As businesses grow larger and more distributed, intra-company communication becomes a crucial hurdle to clear. Teams that don’t communicate effectively don’t collaborate effectively. Innovation suffers, and your corporate culture becomes less and less personal. As with any serious business problem, there are a lot of potential solutions.
There are three broad categories of software that are usually deployed:
- Enterprise Social Networks (ESN)
- Chat software
- Forum software
Each has their pros and cons. It’s important to analyse the various options available to ensure you pick the right tool for your business.
Enterprise Social Networks
ESN is like Facebook for your company. It lets employees create profile pages, share status updates, and see events (generated by colleagues or by other software applications). Some ESN products also double as an Intranet. These let you do things like create web pages and and collaborate on shared documents.
- Great way to follow what’s going in your company
- Serves as a company directory but with a lot more than just name and title info
- Social networks are built around social connections, not topics.
- The follower model can create a lot of noise (unwanted updates)
Enterprise chat software is a lot like chat software you use at home. You can have one-on-one chats with people or create rooms where multiple people can participate. Enterprise chat will also support integrations so that information from other systems can be piped in.
- Great for short real-time conversations.
- Encourages spontaneous sharing of ideas and discussions.
- Helps employees feel connected in real time.
- Content is ephemeral.
- Search is usually poor since the only context is person or room, there is no tagging or topic meta-data.
- Causes major interruptions throughout the day with chat alerts that pop-up in real time.
Like customer community forums or enthusiast forum you’ve used, forum software lets people create and participate in long form discussions.
- Enable interest or topic based collaboration.
- Become useful knowledge bases over time
- Allow in-depth, asynchronous long-form discussions where meaningful conversations can occur
- Don’t do what the other solutions do well: real-time chat, event notification aggregation, etc.
When is an Internal Collaboration Forum Useful?
These three kinds of internal collaboration solutions are not mutually exclusive, many companies have all three and are used for different purposes. Forums make sense for companies that want to facilitate meaningful discussions around specific topics. Here are three examples:
- A financial services provider has a forum to let loan agents ask and answer each others questions. Essentially, the are crowd-sourcing internal support and best-practices sharing while building a useful knowledge base.
- An apparel company encourages employees to wear and field test their clothing and report on performance over time. The forum is organized by clothing category (outerwear, mens, kids, etc.). Product and marketing managers can engage in these discussions to improve products and marketing messages.
- A large cruise ship operator has localized their marketing and operates several small marketing offices around the world. Because of time zones and geographical distance, they have created a forum to share ideas and ask each other for feedback.