Why Google+ is not an Enterprise Social Network

One of the questions I get asked a lot is, “Are you worried about Google+ as a competitor in the Enterprise Social Networking Space?”. At first, I thought the answer was simple, but I wanted to really get my thoughts together on this and share them with everyone.

My previous post about Why Google+ is a -1 for me covers part of my reasoning. It seems that in order to have any enterprise penetration that Identity and Access Management is a key component that is missing today. You have to assume at some point Google will figure out how to integrate Google+ into it’s Google Apps suite. This will no doubt make Google+ available to many small companies who figure it’s “good enough”. But, there’s a more fundamental issue that really makes Google+ a bad fit for companies.

As many have argued, Google+ seems to have its sights on Facebook. We are already seeing the battle of the titans in feature 1-upsmanship. In a consumer social network this is all good, as it really forces each company to bring it’s “A” game. But, now let’s look at how Enterprise Social Networks are different than consumer social networks.

One of the biggest values in Enterprise Social Networking is opening up conversations through transparency and the serendipity that is discovered by being aware of these conversations even if they are not a core focus. Let’s start at the core of Google+; the circle.

Think of circles as bi-directional distribution lists. They allow a user to consume content from people who they have classified in a specific circle. On the other hand, you have the ability to target information you share to only users in a given circle. This is where the issue lies. It’s just like sending an e-mail. One of the biggest problems with e-mail is that you may not have insight into who needs to know the information you are sharing. In e-mail, this leads to forwards and introduces the chance of information gaps in the conversation. Google+ does eliminate that by having 1 copy that is shared and comments are added to the main feed, but does not eliminate the chance of people who need to know the content not being aware of it. One way around this limitation is to share everything as “Public”, but this can lead to a low signal to noise ratio resulting in frustration and loss of productivity.

How about the scenario where someone shares something with you that is not in your circle? In that case, the content goes into a feed called “incoming”. While in a public network, this may seem manageable (or not), in an enterprise, this is clearly not manageable. For example, if you are a VP or CxO, it’s a challenge to manage circles for everyone in your company if you company is as small as a few hundred people. In large enterprises where the numbers can be in the tens of thousands, it’s impossible.

Now let’s look at true Enterprise Social Networks. In most of these solutions, you have groups and perhaps a main feed for general updates. Each group has the capability of being “public” or “private”. If you share to a group, it’s now there for anyone who is a member of that group to see. If it’s a public group, you are relying that the people who are interested in the group is a member. In a private group, you know the audience that you are sharing with. Even after the fact, you can join a group and see all the content that’s been shared there.

If you share in the main feed via a status update, by adding appropriate tags to your content there is a high probability that your content will be discovered by people that are interested in it. Either by following you, or the hashtag. This makes it much easier to discover content that is relevant to you since you are better positioned to make that determination than the person who produced it.

While Google+ is definitely a step in the right direction over Wave and Buzz, it’s far from being a solution that will work inside the company.

9 Replies to “Why Google+ is not an Enterprise Social Network”

  1. Interesting post, Greg. Was curious what you/Yammer thought about G+ in the enterprise. But I tend to disagree with you. I think G+ is a (huge) threat (or opportunity) for services like Yammer. For one, because G+ is where most people do their work (Gmail and Gdocs). True, Gapps is used by many small companies, but also by more and more very large companies (just think Ford, Ahold and large government institutions).
    I don’t understand your point about silo’s. For one, most people in G+ share most of their stuff with everybody. And two, Yammer also creates silo’s. Yammer has groups (private/public) and communities. I know of several companies who started using Yammer in which everybody moved into the groups/communities right away instead of sharing in the public stream.
    Just to be clear: I don’t want to bash you or Yammer. I love Yammer and have been using it from the beginning and happily advise companies I work for to use it.

    1. Samuel, thanks for taking the time to comment. Keep in mind that the posts on my personal blog represent my thoughts and may not represent my employers. As for silos, the key difference is with groups, it enables a user to discover the information whereas G+ it is not necessarily available for you to find. As for private groups, you are right, but there are absolutely times when you want groups to be private. From a best practice perspective, groups are used to lower the noise in the main feed, usually when the main feed gets too busy for many people. The key differentiator is that one (Yammer, Jive, etc.) puts the control in the consumer of content, and G+ puts the control in the hands of the producer.

      1. Hi Greg,
        I agree with Samuel’s comments that G+ is a threat/opportunity to Yammer and the other stand alone platforms for enterprise social networks. If your company is using G+ it would not make any sense to use another solution. Remember that G+ is more than just status updates. The Hangout feature alone is worthwhile for any small or large enterprise that has been struggling with WebEx meetings. If your company is a Microsoft shop, then G+ will probably not provide you with a company wide solution, unless you can convince everyone to go sign up.

        As to the point about creating silos, I see this as two issues. One, users will by default always share things specifically with those who they know have a stake in the issue. This is just like email. However a recipient may then forward that email to another user or group who they believe should be involved. This behavior will not change as social networks become more common in the workplace. If I share a post with you on G+, you can then share that post with anyone else.

        The second issue refers to how you create you circles and the ability to have shared circles in G+. The view of creating a circle is very personal, but I can then choose to share some of my circles with my colleagues. This now begins to open up the silos that were initially created.

  2. Greg, i like your post, it is very interesting. I think the future will tell us who is right. I fear G+ could win the battle inside the enterprise if they are able to build a whole eco system from office tool to collaboration.
    The fact is that people inside enterprises do not act as they do in they life. I differentiate what i name the professional sphere and the private sphere. We hope the private sphere could influence the profesionnal sphere in people behaviour. It not totally true. At work people are not so curious and don’t use openness as whished. They prefer to gather in the groups they are working with, the communities, the circles. These are the places where they will search, may be post, at first, and most of the time never go outside od these areas.
    This is why groupware solutions are so successfull, sharepoint is just the projection of office tools to enable sharing with your peers in the job you are doing, groups or communities. People are greagarious for most of them, few are wishing to explore unknown ways.

  3. Wow! This is a disturbing post. There seems to be a basic lack of understanding about what the purpose of the firm. In addition, how can you slam a service like G+ that is barely five-months old? That seems unfair.

    Over four million business use Goggle Apps, including some of the largest in the world and, of course, Google itself. Do you really think when it comes time to deploy their social network service (SNS) plank that these firms will shop the enterprise collaboration marketplace? Good grief. Why would they complicate their platform and pay through the nose for yet another costly vendor and SNS?

    Furthermore, don’t you have a grasp of the software lifecycle? Today, G+ definitely exceeds the basic functional requirements of enterprise social software (search, tags, signals, links, authoring). It also offers the critical social functions, self-organization and emergence. All this for a SNS that exited beta 10-weeks ago. C’mon, is that fair? Boy, give G+ a chance.

    Meanwhile, the purpose of enterprise SNS is to achieve fundamental advancements in productivity, productivity growth (innovation) and enterprise decision making. The enterprise operates within a certain bounded rationality for decision making. There is a cost to gathering and processing information. Insofar as enterprise SNS lower costs and improves decisions, they have benefits.

    (Remember, sports fans, many/most collaboration applications and enterprise SNS are DOA or fail to meet expectations. Most ALL of them are a ‘bad fit.’ Email was perceived as a ‘bad fit’ by most organizations in the 1980s. Today, according to CIOs, it is the #1 mission critical app by far. Go figure.)

    Meanwhile, on the contrary, so-called silios play a critical enterprise role – they are a unique social network pattern creating a specific value for the firm. The purpose of enterprise social software is to broker structural holes, not ‘tear down’ silos. (?) These principles of SNA and graph theory apply to productivity and innovation and suitability of SNS and applications like G+. It is the knowledge-based view (KBV) of the firm.

    Remember, the enterprise is choking on a grave, costly oversupply of collaborative offerings. Today, the average enterprise seat has more collaborative capability that anyone could master in a hundred years. What’s more important, what’s missing, is not the application; it’s the collaboration. C’mon, any sensible person knows this fact. What’s matters most is how technology is used; it matters little how it works or who makes it.

    Finally, Google Apps, including Gmail, Gdocs and G+ are seeing enormous pull-through in giant Lotus/SharePoint/Exchange shops (like GM). As the saying goes, the rumors of the death of Enterprise G+ are greatly exaggerated.

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