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Can Ethnography Save Enterprise Social Networking?

Editor’s note: Enterprise software systems. Sounds a bit boring and inhuman. But they’re not! 

This month, Mike Gotta from Cisco Systems, makes the case for bringing the human back into enterprise software design and development, starting out with enterprise social networking (ESN).

ESN is like Facebook, but just for people who work within a company. But why are businesses investing in ESN when white collar workers are already using Facebook, Google+, or Twitter? Because existing social networks don’t fulfill enterprise needs for security, compliance, and integration with existing systems.  Employees don’t just time-in and time-out, they socialize. And companies want to make the most out of their employees’ social networks whether it’s making it easier for workers to find like-minded colleagues or identifying potential leaders or even locating expertise. Because here’s the thing that most companies really get – people do better work when they feel they have the social support to accomplish their task. 

Small companies might turn to an out-of-box ESN like Salesforce (Chatter), while larger companies buy an ESN platform and then customize it to fit their needs.  But one of the biggest problems with ESN’s right now is that developers and trainers don’t account for culture. Often times ESNs are implemented with little understanding of the company’s social and tech context. For example, companies try to incentivize employees to fill out social profiles, or blog, or join communities, but often employees don’t understand why, or what’s in it for them to change their behavior to collaborate in such a public way. The result – slow adoption of the ESN. Can better design practices solve the problem? How can ethnographers help fill the context and cultural gap?

One company that has been active in the ESN space from the user’s perspective is Cisco. Recently,  Cisco’s collaboration blog featured an essay by Mike Gotta, Design Considerations For Enterprise Social Networks.  We asked Mike to guest blog and he wrote a new introduction for Ethnography Matter readers, explaining why ethnographers are needed for ESN development. 

Mike is currently a senior technology solution manager at Cisco focusing on social software.  Like a true social scientist, Mike says that he’s “fascinated by the non-technological issues related to identity, media literacy, and participatory cultures and their influence on how people learn, share, and collaborate.”  You can follow him on twitter, @MikeGotta.

Mike is also looking for an ethnographer who has experience in social networking and enterprise software design to sit on an upcoming panel in November at the E2.0 conference in San Francisco. Get in touch with him if you know of someone or if you are the right person! 

– Tricia

Check out  past guest bloggers. Ethnography Matters is always lining up guest contributors, we would love to feature your work! Send us an email! 


First, I’d like to thank Tricia for reaching out and asking me to provide a guest post. Coincidentally, I have been reading Ethnography Matters for a few months now and have become a fan of its content and contributors so I’m happy to participate.

So why am I here? Cisco has become active in the enterprise collaboration and social software markets for the past couple of years with a product called WebEx Social. Several weeks ago, I posted an article on enterprise social networking to our Cisco Collaboration blog. The goal of the article was to summarize a session presented at the Enterprise 2.0 conference in Boston this past June. The second objective was to spark a conversation on the need for companies to invest in qualitative research related to social networks, integrate those practices into design programs, and apply those findings to improve the effectiveness of enterprise social networking (ESN) systems.Read More… Can Ethnography Save Enterprise Social Networking?