Enterprise Social Networks (ESNs) are private, internal communication platforms used by organizations to improve information flow, engagement and the sense of community. They aim to be “Facebook for work” and include collaboration tools.

Summary by The World of Work Project

Enterprise Social Networks

“Enterprise Social Network” is the name given to certain communication and collaboration platforms used by organizations. They vary in their specifics, with some being more socially focused and others being more focused on collaboration and project management.

Despite their differences, they all have many common features including: instant messaging, profile creation, task management and allocation and file sharing. They’re particularly useful for teams whose members work from different geographical locations. They are all available for desktop and mobile devices.

ESN’s are supposed to improve collaboration and engagement. We’re not certain.

We consider a few ESNs and collaboration platforms below.

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Workplace (Facebook)

Facebook’s workplace platform is basically Facebook for the workplace. It offers exactly the kinds of things you’d expect from Facebook, meaning many of the tools feel familiar to existing Facebook users. Features include messaging, calling and groups as well as file-sharing and storage. Premium accounts also have APIs. You can learn more here.

Yammer (Microsoft)

Yammer is a Microsoft ESN that works with Office 365. It combines the social aspects of community networks with collaboration tools. As part of the Microsoft stable it works well with core Microsoft products. Again, it may feel familiar for certain users. You can learn more about it here.


Jive produces “community” building platforms under several different names. They’re more focused on the social and information sharing aspects of networking than collaboration, though they also support that. You can learn more here.


Trello isn’t really an ESN, it’s actually a card-based project management platform. It allows users to manage tasks collaboratively in a way that’s simple, effective, intuitive and fun. Trello integrates with Slack, GitHub and salesforce as well. You can learn more here.


Slack is not really an ESN, but it is a market leading collaboration platform. It includes messaging channels and file sharing capabilities. It’s fairly intuitive and effective. It is available for free for small organizations and offers a series of paid for services for those who need more. You can learn more here.

ESN’s can be good. They can also be overwhelming, and sometimes irrelevant.

Learning More

There’s a lot more to communications than these platforms. You might enjoy learning about the role of common language in the workplace, or co-creation, both of which can be facilitated by ESNs. Of course, words alone don’t do much. Tone and body language have a huge role to play in most communications.

The amount of information we convey should be governed by chunking limits. And it’s good to follow the 7s of communication, as well as the ABCs of communication. You might also like these 10 basic rules for better presentations.

To learn more broadly about communications, you might enjoy our introductory podcast on the subject:

The World of Work Project View

Our view is that collaboration and project management platforms can be excellent, provided they are used well. Unfortunately, they can also be a waste of everyone’s time and simply something else to stay on top of.

When they are used well they can save time, help communication, make things transparent and make it easier for people to deliver their objectives. We think most organizations could benefit from using them, and of course many already do. Their effectiveness should be reviewed. We (not so) secretly believe there may be an element of “The Emperor’s New Clothes” about them.

True ESNs though are something we’re even less certain about. We’ve yet to see them really effectively used for their core purpose. In the organizations where we’ve seen them implemented, they’re often used mostly for non work-related activities (like a film appreciation group). This may in itself have ancillary benefits for engagement, but it doesn’t feel necessary. In addition, it’s very difficult to get leaders to use them, it’s hard to get a critical mass of people on them and they often end up simply duplicating other communication methods like email.

Our current advice would be to implement and test collaboration tools, but not communication focused ESN tools.

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This post is based on our own experience of using various platforms and there are no specific references for it.

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