Major companies in France are now setting up enterprise social networks and the latest evidence shows that, in spite of the persistence of some cultural obstacles, this approach is gradually finding acceptance.

Have enterprise social networks now really caught on in France?

Although enterprise social networks would appear to offer a credible company-wide communication channel, there still seem to be quite a number of obstacles to getting them up and running. Despite the fact that in-company social networks are intended first and foremost to facilitate work relationships, they are somewhat tainted by the ‘fun’ image of mass-audience social media and have therefore struggled to establish their credentials as a ‘serious’ information and interaction space. Now however, this barrier seems to have been partially dismantled. French consulting firm Lecko has just published a report based on a survey carried out among ten CAC 40 companies that have set up company social networks. While the early phase of getting an in-company network up and running may still prove hard going, the evidence is that employees and – equally if not more importantly – company top management are starting to recognise the value of having an enterprise social network.

Slow start, benefits acknowledged

Overall, the management teams of the ten major companies polled by Lecko acknowledged the advantages of having an enterprise social network and recognised what they can bring to the company. Only around 10% of respondents described their experience as ‘disappointing’, in comparison with some 65% who said the results had been ‘very encouraging’, while 20% of those surveyed described their company’s social network initiative as ‘promising’. In fact the indications are that the idea of an internal social network has caught on among employees at these large corporations. A fifth of the firms analysed have a network boasting over 50,000 members, while a further fifth have one with over 10,000 subscribers. And while the networks running at 40% of the firms surveyed have under 1,000 members, the time factor cannot be ignored, as some of these initiatives are fairly new – the majority of the networks having been up and running for less than three years. In such cases the employees may not yet have had time to get used to working through the new channel. Some 50% of those surveyed stressed that they find it really hard to express themselves in an open forum, and point to the difficulty of having no clear reference point for obtaining information, which had hitherto always been part of a formal process. It is nevertheless noteworthy that even though such anxieties persist among employees, the majority of them accept the idea of cross-cutting relationships at the company, because this tends to improve mutual support and facilitate the circulation of information.

Projects mainly CIO-driven

Although enterprise social networks are clearly starting to gain acceptance in France, there is still some difficulty getting a network up and running. What emerges from the Lecko report is that the main drawback is not so much the technical problems as a lack of enthusiasm on the part of management. At all the firms surveyed, there was one project champion who on his/her own drove the project to set up the network. The Lecko researchers found that the various management personnel, even though they were associated with the project, seem to have played a rather stereotyped role in the process. The study results show that the company Chief Information Officer is invariably responsible for the practical implementation of the project, while general management act as ‘sponsors’, for the purpose of lending it credibility as an important and valuable step for the company to take.

By Quentin Capelle