3 Enterprise Social Networks ThreatsEnterprise Social Network community managers, you thought you had it so good. You’ve deployed your online employee community, and you’re working hard to maintain engagement, drive business value and help employees build relationships that strengthen the company’s informal social network. Your CEO is active (finally!). New and old employees alike have adopted the community as a critical communication tool. Embedded activity streams make your SharePoint site seem alive again, everything seems to be going smoothly … at least, until now.

, oh, trouble, trouble, trouble, trouble … 
feels like every time I get back on my feet she comes around and knocks me down again.” -- Ray LaMontagne

I’m not forecasting a bleak 2014; social business is here to stay. But what I am predicting is that this year will be filled with challenges like you’ve never experienced before. In the past, your challenges have mostly been rooted in internal issues, such as gaining executive buy-in for a community and ensuring technical and data security with IT. What you’re going to experience now are attacks and challenges to your community that come from completely external forces -- startups, major tech websites and people who have no business involving themselves in your social efforts.

“Worry, oh, worry, worry, worry, worry … sometimes I swear it feels like 
this worry is my only friend.”

Welcome to 2014, the Year of Trouble and Worry for ESN community managers. Over the course of the next twelve months, prepare for these external forces to undermine your work, attack your community’s standalone value, ignite really bad ideas in your manager’s head and micromanage some employees’ attitudes toward work. I predict that you’ll soon begin to experience the woes of fending off outside companies and individuals who want to capitalize on the success that you’ve created with your enterprise social network. You’ve done a good job, community managers, and now it’s time to defend your community and the delicate balance of technology, culture and relationships in which it thrives today.

Threat #1: Social Analytics Startups Pounding at Your Door

The Enemy: Small tech startups with “data” products and apps that attach to your enterprise social network.

Threat Level: Slightly Troublesome

Why this is a Problem: Your ESN probably provides all of the features and apps that you need already, as well as APIs and extensions that let you analyze data or create your own apps for your business needs. Add-on vendors who claim to offer better / faster / deeper solutions that sit on top of your ESN likely don’t understand the nuances of the top-tier ESN products or the data that they generate.

Underlying data tables and social interactions are unique to each vendor’s product, leaving only somewhat superficial data to be “analyzed.” As I have noted previously, the concept of ESN data driving value is flawed; I’m weary of solutions that purport to offer insights based on nothing but ESN usage data alone. Quantities of messages, “likes” and popular topics mean nothing without their cultural context.

Best Case Scenario: You become an API data-extraction rock-star, and when you’re pitched by “me-too!” data-analysis startups, you shoot down their pitch with a solid one, two punch.

Worst Case Scenario: When you say “no,” startup salespeople go over your head to your boss, IT, marketing and the social media team -- all of whom are well-intentioned but uninformed about the specifics of your ESN’s structure and data analysis landscape. A flurry of internal stakeholders rushes to you with this “great new data app” that they’ve been pitched, and you’ll be the one to let them down with a dose of reality.

The Likely Reality: Mid-size and large companies have already budgeted for collaboration and social tools, including data analysis or professional services from the ESN vendor who understands what data is captured as well as how. While SMBs may be tempted to try new data-analysis apps, bigger companies with data security regulations and steady-state ESNs will politely decline an intrusion by another vendor.

Threat #2: LinkedIn (Finally) Makes an Enterprise Social Play

The Enemy: LinkedIn

Threat Level: Trouble and Worry. Arm Yourselves.

Why this is a Problem: With 259,000,000 users volunteering their resumes, contact information, expertise and connecting with their colleagues, LinkedIn is building an unprecedented global directory of people and their relationships to each other. While on the surface LinkedIn appeals to employees as a great way to find a job and keep up with industry trends, its ability to mine and map the data that users share is incredible. Already, LinkedIn boasts that 91 percent of the Fortune 100 use (read: pay for) “talent solutions” products. I predict that in 2014, LinkedIn will finally decide to jump on the internal social networking bandwagon and offer companies private spaces for employees to connect, collaborate and share work-related information with each other.

LinkedIn probably already has a financial relationship with your company, and because executives at every single Fortune 100 know and voluntarily use this platform, ESN community managers are going to be faced with the threat of LinkedIn exploiting these senior relationships and wielding their power to offer an alternative solution for employee networking and collaboration. Suddenly, everyone’s favorite virtual resume tool will make the transition to a hybrid public/private hub for internal and external collaboration.

Best Case Scenario: Your ESN is on premises. LinkedIn isn’t. Hooray for firewalls! As you were, Community Manager, as you were.

Worst Case Scenario: Your CEO doesn’t really use your cloud-hosted internal social network but loves using LinkedIn. Your internal community is decommissioned in favor of a LinkedIn solution, leaving you with the role of managing a few social media interns and lamenting the rapid decline of workplace grammar and punctuation skills.

The Likely Reality: It’s far too late for any new entrant to build, launch and sell a fully featured enterprise social networking product. Most major companies already have an enterprise social network, many of which were acquired or built by technology giants. This means that today’s solution is entrenched.

I would wager that LinkedIn is too far behind on feature development for internal social networking-like functionality to be able to meaningfully disrupt any existing internal social network. A more likely scenario is that LinkedIn determines how to analyze and sell data about a company’s employees to the employer, giving them insight into the social graph and topics of interest that employees are sharing outside of the firewall.

Threat #3: Mom and Dad Get in on the ESN Action

The Enemy: The parents of Gen Y employees.

Threat Level: Worry with a Dash of Annoyance.

Why this is a Problem: Many younger employees have been raised with so-called Helicopter Parents who hover over their children’s every move. These young people have come to rely upon parental involvement, and their parents have come to expect the same. It’s not unheard of for helicopter parents to attend job interviews with their children, and some companies are even hosting open houses for parents to learn about their child’s workplace.

Companies with an enterprise social network now run the risk of young employees involving their parents in the social interactions that are fostered by community technology; just as parents help their children navigate real-life situations, they may start weighing in on specific real-time conversations and interactions in the workplace that younger employees may not have the knowledge to handle independently.

While there may be an upside when parents who are seasoned employees teach their children to respond and share appropriately at work, the downside is that your community may become a prime area where young employees feel threatened, unheard and misunderstood.

Best Case Scenario: Social-media-savvy employees have spent years on Facebook and Twitter, so joining your enterprise social network is a familiar, intuitive activity requiring no parental interaction at all. Your adoption rates spike. Success!

Worst Case Scenario: Software vendors cower to their biggest customers, all of whom live in fear of a parental uprising, and launch a special type of user account specifically for the moms and dads of eager young employees. Parents can now log into the corporate social network on a daily basis to make sure that their prodigal children aren’t being reprimanded by managers too harshly, and that the CEO is responding to their child’s Very Important Concerns about gluten-free-cookie availability in the cafeteria. 

The Likely Reality: Parental involvement in the lives of young people is prevalent, and as many companies embrace this trend, it’s important for ESN community managers to understand that this is a cultural element in today’s workplace that can’t be ignored. Community managers will need to offer safe, positive feedback loops for employees who need extra guidance and support. At the same time, they need to ensure that employees understand that corporate communications are private and confidential, not to be shared with family members. By taking on the role of moderator and employee advocate, a community manager can assume the same type of nurturing, positive role for new employees within the ESN as a parent may do outside of it.

However, I’m also going to put it out there that in 2014, we’ll hear of a few isolated incidents where parents jump into their children’s enterprise social network activity and contact a boss, community manager or HR about a touchy interaction. Be prepared; it’s coming.

2014 will bring challenges as well as opportunities to enterprise social network community managers. Humor aside, the next year will be filled with hurdles over which you’ll have to jump, but I firmly believe that the rewards for social business will be worth it.

Title image by Ubjsp (Shutterstock)

Editor's Note: Read more from Carrie in The Unintended Consequence of Stronger Employee Connections