Explaining Enterprise Social Media
I'm a member of the social media generation, so I'm no stranger to social media and social networking. I'm on Facebook, I've dabbled in Twitter and Tumblr, and I love exploring the latest trends on Pinterest. Recently I started work for PAITgroup, a company that specializes in enterprise solutions, like enterprise content management, enterprise social networking, and enterprise social media. When I tell my fellow Millennials what I do, I'm frequently greeted with glossy eyed stares and confused looks. "So wait, you Facebook at work?" "Enterprise, like in Star Trek?" Even though I know what I do, it's not always easy to explain it to others. I decided to write it down so next time someone asks I'll just direct them here.
It might help to first define the individual terms. Enterprise is defined as a business or company, or a difficult project or undertaking. Social media is any method humans use to convey communication. Since the dawn of humanity, there has been social media. It only started referring to electronic media in recent years. That means that enterprise social media isn't really a new thing. Businesses are built on collaboration and communication. The larger the business the more communication there will be. In the past, enterprise social media may have referred to the round table, telegraphs, conference calls, or email. Nowadays it still refers to all of those thing (except maybe the telegraph), but it might also refer to instant messaging services, social networks, and even collaborative tools like SharePoint.
In particular, social networks like Yammer are seeking to overhaul the way businesses communicate. Here at PAITgroup, we decided to get rid of internal email. Almost all of our communication happens on Yammer. You can send private messages just like email, but you can also participate in forum style discussions, tag categories and people, share documents and data, and collaborate all in one place. Plus, it's much simpler to keep track of than an inbox. Imagine that you were out of office for a week and you came back to 15 different emails regarding the same topic from 5 different people, each with visions and revisions. You'd have to archive, categorize and chronologically review them separately. Now imagine you come back to a Yammer feed with a single notification, where the same 5 people participated in a discussion thread with revisions clearly documented and and everything in one place. Now imagine you're involved in about 5 projects and that's how they all are. You'd save a lot of time and energy, right? That's the idea.
Breaking up With Email
Today I had the final straw with email. I'm not going to lie, I hate email. I hate checking it, I hate thinking about checking it, and I really hate having to go through multiple pages and login steps to check it. My school email is an even bigger source of frustration, because I cannot forward emails from within classes to my phone or an external email address. Some days I do not check this email, but I check my social media daily.
At the beginning of March, I was trying to schedule a meeting between my supervisors here in Cincinnati and my internship coordinator through school. Now in this situation, I was doing a great job checking email. I was seeing messages as they came in, responding to them quickly, and keeping on top of everything-- or so I thought. There were several separate email conversations: one between me and the coordinator; one between me, the entire class, and the coordinator; and one between me, other students with internships in Cincinnati, and the coordinator. Each reply came in as a separate message, and depending on which message that person opened when they hit reply, it might not have the most up to date response in it. There is no rhyme or reason! In the hubbub of digital paper airplanes, I missed the very important email where the date for our meeting was mentioned: April 18. I did however receive the email confirming the time of the meeting as "10 on the 18." So I ever so diligently noted on my calendar that I had a meeting at 10 a.m. on March 18, which was coming up in two weeks. My supervisors blocked time to attend the meeting, and I started thinking about what I was going to say about my internship.
Fast forward to today. I was feeling a bit annoyed that I had not heard from my internship coordinator since the date was set. I didn't know if she had the address, I was wondering if she knew how to get here, and I was worried she may have forgotten about me. I decided she knows what she's doing, reminded my boss about the meeting, and went about my morning as usual until 10. That's when I got nervous, where was she? Was everything okay? Oh no, my supervisor is busy, we're eating into her time. 10:05, still no word. Maybe I should call her... I don't have her number. Maybe I should check my email again, maybe in the last ten minutes something changed... nothing. Finally 10:15 I decide to dig through the correspondences: 6 separate emails each with at least 5 replies. In the third email I found the missed detail, April 18.
At first I was embarrassed. I'm an organized person, I keep track of my life well. I write plans down if I think I can't remember them, and I put reminders in my phone for things like haircuts. So how did I miss this? The answer is simple-- email. If Sinclair was using an enterprise social network like Yammer, all of this would have been condensed into a single thread, with users tagged or mentioned when relevant. All communication would have been in chronological order, with the ability to add hashtags and categories, and you'd be able to see quickly if there's a message you haven't read. But, such is not the case. Enterprise social media could have saved me a lot of time and embarrassment today.
It's always hard to move on from something that's comfortable and familiar, but luckily this time there's something better on the horizon. Enterprise social media has a lot of the same comforts as email, with even more benefits and way fewer drawbacks. Digital enterprise social media provides a lot of different ways for workers to collaborate. For a company that deals heavily with analytical introverted types, it can be extremely beneficial for productivity to provide a public forum that doesn't involve speaking in front of a room full of people. It's also a simple way for someone to share ideas as they get them, instead of waiting until the next project meeting. Plus, most people these days have smart phones and it's really easy to get notifications immediately and stay involved without a lot of time or effort.
In short, enterprise social media is nothing new. It certainly isn't as complicated as it sounds. Personally, I believe that businesses that embrace new forms of enterprise social media will likely experience exponential growth in productivity and employee satisfaction, and businesses that fail to adapt will fail.