What is driving corporate social networks?

What LinkedIn made possible for industry connections and Facebook did for friendships, can emerging enterprise social networks do the same for a company’s workforce? It’s indeed a big opportunity waiting to be tapped and someone to conquer it. Most popular social sites don’t really have much of a palpable learning curve or novelty, since many users are familiar with them. Specialized networks such as LinkedIn are facing a similar situation.

There has not yet been yet an online platform though, which causes a cross-section of workforce to take to it intuitively, the manner in which so many people globally have to those far-reaching consumer social networks. That clearly leaves a huge scope for an enterprise social networking entity. The emergence of social networks in global companies is now definitely coming as top corporate entities figure out their value.

According to a Forrester Research, spending on ESN systems is expected to grow at a compound yearly rate of 61% through 2016 when the market for them will touch $6.4 billion in comparison to just $600 million in 2010. Still enterprise software gets just a fraction of the coverage the consumer web invariably does. It tends to adapt rather slowly to major changes like the adoption of tablets, iPhones and web-based apps.

While online social networks have a vast potential in terms of improvement in communications inside an organization, they are implemented at times in ways, which often discourage their end users. Part of the issue may perhaps lie in the low allocation made for enterprise social networks: Two-thirds of companies recently surveyed spent not more than $100,000 on social technology. Those that did were not sure how to integrate social networking successfully, right down the hierarchy.

However, managements are realizing the immense potential of enterprise social networking. It can be much greater; Just as emailing happened to change how people communicate in their official capacity, social networks, which by their very methodology and nature prompt sharing, carry the potential to make communications in offices more efficient and fluid by forming ad-hoc collaboration, streamlining processes, avoiding duplication in projects, and enhancing the information flow among hierarchical levels.

As an instance, when Stephen Elop was anointed as Nokia’s CEO, he utilized Socialcast to ask employees what were the things that needed to change. The dialogue not only allowed him to learn certain nuances from within the organization, but also indicated that a new form of relationship was shaping up between the top leadership and employees.

No surprise, Salesforce.com thinks that its Chatter collaboration software will definitely support the overall growth trajectory. It is confident that its revenue will continue to surpass expectations thanks to the momentum of its social enterprise push. Their social enterprise offerings, including Chatter has drawn new customers like Activision and Hewlett-Packard. Meanwhile, bigger players, sensing the opportunity, are fast closing in. Google has already created plenty of buzz about chugging Google+ with other in-house social networks.

Yammer is another vendor making software, which adapts the functions of social media services like Twitter and Facebook to modern workplaces by empowering employees to become more productive by making them collaborate easily. Other ESN vendors are Socialtext, Box.net, Jive Software, NewsGator and Telligent. Apart from this, vendors having broader collaboration platforms like Microsoft, Cisco and IBM are too adding ESN functionality to their rsepectice products.