Internal social networks

Organisations increasingly use internal private networks combining intranet and social network functionality including chat rooms and forums. Jive and Yammer are two leading proprietary platforms that can be used to operate these ‘enterprise social networks’ to form a communication network inside the organisation and as portals to a range of corporate information, collaboration and information sharing.

To be most effective, these networks can include employees, contract partners and suppliers who create personal or team accounts as they would on an external social network. Benefits from making good use of internal social networks typically include:

• collaboration across an organisation higher levels of employee engagement

• direct access to those who make decisions from those who put decisions into practice

• access to a huge amount of information, best practice and practical experience.

Collaborative working by another name

Many organisations have adopted ‘communities of practice’, an initiative that exploits internal networks to share information and best practice among employees, contract partners and suppliers through online forums.

Etienne Wenger-Trayner, in his article Communities of Practice – A Brief Introduction, says they’ve been adopted by organisations that recognise that information, and its management, is a critical asset.

He writes: “Communities of practice provide a new approach, which focuses on people and on the social structures that enable them to learn with and from each other. Today, there is hardly any organisation of a reasonable size that does not have communities of practice initiatives in some form.

“Communities of practice enable practitioners to take collective responsibility for managing the knowledge they need, recognising that, given the proper structure, they are in the best position to do this.

“Communities among practitioners create a direct link between learning and performance, because the same people participate in communities of practice and in teams and business units.”

Organisations as diverse as Natural England and Severn Trent Water, Britain’s largest water and waste company, have harnessed the power of online networks, changing the way information is shared across Severn Trent by bringing together staff, contract partners and suppliers in dynamic online forums. Natural England has eight communities of practice and says they provide space for the creative, dynamic thinking that informs the way it works.