When will ESNs stop being the ‘next big thing’?

Enterprise social networks (ESNs) may have been big news a few years ago, but today we’re well aware that we can use social tools and collaborative networks to support internal communication.

So why does it still feel like ESNs are still on the cusp of being the ‘next big thing’? Email, and not ESNs, still reigns supreme while we try to get to grips with actually using ESNs for internal communication.

Last week’s SMiLE expo brought together a range of internal communicators to explore these issues and the latest developments in social intranets and collaborative networks.

The opening session of the day was around Workplace by Facebook, which – despite being a relative newcomer on the ESN scene – is already used by 14,000 companies. Workplace encompasses all the classic Facebook features like user profiles, newsfeeds, groups, messenger and live video, but repurposes them to meet business’ needs.

Matt James of RBS talked about how since they adopted Workplace over 60,000 employees have signed up to the platform. It has brought the company together, with 1,000 daily active groups, and humanised senior leaders (the CEO is a daily user).

And because you’d be hard pressed to find someone who hadn’t used Facebook at some point – even if they don’t have their own account – employees didn’t need extensive training on the new platform because they were already familiar with Facebook’s tools and conventions.

Julien Lesaicherre, Director of Workplace by Facebook EMEA, shared an example of how Workplace could fuel change quickly and effectively. Employees at Starbucks noticed that customers were ordering a drink that they’d seen on Instagram but wasn’t part of the Starbucks menu.

Employees posted about this on Workplace and soon others from different branches started posting to say had the same experience. Senior leaders noticed the posts on Workplace and, almost overnight, made the decision to add it to their menu. Ordinarily this could have taken months to record, escalate and implement.

Julien even believes that Workplace can replace internal email. He asked, “When was the last time you emailed your friend?” Probably not that recently – or often. Instead we reach out through messaging apps like WhatsApp or Facebook Messenger. Julien explained how this trend would soon transition into our work communications too, supported by ESNs like Workplace.

There’s other evidence to support his claim. Take Slack, for example. The workplace messaging app is at five million daily users and growing. Instead of collaborating and communicating in the silos of inboxes, employees can chat and share in groups – while creating a bank of knowledge that can be searched later.

So it seems that ESNs are finally living up to the hype. As we heard at SMiLE, there are obvious communication and collaboration benefits for companies, and it seems more social-tech savvy employees are willing to use them. As more companies follow in these footsteps, is this a sign that ESNs are moving from ‘fad’ to ‘forever’?