We are currently involved in a lot of Enterprise Social Network evaluations. Whether you call them Social Intranets, Internal Communities or Enterprise Social Networks we are finding that many evaluations  are being conducted without the kinds of diligence that other Enterprise applications would demand – and this sets the organisation on the path to making poor decisions and choices. We tend to withdraw from these processes as we believe that, regardless of the eventual platform chosen the organisation has little chance of making a success of its initiative.

Here are 5 key roads to failure; all paved with good intentions; that we see organisations taking:

1. We want Facebook for the Enterprise

An Enterprise Social Network has little in common with Facebook. If Executives can only think in terms of Facebook for the Enterprise and can articulate little else about the needs and requirements for an enterprise social platform then this project has little chance of success. It suggests that they understand little about the cultural transformation required to make successful use of these networks.

2. The requirements are not tied to business goals

We can’t believe how many times we are greeted with blank stares when we quiz organisations about the business goals for the network. The common response is ‘we want to put a social skin on our content management system’. Well, as they say; beauty is only skin deep. So when the beauty contest is over and you want to show real business value from your efforts what are you going to say? A social skin in order to achieve what? Better productivity? Better employee collaboration? Better innovation processes and ideation in the organisation? Improved participation and reduce employee attrition? Better content production and sharing? If your Enterprise Social Network initiative is not tied to real business goals then don’t do it. There are better initiatives your organisation can undertake.

3. The requirements are tied to socialising a CMS system

We understand that its difficult to get real user adoption with “name this CMS” and we understand that creating a social layer on top of the CMS system is a way of improving that. But being a social business is about incorporating social constructs into all your business processes inside and outside the firewall. That means integration with a lot more than just your CMS platform. Confining your thinking to considering just this element of your enterprise systems is very likely to produce a poor short term decision that will consign your social initiative to a small part of your business. Social business is cross line of business, cross business platform, cross functional, cross everything else you can think of. Consider social everywhere, not just on your intranet. Or pretty soon you are going to have those pesky users at your doors once again.

4. No Business Case Associated with the Enterprise Social Network

It surprises us that many organisations are evaluating social networks and spending a lot of time doing it without first having a business case developed. This is akin to the Social Media ROI discussion – there is and should be metrics and ROI associated with your Enterprise Social Network initiative. See point 2 on business goals. Real Enterprise Social Networks require significant investment – not just in the tools but in deployment, integration and most of all community management and nurturing and development. They compete with other initiatives for funding and will be stopped at the CIO’s office if there is no business case attached. Better to do it up front – it helps to focus on what you really need vs what is nice to have.

5. No Connection to the External World

Why do you want to be a social business in the first place? Is it truly to build a better customer experience through creating shared value? If so (and it should be) then considering how you will connect your internal Enterprise Social Network to your external communities is actually going to be pretty important. And whilst that entire landscape is likely to involve a number of collaboration platforms isn’t it important to consider at least how they could be integrated in the future? We certainly think so.

If you do not have these 5 areas as integral criteria for your choice of Enterprise Social Networks then we believe you have started that initiative with a predisposition to failure.