I was looking at Facebook’s ‘Facebook at Work’ initiative the other day, and although it has not rolled out fully, it made me wonder: Shouldn’t Twitter also be workin on ‘Twitter for Work’, its service for the Enterprise?
Not that I have anything against Facebook. I’ve actually been waiting for Facebook at Work to launch fully. To be sure, my personal Facebook feed is a mess, and Facebook seems to be doing something every week to mess it up further, so that I now see more and more posts from random sources, and not things my friends have posted personally. But these are precisely the things that Facebook will not risk doing with their Enterprise version, so we can expect the experience to be simple and clutter-free, the way it used to be for Facebook itself a few years ago.
And yes, I’ve tried out other Enterprise or workplace social networks too. Quite a while ago, Yammer was truly exciting. It was easy to set up and easy to use. It connected everyone at work on a single forum in a straightforward manner. And, of course, it all went downhill soon enough. Yammer introduced groups, and the concept of following people, and the concept of following groups, and the whole thing was an incomprehensible trainwreck in no time. In our organization, as the confusing features crept in, the use of Yammer died down gradually, and people who had been enthusiastically using the service went silent over time. Technically, we still have Yammer active at the workplace, but I doubt anyone has logged in for a couple of years or more. I logged in just the other day out of curiosity, after a very long time, and the place was dead.
Facebook for Work should be exciting though. Based on Facebook’s own announcements, the service will have the usual features: events, groups, the standard Facebook feed, and the like. And maybe some document sharing and viewing to begin with. The interface will be familiar, and the system will be easy to get used to and adopt, so I look forward to trying it out. I don’t doubt that this service will see a lot of traction across numerous organizations in the near future.
I also tried using Google Wave at work back in the day, and have briefly looked at Jive, Chatter, and others. At their core, Facebook, Yammer, and others are similar: Each person maintains a profile, and adds information into the network. And the service does its work in the background to process all this input and deliver it back to the community as a feed. And for each individual user, the actual feed varies based on their own likes and dislikes, immediate friends or colleagues, groups joined, people followed, and more. The problem, of course, is that they require you, the user, to seek the people and the content on the network actively.
But what I am really hoping for is a whole different service: Twitter at work. Not that Twitter has given any indications of working on such a service, but I really hope they are. It might just be the service that saves Twitter. Right now, any monetization efforts Twitter runs compromise the quality of its network, so that the experience of using the service is degraded significantly. There are many other problems facing Twitter of course. Mid last year, Chris Sacca, an entrepreneur and investor heavily invested in Twitter, wrote a long essay outlining what Twitter was doing wrong, and what they can do to fix their problems. They were all great ideas, and I hope Twitter is working on at least a few of those ideas. But now I want to add one more into the mix: Twitter for Work.
Twitter for work would be a social network for the enterprise, offering large organizations a familiar and powerful broadcast system and social network. What would such a service look like?
- An enclosed, but company-wide public broadcast system: The power of Twitter is that it functions as an open broadcast system. Want to announce a new project? A company event? Your Enterprise Twitter is the perfect platform for it. We do have ‘allhands’ email distribution lists, yes, but the difference is that emails force the information into your inbox, whereas with Twitter you need to go up to the stream and dip your toe in, which makes Twitter more friendly, and easier to use. And of course, conversations on allhands emails are a nightmare. You make a big company wide announcement, and someone wants to respond to it. Over email, this would be a terrible thing. On Twitter, one can quickly respond without forcing that response into everyone’s inbox.
- Hashtags: This is by far the most powerful feature of Twitter which makes for a fluid, effective, dynamic means of organizing information. And it could be extremely useful for the Enterprise. Following specific people or groups is often impractical, as people work on multiple projects. I might follow someone in marketing who is launching a brand new product that I helped develop, but this same person may also have other responsibilities that might not be of interest to me. But if I instead follow a hashtag, all that clutter is removed automatically, and I get to follow specific topics and areas of interest, rather than all chatter generated by a group or person.
- Ability to follow people, topics, or initiatives: Any social network that relies only on following groups or people invariably ends up being rigid and difficult to use, and the signal to noise ratio worsens. This is where the hashtags used by Twitter prove valuable. People within an organization, if allowed to use Twitter for networking, will be able to follow very specific topics or conversations, while also being able to follow people and groups.
- Although not talked about much these days, the lists feature on Twitter is in fact quite powerful, since it serves as an efficient recommendation engine as well as a convenient method of organizing people into dynamic, fluid groups.
- Twitter has location awareness built in, which can be leveraged in the Enterprise for some clever functions. Someone two floors down was awarded a patent? Maybe I don’t know this person, but send me an alert so I can reach out with a congratulatory message. Someone else is off for a few months for on site work? Someone broke the record for sales commissions or performance? Create a hashtag, alert the people nearby plus the people in relevant groups, and get a little party going spontaneously.
How would these Twitter handles look though? For one thing, the characters in one’s Enterprise Twitter handle should not count towards the 140 characters limit. Then, if the handles get a little long, that will not be too much of a problem. Organizations can then use a system to create Enterprise Twitter handles, similar to the way they create email addresses. Additionally, Twitter can create an Enterprise specific environment. For instance, if Twitter currently uses the URL https://twitter.com/username, all they need to do is to change it to https://twitter.com/workplacename/username.
In all probability, Twitter has no plans to launch an Enterprise version. But if they did, the results would be interesting and exciting, and might at last give us a social network that functions on different terms than Facebook or Yammer. It’s an open secret that Twitter is in a bit of a mess currently, facing stagnating growth; problems with spam, fake accounts, and bots; problems with monetizing and attracting big ticket ad spenders, and more. The Enterprise version of Twitter, however, would by definition not have any of these problems. If Twitter ever gets around to creating one.
P.S. It feels odd to conclude a writeup on Enterprise social networks without mentioning the elephant in the room: LinkedIn. However, discussing what LinkedIn can do in this space will need a whole different post, so I’ll probably take it up separately one of these days.