Microsoft, SharePoint, and Enterprise Social

Every once in a while, I’ll talk to a colleague and the topic of SharePoint and “social” will come up.  I mean literally, every iteration of SharePoint adds some other “social” feature or another.  It always leads me shaking my head.

You see, Microsoft really talks a great game when it comes to social and SharePoint.  It’s the next big thing!  It’s all new!  Look at all this cool stuff that you can do!

But all you have to ask yourself is whether Microsoft has proven themselves in any aspect of social.  The answer is simple: no.  And social for SharePoint is no different.

There is a very fundamental reason why it’s a non-starter: social for the enterprise is stupid.

“But doesn’t NewsGator make millions of dollars?”

Sure, but social for the enterprise is still stupid.

“But didn’t you hear?  They purchase Yammer!”

Yes, but social for the enterprise is still fundamentally broken.  Never forget: Google once offered Groupon $6 billion — doesn’t mean that it was ever a good idea.

At the core of why social and the enterprise is fail, it’s actually pretty simple as it comes down to one main issue: Portability.

Of course, for most people, their social networks often include a nexus around co-workers and professional acquaintances.  The perfect case for social for the enterprise, right? Wrong!  Because LinkedIn already has that covered and, more importantly, a professional social network on LinkedIn is portable.  If I leave the company, I can still stay in touch with all of my contacts and connections at my previous companies via LinkedIn whereas my investment in a closed network is entirely thrown out the window the moment I leave a company.

A closed-system, non-portable social network is a useless one; it’s a non-starter.

Aside from the major flaw of lack of portability, there are a few other shortcomings that come to mind.

The first is that, in a large company, I simply don’t care about 99.5% of the people in the company; I’m only connected to these people because we happen to be employed by the same company, but that could change at any moment.  In a small company, I will already have everyone added in LinkedIn or Facebook.  What good is a closed-system social network when the people in that network would largely be people I already work with on a daily basis?

The second is that, in my opinion, what is of more value to teams are not social capabilities, but collaboration capabilities.  Social is like the antithesis of task-oriented collaboration capabilities.  Teams would get more value out of an investment collaboration capabilities than an investment in social capabilities.  What I need from my enterprise platform is not social, but tools to help me and my team get things done.  You want to know what other people are working on, but usually in the common context of a project or such so tools that are focused on communication and collaboration in the context of project workgroups seems much more useful and practical an investment to me.

The third is that many companies include a forum or discussion type system in their social initiatives.  I saw this at CSC where Jive was deployed.  But this kind of circles back to the closed-system problem: if I have a question or if I’m working on a hard technical problem, am I more likely to find an expert within my company?  Or am I more likely to find an expert within the global community?  This approach makes sense maybe within Microsoft or Google, where the concentration of highly specialized subject area experts is high.  But in a consulting company, for example, it is less likely to be of any value as the global community will include a greater breadth of subject matter experts with a more extensive depth of knowledge.

Microsoft and social — especially in the enterprise — is pretty much a pointless endeavor, in my opinion.

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3 Responses

  1. Steve Goldberg says:

    Chuck, I have to completely disagree with you here. Over 200,000 organizations use Yammer- 85% of the Fortune 500 companies. You’re being too shortsighted here. Looking at the road map, SharePoint, Yammer, email, instant messaging, voice, video, etc. will all be integrated and connected experiences. Social is just one of those necessary pieces for people to easily communicate within an organization. I think SharePoint is going to have more of a social look and feel in coming releases which will increase adoption and increase license numbers for MS.

  2. Charles Chen says:

    I have a follow up post to this 😉

    But just ask yourself which is more valuable to you: your internal, enterprise only, closed walled social network or your LinkedIn network?

    I would say that it is important to make a distinction between the terms “social”, “collaboration”, and “communication”. You can have collaboration and communication without social and my argument is that it is collaboration and communication that are important, not “social”.

  1. December 31, 2012

    […] Microsoft, SharePoint, and Enterprise Social [Charles Chen]  Strongly voiced opinion on Enterprise Social, not sure I’m quite this negative but the continuing massive sell of “Social” software as the route to business success does get a bit tedious. (Some teams I worked with struggled to be social when they were sat 1 metre apart in an office…) […]