Is your social network built enterprise tough?

This vendor-written tech primer has been edited by Network World to eliminate product promotion, but readers should note it will likely favor the submitter's approach.

You don't have to look further than the uprisings across the Arab world to recognize the power of social tools, and this transformative power applies to business as well. But for an enterprise social network (ESN) to be genuinely useful, it needs to go beyond the "Facebook for enterprise" model.

In evaluating the usefulness of any social platform, here are four essentials to look for:

1. Getting work done faster. Enterprise social networks are more than giant digital water coolers, and this is where ESNs need to rise above the typical consumer social experience. Social in the enterprise is not just about "following" Sarah in finance, but following your expenses and getting status updates on them. It's not just about knowing which songs your friends are listening to on Spotify, but "listening" for changes to your purchase order. Not just about sharing and commenting on posts, but acting on posts (e.g., from your business apps). Not merely checking into a location, but actually getting relevant business information about your location and surroundings.

[ IN DEPTH: Five Ways to Improve Your Enterprise Social Networking Strategy ]

2. Information where and when you need it. As our mobile devices blend into our work lives, for most organizations "bring your own device" is now a given, and any useful ESN needs to account for this. It should be native and fully functional on every smartphone and tablet, from an iPhone 5 to a 5-year-old BlackBerry and everything in between. Every office and individual has its own device and system preferences, and no one should be excluded because of this.

Beyond being device-agnostic, enterprise social must also leverage the unique abilities of our smart devices. Mobile adds the exciting dimension of location, which should absolutely be used to provide contextual information. For example, the same device that can check you into your favorite coffeehouse or movie theater, should be able to check you into a business location -- or tell you when you're walking past a warehouse palette which is running low and needs to be restocked.

3. Enterprise has secrets -- protect them. Every business has secrets, and your social network should know how to keep them private. In addition to securing your data, this means being able to control access to info and conversations on a need-to-know basis. For instance, the sales department may ask the finance department to share some statistics and data they can leverage in their sales pitches, and instead of sharing their entire portfolio, the finance department can chose to selective share only the relevant data. Security clearance levels are not only cool in espionage movies -- they are essential best practices for modern business.

Another important aspect of privacy familiar to any organization which does business across continents is that different regions have different data protection laws. Your ESN needs to be able to meet with compliance standards everywhere or it's a nonstarter.

4. Usability for the whole enterprise. The 50-year-old employee who has been with your company for years and the 22-year-old who just joined the workforce each brings with them a different set of experience and expectations. The 50-year-old may not be as tech savvy as the 22-year-old nor as willing to move from paper and pens to mobile devices and ESN. In order to be successful, your social network needs to satisfy both ends of the spectrum. [ Tech Debate: "The better hire: the 50-year-old IT veteran or the fresh grad?"]

Terms like "intuitive," "seamless" and even "user experience" have been abused to death, but suffice it to say that an enterprise-worthy network needs to be inviting, simple and immediately telegraphic in its form and function to individuals of all ages and levels of technical knowledge. People must be able to see, find and act on whatever they need immediately. Bringing people into your social network is just as important as bringing social to your people, and it's half the battle in a successful deployment -- which itself has already evolved in appearance.

What success should look like

While business social is still relatively new, the measure of successful adoption is already changing rapidly. Businesses are expecting more from their social tools with increasingly high standards to help companies achieve success. A brief history would look something like this:

Old metrics: 

- How many people are posting/sharing/commenting? 

- Are people engaged and using the platform?

New metrics: 

- What tangible business goals are we reaching? 

- What is this doing for productivity? Communications? Cost of sales? 

- How many people are posting across departments, geographies and hierarchies -- in other words, are we breaking down communication barriers and silos?

As social tools mature, they will be held to increasingly higher standards -- and rightly so. In the early days, businesses got caught up in the buzz around social and started implementing the flavor of the week, but choosing the right platform is no longer a "ready-fire-aim" proposition. The right ESN can be a real force multiplier for your business, and by paying attention to just a few overarching principles, you can ensure that your social network becomes one of the most critical tools for increased success.

To comment on this article and other Network World content, visit our Facebook page or our Twitter stream.
Must read: Hidden Cause of Slow Internet and how to fix it
Notice to our Readers
We're now using social media to take your comments and feedback. Learn more about this here.