Enterprise social networks (ESN) and related social collaboration tools have made their way into enterprises over the past few years. User experiences have evolved to be more intuitive, the environments have become richer with integrations and new capacities such as gamification to support engagement and connection, Knowledge workers have adapted to more collaborative, transparent work practices (see Working-Out-Loud) Managers and executives have begun to explore how to express leadership and catalyze broad collaborative purpose across ESNs. This shift to wider engagement with ESNs helps companies enable a more nimble and adaptive workforce and unleash and apply knowledge workers' tacit knowledge and experience.
Yet there is often an area that lags significantly in these networks - a consistent work practice of activating and maintaining a robust individual network profile. One of the key benefits of social collaboration is that it supports a sense of personal connection of the individual to the content and a transparent, conversational approach to knowledge sharing and work activities.
While engagement and work has gotten more social, the way people are known in the network remains bound primarily by a sense of orientation to a reporting structure and identification of the people in that hierarchical reporting structure by generic job titles. Profiles are often linked to corporate directories that pull in job-title, location and reporting structure information.
Let’s take Jane Doe in this hypothetical example. Here we see Jane Doe as a Program Manager and she is third-level down from the vice president of supply chain. She also happens to be based in Los Angeles. Typically, her job title focuses on a ‘grade-level’ HR category. Here the emphasis is on her organizational identity and reporting-based ties.
What you can’t see about Jane, aside from perhaps a profile photograph, is information about her active role and current projects, nor her background, her range of tacit knowledge and her social capital outside of the hierarchy.
Enterprise social networks support rich profiles with functions not unlike LinkedIn to expand the sense of an individuals background, expertise, and social and knowledge graph. Let’s take a look at LinkedIn Profiles to expose some of the meta constructs that now apply within enterprise social networks.
LinkedIn has become the defacto resource to develop and manage one’s networked identity as a professional. Using LinkedIn, individuals can construct and groom their professional identity - creating a sequential account of their ‘assigned’ roles in their professions, but also their own story about those roles. People can validate their expertise through outlining their credentials - education, licensing and certifications, and even include samples of their work.
Professionals can also cultivate social, reputational and knowledge capital - not only through their own direct connections, but by receiving role-based recommendations, affirmations of their posted content and skills endorsements. LinkedIn members can also demonstrate the quality and robustness of their network, and activate connectivity through social sharing, commenting, 'like'-affirmations, discussion forum participation and group affiliations.
The profile in LinkedIn is the launch point for developing new connections and reinvigorate existing connections. LinkedIn has increased the variety of prompted affirmations (work anniversary or new job notice, or profile views reports).
Individual profiles and their connections are now assets in the network, and can be activated and mobilized for intent. Professionals use it to find out about companies and jobs, recruiters use it to identify talent, sales people use the network to engage in a social selling process, and anyone can use the entire network to do big data analysis of trending behaviors, job titles or expertise. The LinkedIn service supports search, research, direct engagement and outreach across the network. New mobile applications such as Broadli are being developed to let LinkedIn users drive the activation of their own network with purpose. Many professionals use LinkedIn - there’s over 300 million users (67% global) and over 100 million in the U.S.
Let’s take a look at how engaging with rich profiles can make a difference in a work place
In this hypothetical example, we have two individuals who, for very different reasons, need to know about sustainability, labor and environmental practice in the company supply chain. One is helping prepare the company's annual corporate social responsibility report, the other is coordinating an international trade mission. As they search the company’s enterprise social network, they come up with a key resource.
Here's how Jane Doe's profile becomes a rich resource for herself, her work, and her company.
While the corporate directory lists her as a program manager, she’s actually managing the company’s supply chain sustainability processes. She works in a complex, rapidly evolving domain, and she's a primary interface to external industry and policy bodies. She updates her profile at least quarterly, describing the focus of her work. Jane
- blogs about key business challenges in supply chain sustainability, and discusses where best practice and policy is headed with respect to suppliers
- posts information about industry consortiums that she’s a member of
- shares video recordings and presentation files from industry speaking engagements
- tags her content, skills and expertise so that fellow employees can easily find her content and information
- provides links to her public-facing social network presence - LinkedIn, Twitter, Google+
Her activity stream is rich with commentary and observations about her many trips to Asia-based suppliers (she’s in LA due to the frequency of travel to Asia). She’s a member of the sustainability and innovation communities of practice and knowledge networks inside the enterprise social network, and so she’s a great connecter to other resources.
For today’s enterprise knowledge worker, a rich profile inside enterprise social networks is not just a one-time ‘form-fill’ exercise. It’s a connected, dynamic resource for the knowledge worker who becomes an active network agent. Their profile becomes a launch point for knowledge sharing and networking. It reflects the multi-dimensional facets of assigned roles, activities, external and internal projects and it becomes an important resource for talent discovery inside the organization. It's truly a 'future-of-work' practice and skill to develop.
See also slideshare
A Network Mindset: Practical Approaches to Everyday Networked and Collaborative Behaviors from a talk I gave at Columbia University, April 2014