Social Intranets – snake oil or silver bullet?

Since Microsoft became serious about pushing SharePoint, their market share has only known one way: Up. Straight past IBM Websphere, Lotus Notes (also owned by IBM) and many other worthy contenders (adenin's own Intranet software included). Today SharePoint runs at least two thirds of all Intranets, which means it has played a significant role in shaping the Enterprise 2.0 movement. In 2011 SharePoint powered 55% of all Social Intranets and that despite the fact it’s not even a Social Intranet out of the box.

Let’s recap what a ‘true’ Social Intranet looks like: It is an open tool which is accessible by most employees without major restrictions. Commenting, rating and tagging are common ways to provide feedback to publishers and surface relevant information throughout components that include blogs, forums, wikis, videos or social networks and user profiles. It is estimated that only about 1 in 10 organizations have such a ‘true’ Social Intranet.

Organizations may have good reasons to hold off their social celebrations: User satisfaction is a major issue with social Intranets. 28% of employees rate their Social Intranets as good, compared to 31% who rate it as poor. Among executives even 35% rated their Social Intranet as poor.

That’s astounding to hear given the presumptive benefits closer collaboration through Social yields for businesses.

Maybe it’s not surprising then that in 2016 even Social Intranet heavy-weight “Jive” announced cost cutting and realignment plans saving the company around $10M a year. They admitted that, despite having a superior product, it’s lacking vision and leadership. Some think that with Microsoft, Google, Salesforce, IBM and SAP all offering similar Social tools, the market is increasingly oversaturated which will make a realignment of any kind challenging.

The landscape as it has shifted since 2011 now values ecosystems at least as much as the features themselves, which means bigger vendors of entire business app suites will be able to leverage their clout even better in the years to come.

But maybe their product strategies can spur a new hunger for social, which is necessary given that most CIO’s are not really sold on the idea, as CMS Wire reports. They are astounded to see that far less than 0.5% of their employees contribute content to an internal version of LinkedIn, and see tumbleweeds rolling through their crowdsourced Q-and-A boards.

In another example a company has created a “griping wall” on their Social Intranet where employees can post problems and annoyances anonymously; only to find out that it has attracted zero attention. All this stands in stark contrast to Facebook, LinkedIn or Glassdoor – all platforms where employees are vocal, engaged and active about work issues. So it seems most companies have trouble applying the success of consumerized social networks onto their internal tools. This is further contributing to the label that “all this social” ist just a “gimmick”.

But, depending on your position, that doesn't mean social is per se bad, let alone dead. Startups like Slack, Hipchat or Facebook at Work are all much-hyped, up and coming entrants which, if successful, will probably eat a good portion of the already divided cake. Whether their approaches are different and unique enough to change executives attitudes remains to be seen.