Next Wave Redux

Enterprise Social Networking, Beyond the Enterprise

By Brough Turner

There’s a classic study, “How Bell Labs (News - Alert) Creates Star Performers” by Robert Kelley and Janet Caplan, that was published in the Harvard Business Review in 1993. In their studies, everyone they dealt with was smart. The first difference between star and middle performers was initiative, but No. 2 was work strategies for networking and self-management.

To illustrate, when a middle performer got stuck with a technical problem, they called various technical gurus trying to find out who might be able to help. What with voice mail and e-mail delays, that process typically dragged out. Star performers were different. They had already built a strong social network by doing favors for people, getting to know others’ expertise and identifying the gurus. When a star got stumped, he or she already knew who to approach and was more likely to get a prompt reply. In short, professional networks were a key difference.

A lot has changed in seventeen years. With the explosion in accessible information and the advent of social networking applications, our connections are now ubiquitous and everlasting. You may not remain close to the same set of people throughout life, but you don’t lose track of people or conceal your former connections from the world. Business associations persist across enterprises and throughout your career. For the next generation, elementary school friendships will still be visible at retirement – nothing is lost.

Persistent professional relationships are an advantage. At the same time, the enterprise IT department doesn’t want you to carry corporate secrets with you when you move on. But your relationships are yours. IT doesn’t control LinkedIn. What’s more, they don’t control Yammer, where a complete history of insider corporate chitchat remains visible to me long after I’ve left an organization. Personal and professional lives increasingly overlap, so enterprise interactions leak into public systems that are persistent. Most people assume their PSTN phone calls are not recorded, but when I use Skype (News - Alert) on my home PC for a late night discussion with a sales associate in Asia, our IM exchange is persistent and outside the corporate firewall.

Once we assumed voice mail was ephemeral. Now we have voice mail to e-mail. Eventually, our entire life stream will be persistent, including not just text, but all media streams. Privacy is the issue, for individuals and for corporations.

Enterprise social networking applications provide privacy-enhanced versions of the tools employees need to be productive and are going to use in any event, but there is a limit to what an enterprise can do. In the end, we must depend on the professional conduct of our associates. Luckily, the Internet-enabled world holds us all to very high standards. IT

Brough Turner (News - Alert) is co-founder of Ashtonbrooke Corp. (, a startup involved in wireless infrastructure.