Social Media and Enterprise Social Software – two very different concepts, don’t mix them in the discussion!

Social Media and Enterprise Social Software – two very different concepts, don’t mix them in the discussion!

The last years have seen a lot of discussion on the potential of “Social Media” for companies. Unfortunately, many authors use the term “Social Media” where they indeed are talking about “Enterprise Social Software”. Although both terms have their roots in the use of Social Software (Web 2.0 features) their application domains are fundamentally different and so are their potentials and rules of success.

Social Media and Enterprise Social Software (ESS) differ most notably in two respects, i.e. “access” and “ownership”. Whilst Social Media are open platforms that can potentially be accessed by any Internet user, ESS is restricted to authorised users and is run behind company firewalls or as a dedicated hosted solution. It is subject to existing regulations regarding business and information compliance.


The successful management or “use” of Social Media and ESS requires very different personal skills.

Social Media lies in the domain of marketing/communication departments. Typical issues are opening a communication channel to the customer, measuring customer response/opinion, direct interaction with the customer. Possible means are Facebook pages, sentiment analysis in Twitter or the monitoring of public forums that are related to the products of the company.

Enterprise Social Software, on the other hand, requires skills in the area of Computer Supported Cooperative Work (CSCW). ESS is a modern form of groupware and its introduction and adoption goes along with issues of company culture, user acceptance, proficiency of use, etc.

Some tools or services such as Skype, Dropbox, Google Drive or Slideshare can serve both purposes and are thus a bit between the two worlds. They support communication and information exchange and can be used for private and business purposes. They are very popular in small companies and universities because their use is inexpensive or even free of charge.

At a closer look Social Media and ESS have (except for the actual software functionality of micro blogging, Blogs, Wikis, social profiles, …) very little in common. The mixing of the two concepts has caused confusion in companies where the call to “use Social Media in our company” has unsettled the more privacy-concerned staff members that have deliberately decided to stay out of Facebook and the likes. Social Media is about communication and sharing. In using these media, some people share a great deal of their private life online, a phenomenon that many people understandably do not want to transfer to the workplace. Enterprise Social Software supports people in their communication and information sharing for projects and work tasks. The basic concept of “communication” and “sharing” is similar but the information that is revealed is business-related and not personal.

Conclusion: I recommend that authors avoid the term “Social Media” when referring to the support of joint work (collaboration) in companies. Enterprise Social Software is the term that has gained acceptance in this area. Whenever “traditional groupware” is included in the discussion the broader term Enterprise Collaboration System can be used (comprising E-Mail, Lotus Notes and other established forms of groupware).