A recent BusinessWeek article does a good job of capturing the debate and developments around the issue of building social networks for employees. The article highlights two of the central questions related to this topic:

  • One is whether to build an employee network – or even to allow employees to access existing corporate networks outside the firewall (e.g. virtually every major company has a Facebook network…though many are not sponsored or supervised)
  • Assuming you want to proceed, a central question becomes whether to leverage the existing external networks, to create a new network on the internet or to build a network within the firewall

On the first question, I would argue that denying employee access to Facebook and/or ignoring the trend towards networking is akin to sticking a finger in a massive dike…the decision is short-sighted and unrealistic.

On the latter question, there is merit to all three options, but also distinctive challenges. For those companies who fear breaches of confidentiality or have a workforce that is grumpy and likely to be highly critical, it may make more sense to initially create an in-house network. For others – particularly companies whose employees are likely to be advocates and already have a high profile on the net, it probably makes sense to create an external site.

But the important point here is to recognize that employees are already active on networks, and that there are already conversations going on about the company. So the question becomes whether there is benefit in harnessing that employee networking for the company’s benefit. Furthermore, the tools that make social networks so attractive can be leveraged to drive collaboration and alignment across an organization. With that background, it seems like keeping the digital door shut tight is an exercise in futility, and probably bad for business.