July 15, 2024

Companies Are Erecting In-House Social Networks

What would Facebook look like without photos of drunken nights out and tales of misbehaving cats? It might look a lot like the internal social network at the offices of Nikon Instruments.

The tone is decidedly businesslike, as employees exchange messages about customer orders, new products and closing deals. And the general rule is that “if you don’t want your company president to see it, don’t post it,” said John G. Bivona, a customer relations manager at Nikon Instruments, which makes microscopes.

As social networks increasingly dominate communications in private lives, businesses of all sizes — from tiny start-ups to midsize companies like Nikon to behemoths like Dell — are adopting them for the workplace. Although it is difficult to quantify how many companies use internal social networks, a number of corporate software companies have sensed the opportunity and offer various systems, some free to existing customers, others that charge a fee per user.

It’s one more instance of how consumer technology trends, like the use of tablet computers, are crossing into office life. Because of Facebook, most people are already comfortable with the idea of “following” their colleagues. But in the business world, the connections are between colleagues, not personal friends or family, and the communications are meant to be about work matters — like team projects, production flaws and other routine business issues.

At Nikon, for example, which employs 500 people in offices throughout the United States, Canada and Brazil, a code of conduct for using the service leaves little room for the idle chit-chat that is pervasive on Facebook.

Still, it can be tricky to transport the mores and practices of social networking into the office.

For instance, some workers prefer to be “lurkers” who read posts rather than write them. Others are just not interested. At Symantec, the computer security company, a few employees initially disliked the idea of an internal social network, but nevertheless used it to air their complaints.

Another issue is how to protect corporate secrets. The systems are generally set up so that companies can determine who sees particular files and who belongs to specific groups on the network. Yet problems still arise over where the data is ultimately stored. Some social network providers use their own servers. But that may conflict with the rules of some potential clients that prohibit storing company information outside their firewall, said Susan Landry, an analyst with Gartner.

Companies that provide social networks respond to the concerns by emphasizing their rigorous security. Still, some offer networks that allow customers to keep their data on their own servers. 

And employees may post private information more widely than they should.

“It’s sometimes a disaster,” Ms. Landry said. “It sometimes gets shut down by security or compliance.”

At the same time, even though companies make clear in etiquette guides how to use the networks, missteps occur. For example, at Symantec, a worker posted his cat’s photo in his profile instead of his own. A well-meaning worker at Nikon alerted everyone to apple pie in the kitchen; never mind that colleagues in other offices were not interested.

One of the biggest providers of corporate social networks is Salesforce.com, the online business software company based in San Francisco. It said 80,000 companies use its corporate social network, Chatter, up from around 10,000 when it was introduced a year ago. Yammer, a start-up and also based in San Francisco, said its service is used by more than 100,000 companies, up from around 80,000 a year ago.

SAP, Cisco Systems, Socialtext, Jive Software and SuccessFactors are also pushing their products. Last month, VMware joined the list when it acquired Socialcast, one of the earlier networking services.

Article source: http://feeds.nytimes.com/click.phdo?i=b50cf435ca09efa3fbb8f6537eed344f

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