This is a guest post from Samantha Peters.

When we talk about social networking, even from a corporate and business angle, we are almost always talking about public social networks such as Facebook and Twitter. These networks allow people and businesses to join freely and interact freely. For a company, the public nature of social networking exposure is a highly desirable one, as a business’ Facebook profile can act as a brochure, marketing source, communications outlet, and white pages guide all rolled into one.

But, increasingly, companies are turning to a different kind of social network, an internal one, with the aim of accomplishing a different set of goals. With an internal network, a business is trying to foster communication between employees, not between the company and its consumers. It is further trying to establish a secure forum for open and honest discourse, not simply to advertise and promote the business. The objectives are undoubtedly very different ones, but the basic concept is the same. An internal social networking site, after all, acts as a sort of Facebook application that is specifically programmed for company employees.

Many companies have already begun using internal social networks. With the arrival of several new and highly-heralded social software applications, IBM Connections perhaps being foremost among them, this trend can only be expected to continue and accelerate in coming years. So, what are the benefits of having an internal social network? And what are the drawbacks or challenges? Let’s take a quick look:

The Benefits of Having an Internal Social Network

  • Boosts corporate ingenuity. Employees can propose changes or ideas, and others can vote on them, meaning that great conceptions can come from anywhere in the corporation.
  • Improves company cohesiveness. Having an internal social network provides a relaxed and communicative environment for employees, even while at work. This has been shown to boost overall cohesiveness, which in turn strengthens worker motivation.
  • Satisfies workers. Workers overwhelmingly support the implementation of an internal social network. While many choose not to use it, others feel more satisfied, engaged, and content with their position within the company after taking part.
  • Creates a one-stop communication shop. Employees with complaints, managers planning a meeting, or departments coordinating with each other can achieve tremendous efficiencies by using an internal social networking application. This application, after all, can be used for business as well as more frivolous uses.
  • Enter the cloud. Cloud computing has taken off in recent years, and many companies are working to get on board. Having a web-based social networking application can help employees facilitate that transition.

The Drawbacks of Having an Internal Social Network

  • Identity management. When asked to list a challenge of internal networks, companies that have switched over routinely note that managing the profiles and identities of employees can be a very difficult task, especially in the early going. The challenge is even greater when a company has several subsidiaries or different entities spread out over multiple countries.
  • Technical challenges. Along similar lines, establishing and maintaining a network involves considerable time and effort on a technical level. Many companies, however, choose to outsource these services. Doing so saves time, but can add up quickly in costs.
  • Security and monitoring. On an internal social network, employees may discuss a wide range of matters that the company would not want publicly disseminated. This means that the utmost security precautions must be taken in order to insure that the network is consistently and reliably secure. Furthermore, along these lines, the company needs to establish a monitoring policy. What can and cannot be said over the internal network? Who will determine and deal with issues of inappropriate conduct? Even in a professional environment, such challenges arise with surprisingly regularity.
  • Productivity losses. A very real concern of those against internal social networks is that these networks only reduce employee productivity without provide any offsetting corporate gains. If employees spend all their time chatting with a co-worker across the office, they are only less likely to accomplish their work.

These are the major pros and cons of internal social networks. It is probably safe to assume that such networks will only become increasingly common in the coming years. Even so, it is important that a company carefully weighs the benefits and the drawbacks before implementing a network. While there are a good number of possible arguments for and against getting an internal social network, all these factors should ultimately be considered in light of the individual company’s needs.

This is a guest post from Samantha Peters. Samantha is a blogger who enjoys writing for tech and career blogs covering a topics such as social media within the workplace. You can find Samantha at TheTechUpdate.com, and on Twitter and Facebook.

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