what business processes you're hoping to support—from content, to collaboration, all the way to company culture, a specialized, social intranet will help you to create a tool which your employees will want to use, and which will actually help them to get their work done as efficiently as possible.

The Future of Enterprise Social Networks

The way we interact in a workplace is ripe for a major change. Due in large part to social networks and the increasing popularity of new messaging apps like WhatsApp and Skype, employees now expect more when it comes to communicating with colleagues, friends, and families.

With the rapid advances in technology, old methods of knowledge management and team collaboration are set up for a drastic change.  While enterprise social networks like Chatter and Yammer may not entirely replace email, they will undoubtedly change the way employees collaborate and share information.

Some of the largest organizations in the world like Virgin Mobile and Burberry have already implemented enterprise social networks provided by the early movers - Salesforce Chatter, Microsoft's Yammer, and VMware.With the increasing amount of tech-savvy millennials entering the workplace, new technologies for internal communication will be increasingly adopted.

Current State of Internal Enterprise Social Networks

When text messaging was new, it was viewed by some as a gimmick for young people.  But in many cases in today’s common workplace, texting is the preferred method of communication for business professionals.  In a similar way, social networks have garnered appeal from college students and professionals alike.

One of the largest social networks in the world, LinkedIn, is specifically targeted to business professionals.  This is a prime example of the potential success of social networking trends used in an enterprise setting.  According to a recent study, over the last few years, 'seniors aged 65 and over represented one of the fastest growing age groups to use social media."

It's becoming apparent that social networks are no longer just for teenagers.  Applying the trends and value of social networks in an enterprise landscape could seek huge collaboration benefits. Enterprises like Burberry and Virgin Airlines have already introduced their custom offering for usage across the entire hierarchy of their respective organizations.

Ranging from in-store sales associates to the head of marketing, Burberry's custom Chatter setup is a place for employees, managers, and executives to collaborate, ultimately breaking down any departmental silos that may exist.  Virgin Airlines uses social networks as a way for customers to provide feedback - airline passengers can engage with actual managers and employees to ask questions and solve their issues, all done through Virgin’s custom enterprise social network.

How Does ESN Generate ROI?

Measuring the direct ROI from an enterprise social network can be an extremely challenging, but not impossible.By clearly defining goals from the outset of an ESN, measuring ROI becomes much easier.  Some common objectives to measure in an ESN would be to increase overall productivity and boosting morale.

Increased collaboration and interaction among employees is becoming a much more realistic goal with the mass adoption of enterprise social networks.  Companies like Nationwide Insurance implemented the social network Yammer to successfully remove issues from important processes such as finding documents and locating SMEs.

Greg Moran, Senior Vice President and Chief Information Officer (CIO) of infrastructure and operations for Nationwide, described Yammer as, "the core of the ecosystem that lets us collaborate."

Nationwide set out to improve the way they interact in the workplace, specifically increasing the knowledge management sharing and overall collaboration.  By integrating Yammer with their existing Microsoft Sharepoint System, their goals were met. A large part of the success of Yammer and Chatter originates from the user friendly interface that replicated that of popular social networks like Facebook and LinkedIn.

The software development teams behind Chatter and Yammer emulate to some extent but also allow room for customization. More than 5 billion people in the world today use social in some way, and with the increasing rate of millennials joining the workplace, the move toward enterprise social networks will begin to make more and more sense.  However, simply having an enterprise social network doesn’t garner increased collaboration, it will take a defined vision and objective from leadership teams to truly be successful.

How the Right ESN Increases Production

It is a reality of business success: as your company gets bigger, communication gets tougher. For global corporations with businesses across various verticals and teams spread across the globe, internal communication and collaboration can become a serious problem and, if you’re relying on third-party platforms, a massive expense. Slack works fine when you’ve got a small team that only needs to chat.

But when you need serious features and organization and you’ve got a sizable workforce, the cost of third-party platforms like that can easily run into the hundreds of thousands per year. And it can be extremely difficult to find third-party, internet-based systems that work together and serve the needs of all of your teams—from engineering to management to sales—at the same time.

The alternative is a customized enterprise social network. An ESN is essentially a private network that’s available only to your company, but the modern ESN offers much more than the older and simpler social networks of the past. An ESN is accessible from anywhere on any device, but it’s password-protected and connections are generally encrypted to keep your data and communications secure. Unlike many older social networks systems, modern ESNs also often contain any number of customizable apps, from internal IM and email features to collaboration tools, internal directories, data analysis tools, and anything else you might need.

Developing your own social network comes with up-front costs—often sizeable ones—but they often increase efficiency and reduce your costs over the longer term. Here are some ways that an Enterprise Social Network would benefit your business.


One of the problems with running your company’s communications through the internet is that you’re at the mercy of every third-party service provider whose services you use. If your third-party provider pushes a bad update or decides to remove a feature you need, your entire team could be left out in the cold with no warning and no backup system in place. Or, your third-party service provider could simply decide to raise their prices, throwing a wrench into your budget, with no warning and no recourse for you.

With a custom social network, you avoid both of these problems by having total control over the network and all of its applications. There are up-front setup costs, obviously, but no subscription or ongoing service costs, which helps you avoid any nasty budget surprises. More importantly, because you own the social network, it won’t get updated or modified in any way unless you allow it.

Better communication Pipelines

Internet-based communication systems like enterprise chat programs are great, but they can fall apart when (for example) you’re trying to get information out to thousands of people at once. With a customized social network like the one Icreon built for Ferrari, you can streamline communication by creating precisely the sorts of systems that will work for you.

For example, one of Ferrari’s needs was a way to broadcast news and information to its teams, partners, and dealers across the globe quickly. Icreon built them a custom back-end app that allows them to post internal news and make it available to the appropriate teams instantaneously, as well as sending email and other notifications when necessary. The system also includes some automation so that some aspects of Ferrari’s business—like getting price quotes—can be executed based on real-time information without the need for human-to-human communication, which can slow down the process.

Increased Security

A social network can help your team enjoy the advantages of an internet-based system without as much of the risk. For example, with an intranet communication system, users generally would be able to log in via any device—everything from their work computer to their mobile phone. But logging in would require a username and password, meaning that if a user’s device got lost, its finder wouldn’t be able to jump into your system. And of course, the connection to an intranet system is can and should be encrypted to prevent outside spying and ensure your company’s data remains secure.

Increased efficiency

One of the benefits of a social network is that it allows you to organize information vital to your company in a single digital space, making it easy to find, search, and work with. This often isn’t true of companies that don’t use a social network, whose data might be spread across several different types of third-party platforms, buried in excel spreadsheets, or housed in paper records in rooms full of filing cabinets. If your employees can’t easily find all the information they need in one place, which means they’ll have to search for it. And that search can waste tons of time—as much as 11 hours per week per employee, according to some estimates. That’s the cost of data discovery.

Of course, finding information on a social network isn’t completely instantaneous. But even if switching to an intranet reduced wasted search time by just 50 percent, at a company with just 1,000 employees you would still be saving more than 500,000 hours every year. Imagine what your teams could do with an extra 500,000 hours.

Cost Reduction

There’s no denying that switching to a customized social network is going to cost more than whatever your current communication system costs in the short term. But in the long term, social networks usually save money. For one thing, subscription and licensing fees for third-party web services can add up quickly, especially as a company grows. With a social network you pay an up-front cost and probably minimal maintenance costs, but you don’t have to worry about paying per user just to keep your email accounts.

Moreover, switching to a social network system generally means going paperless, and if that’s something your company hasn’t already done, it could save you a fortune. If you’re still distributing paper memos and reports, for example, your employees are probably using thousands of sheets of paper every year. That paper alone is expensive, but you’ve also got to factor in shipping, internal distribution, ink costs, the costs of other office supplies like staples, etc. It can add up to a cost of thousands of dollars per employee each year. If you switch to an enterprise social network, you can stop using all that paper and printer ink, and the yearly cost of paper-related office supplies drops to near zero.

Developing a custom intranet project might not be the right choice for every company, but for many, switching to an intranet system can provide a more efficient, controllable, secure, and targeted communication system that also costs you less in the long run.