Will social networking consign email to the museum?

11 Jul 2012 by Lynne Wilkins.

Keeping everyone in the loop at work is vital but tricky. Information gets missed, misinterpreted or overlooked. There was a time when the office notice board was a social hub for announcements and events. Then, it was the company newsletter, first dropped in your in-tray, now e-mailed to your inbox; and what about intranet sites? Regularly updated but rarely visited. Now social networking is revolutionising internal business communications, giving us ‘enterprise social networking’ – it’s like Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn for work. With US research showing that 52% of American organisations plan to have it in place by the end of 2012 is this the death knell for office email?

Systems like Yammer, Socialcast and Jive make it all so easy. They provide a secure way for employees to communicate and share information internally, a bit like a ring fenced version of LinkedIn. And as they’re specifically for internal staff and co-workers, they provide a seriously powerful collaborative tool.

Take Yammer, for instance; it’s been in the news after recently being snapped up by Microsoft in a deal worth $1.2bn. There’s speculation as to what Microsoft intend to do with Yammer next, but for now, let’s look at the capability of the system as it stands. It’s cloud based and can be accessed via an app. Used basically, it’s just a messaging system, a contacts database, or a platform for discussion. But inter-departmental information or cross-project documents can also be uploaded and shared instantly, so everyone get’s the right version of a file, presentation, photo or press release. Forum groups can be created with a feed of real time information relating to a specific project or account, keeping you up to date with everything as it happens. And an entire organisation can be instantly engaged to share company goals, values and announcements.

Yammer tripled in size last year with major names like Deloitte, Capgemini, Ford and Chevron using it. And, although the enterprise networking market is hotly competitive, perhaps systems like these will remain in the domain of big corporations, where internal communication is a multi-layered issue?

But some argue that the growth in the market is swelling a backlash against the use of e-mail. An online article in Time recently featured Thierry Breton, head of Atos, Europe's largest IT firm, who announced a ‘zero email’ policy last year, in the belief that “The deluge of information will be one of the most important problems a company will have to face.” He’s phasing out email and encouraging his 75,000 employees to use social networking services instead. And apparently he’s not alone, as companies grapple with the problem of corporate email storage, which, according to Time is increasing by 20% - 25% a year. Research shows that around 30% of this is overuse of CCs, BC and REPLY ALL.

So, once again we’re witnessing the inescapable change brought about by social networking, and it’s fascinating to see the speed of this evolution. But for now, in most small to medium sized enterprises, it’s business as usual, where email is alive and well. And whilst we’ve come a long way in office comms, since the trusty office notice board, there’s no replacement for the power of real interaction, either over the phone or face-to-face.

Has communication in your business been transformed by using enterprise social networking? Let us know the benefits you’ve seen @theworksrecruit.

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