Is your social network built enterprise tough?

This article was originally published in NETWORKWORLD.

You don’t have to look further than the uprisings across the Arab world to recognize the power of social tools, and this transformative power applies to business as well. But for an enterprise social network (ESN) to be genuinely useful, it needs to go beyond the “Facebook for enterprise” model.

In evaluating the usefulness of any social platform, here are four essentials to look for:

1. Getting work done faster. Enterprise social networks are more than giant digital water coolers, and this is where ESNs need to rise above the typical consumer social experience. Social in the enterprise is not just about “following” Sarah in finance, but following your expenses and getting status updates on them. It’s not just about knowing which songs your friends are listening to on Spotify, but “listening” for changes to your purchase order. Not just about sharing and commenting on posts, but acting on posts (e.g., from your business apps). Not merely checking into a location, but actually getting relevant business information about your location and surroundings.

2. Information where and when you need it. As our mobile devices blend into our work lives, for most organizations “bring your own device” is now a given, and any useful ESN needs to account for this. It should be native and fully functional on every smartphone and tablet, from an iPhone 5 to a 5-year-old BlackBerry and everything in between. Every office and individual has its own device and system preferences, and no one should be excluded because of this.

Beyond being device-agnostic, enterprise social must also leverage the unique abilities of our smart devices. Mobile adds the exciting dimension of location, which should absolutely be used to provide contextual information. For example, the same device that can check you into your favorite coffeehouse or movie theater, should be able to check you into a business location — or tell you when you’re walking past a warehouse palette which is running low and needs to be restocked.

3. Enterprise has secrets — protect them. Every business has secrets, and your social network should know how to keep them private. In addition to securing your data, this means being able to control access to info and conversations on a need-to-know basis. For instance, the sales department may ask the finance department to share some statistics and data they can leverage in their sales pitches, and instead of sharing their entire portfolio, the finance department can chose to selective share only the relevant data.Security clearance levels are not only cool in espionage movies — they are essential best practices for modern business.

Another important aspect of privacy familiar to any organization which does business across continents is that different regions have different data protection laws. Your ESN needs to be able to meet with compliance standards everywhere or it’s a nonstarter. [continued…]