Social Intranet or Enterprise Social Network? Is there a difference?

Jenni Field

It has always been in my head. Ever since the move from traditional push based intranet systems to the introduction of tools like Sharepoint.

I have worked in communications for 10 years and have been involved in four intranet projects in various companies. I have learnt a lot but I have also learnt that the language we use to talk about these tools seems to change and mean different things to different people so I wanted to get mine out of my head to see if I was alone in this thinking…

I don’t believe we should separate an intranet from an enterprise social network or a blog or anything else that we have internally. For me, there is just an online channel. It should be integrated with a clear content strategy and it should allow for two way conversations.

I do believe that there are different levels of social though.

I talk a lot about social intranets. For me, these are platforms that allow some people to publish news and information and for the users to comment and like that news. The information could also be personalised to the user.

For me, a social intranet is different to an enterprise social network (ESN). For me, an enterprise social network is an online tool that is designed for collaboration. That is about communities and file sharing and creating a space for anyone to add news and information. Content can be liked and commented on and people are able to add their own status updates and more personal details to a profile.

For me these are very different things. Creating a community online and having a social intranet serve different purposes and also foster different cultures. From experience, I like to use channels that add value to the business and the audience.

I have created social intranets and I have implemented enterprise social networks and for me, they need to meet the purpose and work together.

I have sat at conferences and listened to case studies about the use of yammer and other similar platforms to support conferences or to sit outside the other online channels and for me, I think we need to really understand what we want to achieve before we just go head first into adding digital into the mix. For some an ESN is perfect, for others a social intranet will do. It is not one size fits all and I would like us to be clear about what the challenge is and what the reality that we are looking for really is. While some companies will thrive with an ESN in place, others don’t need them and social intranets will work just fine to bring people together.

Would be great to hear what terms you use for the online channels in your business and how they work together!

8 comments on “Social Intranet or Enterprise Social Network? Is there a difference?

  1. Hi Jenni
    I broadly agree with you. Perhaps you’re taking a rather narrow definition of ‘social intranet’ in that some would see an ESN as a subset of what a social intranet should be. In particular that the starting point for an intranet isn’t necessarily published info that others react to. All the same, it’s important that we clarify how ESNs and interacted might have different approaches so thank you for highlighting this.

    1. Thanks Sam – great comments about the narrow view – I guess you only have your own experiences so always good to hear others!

  2. Whilst I’m hardly an expert I do think it’s fascinating how tools and platforms are being made available to even the smallest organisations, often at little or no cost. Evernote is a great example of a platform which delivers much of the functionality you describe, at minimal investment, with strong support and user friendly interfaces.

    The use of such a platform by individuals for their personal needs alongside applying the same tool to work creates simple one-stop solutions and helps people bridge the rapidly vanishing dividing line between work and play. (Not that this is such a good thing!)

  3. Hi Jenni, it’s so important to get our definitions right and agreed from the start of the a project so we all know what we’re working on. It gets even trickier in terms of ESN / social intranet when you want to avoid using the word social at all (not sure whose quote but to paraphrase: ‘if you want to get senior leader buy-in for social, avoid using the word social’).
    I would probably have different ideas of ESN / social intranet definitions too. To me, an ESN is a organisation’s version of a social network, i.e it is a yammer for example – a place for conversation, collaboration, idea sharing.
    A social intranet is a wider piece, which takes your existing intranet and progresses it to be social. That is likely to therefore incorporate an ESN as part of it. But will also allow all published content to have a social aspect (comments, likes, shares), all document sharing to be social too.
    In that way, I’d maybe flip what you’ve said and say that for some, an ESN separate to a traditional intranet may do. But for others a full-fledged social intranet is most beneficial.
    I totally agree though it’s all about purpose, strategy and objectives. And most importantly the culture of the organisation that you’re in.

  4. Interesting and timely piece Jenni. I’ve just sat through a meeting where it was clear everyone in the room had a different idea of what “social” meant. In most cases it was informed by their previous experiences at past employers, so it’s important that some kind of common wording is agreed on.

  5. I agree that there’s a difference. Yammer is ESN, not social intranet. But there are tools (like Bitrix24 or its clones) that are both ESNs and social intranets (and collaboration platforms)

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