Slack’s Success and the Future of Enterprise Social Networks

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Employee social networks can be transformative. Organizations can radically improve employee collaboration and organizational culture by implementing enterprise social networks (ESN), such as IBM Connections, SAP, Microsoft Yammer, Jive Software, or Slack.
I am not the only believer. However, we – Community Managers, “enlightened” CIOs, Knowledge Managers and Communication Managers – are still outnumbered by the skeptics. And the doubters have justification: less than half of the enterprise collaboration tools installed have many employees using them on a daily basis.




This is the reason why Slack’s usage numbers are so exciting: they prove that the adoption difficulties can be exceeded quickly and in a sustainable way. Slack handles the objection “I’m-too-busy-for-another tool” by integrating smoothly with other enterprise apps, to maintain the promise that employees will be less busy. The other vendors are trying to duplicate Slack’s user adoption success in big company settings.

The adoption is great, but the success of a real-time oriented chat applications can’t be the end of the ESN journey. We can’t just measure participation rates and be satisfied with this result. It’s the time to remember and get re-energized about the original ESN mission: Successful ESNs deliver more than just a better way to communicate with your team! By communicating openly to the entire organization, ESNs help unite the workforce to achieve strategic objectives and break down old organizational boundaries.
You really know you are on the path to success and strategic value when a senior manager creates an online collaboration group with the aim to make a change in the organization.

Here there are some recent examples I’ve come across with:

  1. The country manager of a global services company had an ambitious sales target. However, she had dedicated teams at individual client locations which didn’t communicate with each other. In other words, there was no collaboration on local business development. As the projects ended, the sales pipeline was dry. ESN SOLUTION: The manager created a country group on the ESN, and quickly the team members started connecting and collaborating on building the regional sales pipeline.
  2. The CEO of a technology company tasked a VP with a strategic proposal – to create new developments for products and solutions. The problem is that the know-how is locked up in product teams that work individually. So the VP created a cross-department “Theme Team” (following the Kaplan & Norton strategy execution methodology). He launches a corresponding group on the ESN to make the team actively grow. Even the first step– finding and exposing people in this new cross-department group on the ESN – is a success. Then, the conversations begin. This lead to innovative ideas creation and the release of “tacit knowledge”.



Of course, all conversations on an ESN have different value, so quantitative measures of traffic on the ESN are not sufficient. On the other hand, if there is no involvement across the ESN, there is no value at all. That is the reason why Slack’s engagement numbers are so intriguing … but it is only the beginning.

How will we know if ESNs achieve their promise? Firstly, when senior managers engage… openly. One question from a respected manager can light a fire in the company forums. The response to an honest, relevant question is almost always a flow of insights and value to the organization.

We also have to look at the functionality provided by great enterprise vendors such as IBM, SAP, and Microsoft. In particular, will the default settings for employee collaboration teams and spaces be open or private? Organizations will struggle to transform their collaboration culture when the default communication setting is private (like email). We want searchable, stored knowledge, as well as department-crossing communities. An open-oriented ESN is the key to achieve that goal.


Adam Zawel is a specialist in growing online communities. He helps organizations develop their online communities to engage employees, partners and customers.