The complete guide to Enterprise Social Networks

Everything you need to know about Enterprise Social Networks (ESNs) and how to build a business case for an ESN within your organisation

1. Using an enterprise social network

As an employer, it’s important to engage your employees with the organisation they work for since engaged employees create a positive customer experience. Almost 80% of managers confirm this, according to the Global Human Capital Trends report by Deloitte.

Simultaneously, we now live in a time dominated by digital technology and, increasingly, transparency. As a tool capable of delivering on all these major concerns - communicating transparently with your internal stakeholders in a way that mirrors their digital lives outside of work - an enterprise social network is a great way to actually increase the employee engagement within an organisation.


“You need to consider your employees as your most significant stakeholder because they’re going to take good care of your customers and the customers, in turn, will take good care of other stakeholders.” Global Human Capital Report - Deloitte

2. The definition of an enterprise social network


Like great poetry, the term enterprise social network sounds great but it isn’t always fully understood! In short, we see an ESN as a platform that help an organisation to connect all its employees to one another. As the name suggests, an ESN mirrors the way popular social networking sites function but is tailored for internal communications in organisations.

There are several synonyms for the term ‘enterprise social network’ like social intranet, employee app, employee engagement platform, internal social media, internal social network, internal communications app and simply communications app. In all of these cases, we’re talking about the same thing: a corporate form of social media with a timeline where employees can post messages and are able to communicate with each other via chat. Examples of such enterprise social networks are Speakap, Facebook at Work, Slack, Yammer and Microsoft Teams.

Ask us and we’d say a complete definition of an enterprise social network would be:

“An internal, closed social networking site which is accessible for all employees of the organisation by means of a cloud-based solution and on which the employees see only information that’s relevant to them.”

3. Enterprise social networks versus intranet


When it comes to internal communication in an organisation, the first thing that comes to mind for most people is the intranet. The company intranet is the traditional way in which most businesses create internal communication.

The disadvantage of the traditional intranet is that it usually contains an outdated IT structure - one that suits the IT department but not the end-user - and most younger generations, particularly Generation Y which grew up with Facebook and Twitter as the norm, consider the intranet to be more boring and static than the original game of Tetris. Since Generation Y is set to form the largest part of the labour force, you’ll want to use a platform that is popular and familiar for this age group – an enterprise social network is therefore the best solution. The Minecraft to the intranet’s Tetris if you will!


ESN vs intranet

The advantages of an ESN

The list of advantages connected with using an enterprise social media network is longer than a game of test cricket but the highlights include:

  • It facilitates transparent communication
  • All employees are given a voice, even those who only work part-time or don’t have a company email address
  • You include all employees within the organisation, regardless of what department they’re part of
  • It’s easier to get everyone on the same page immediately
  • You can communicate in real-time with employees who may have just finished their shift, be on leave, or even may not have another shift for a few days
  • It will give people a better sense of all the different jobs in the organisation
  • Employees can help each other with tips and tricks to get the best out of themselves and their work
  • It provides a way for employees to contact and get support from managers and corporate functions quickly
  • It offers employees a platform on which they can share experiences or personal triumphs
  • It complements the natural behaviour of employees


In short, like non-work social media, the real advantage of internal social media lies in the sharing of dailyspecial moments with colleagues in all layers of the organisation.

We can celebrate successes more easily because we can now share photos and news really quickly with our colleagues or with a specific group of employeesRosa Hoekstra, HR advisor with Pathe Cinemas.
“I can reach my colleagues quickly and easily if I need them for anything. Similarly, they can respond quickly as well. We also see what other cinemas are doing and achieving which inspires us to improve the quality of our services.” Peter Heesakkers, manager of Pathé Cinema de Kuip.

4 Why social media works for employees


The western world loves social media. There are 42 million active social media users in the UK alone - 64% of the entire population - with that figure even higher in much of Europe.

The generation someone is from doesn’t make a difference either. By approaching employees in this way, you’ll adapt to everyone’s experience. Some organisations have already taken the lead in realising the importance of social media as an internal communications solution.

Share of respondents who had set up their own social network profile in the United Kingdom (UK) from 2007 to 2016

 ESN user statistics

“We’re aware that social media is becoming increasingly prominent in the lives of our employees. That’s why we like to offer the same ease of communication to our colleagues within Pathé.” Rosa Hoekstra, HR advisor at Pathé Cinemas.

5. Signs you need an enterprise social network

An enterprise social network helps your organisation to connect its employees with each other. But if you’re a growing organisation, or an organisation with existing legacy communications software, or maybe a highly decentralised organisation, how do you know it’s time to consider an enterprise social network?

  • Are you looking for a single platform for all internal communication?

    An overview of all lines of communication ensures that employees know where to find what and creates better internal communication and transparency. Information is easy to retrieve and it doesn’t matter where your colleague is: you can send him or her a private message and that person will receive a push notification.

  • Do you need to reach all employees of your organisation, even the ones that don’t work behind computers or work only part-time?
    There are a lot of organisations where a (main) part of the labour force doesn’t work behind a computer all day. Consider, for example, the retail industry, hospitality, facility management, catering, construction and the healthcare industry. These are also the kind of industries with a high percentage of part-time workers. With an enterprise social network, you can reach all these people. 
  • Do you want to improve your customers' experience and compete with market leaders in your sector?
    At Speakap, we work with a range of sector leaders, including the likes of Rituals, IKEA, McDonald's, Suitsupply and G-Star, so we see first-hand how integrating an ESN can impact upon the customer experience. If you want to compete on customer experience, you have to give your frontline employees the tools to deliver.
  • Are you searching for an intranet-solution suited to this day and age?
    Engaging employees within an organisation calls for a solution tailored to their needs and behaviours. The predominant working generations of today and tomorrow – millennials and Gen Z’ers – are digital natives that are not going to be forgiving of companies with outdated IT-solutions. The communication apps you use to connect with your employees must be fast, data-protected and must work great on both desktop and mobile devices. For the Facebook/Whatsapp/WeChat generation, you’ll also need to offer an integrated messaging function and the possibility to easily upload images.
  • Have you noticed that colleagues are using Whatsapp for internal communication?
    Admit it - you’ve seen it a million times before: if your current solution doesn’t work, your employees will find one that does and start using it regardless. Whatsapp is a natural solution here. Just don’t tell your legal team or compliance officers! External solutions are not ideal for your organisation because you cannot guarantee that the information will remain within the building. When your employees communicate with each other via Whatsapp, the app has access to all personal data such as photos, contacts, phone numbers and location. A company-wide, closed solution is therefore vital to protect privacy and to address the rise of informal solutions.
  • Do you want to cluster and organise information in a centralised location?

    Collecting information in a central hub so that it’s accessible for all employees is an extremely handy thing to do. For employees but also for the HR team that continually gets asked where the latest version of the company handbook can be found! With an ESN that has file storage, everyone can access the same information. How often does it happen that there’s been an update and (some) employees don’t have access to the newest version of a programme? With an internal communications app, you can avoid all these problems.

Download free whitepaper about internal communication

6. How to choose an ESN

By now you’re convinced. You know you NEED an ESN in your company’s life. In fact, you can’t believe you’ve gone this long without one. Time to check out all the options. You should make a checklist of the most important factors to be considered when choosing an internal social network - or, you know, use the one we prepared for you:


  • Will employees be able to use the platform intuitively?A platform that employees intuitively know how to use will make it an internal communications app that’s not only easy but that’s adopted by all employees and that they enjoy using.
  • Will the platform be improved consistently?A platform that’s not being developed quickly grows outdated. Always choose a platform with features that are actively being improved or added, and one that has a robust roadmap.
  • Does it support push notifications?Push notifications make sure that any news is immediately visible to an employee and the employee is therefore quickly updated about what’s going on.
  • Does the platform meet all latest requirements concerning data protection laws?Privacy is a sensitive subject for organisations. In the newest privacy law GDPR (General Data Protection Regulation), the privacy of civilians is being protected better than it used to be. All organisations must be up-to-speed on this as per May 2018. It leaves no room for mediocre data protection as the punishment for organisations not protecting the data of their employees and customers are enormous.
  • Are people able to login, no matter where they are?It’s important to reach people that don’t have one specific workplace. Facilitate these people on the device that best suits so they can also engage with the organisation.
  • Is the application fast?Humans are notoriously impatient creatures – especially when it comes to opening websites and apps: there’s a max of 3 to 4 seconds before our patience runs out. Obviously, there’s no need for us to stress the fact that any internal social networking solution must work speedily.
  • Are there few malfunctions?If a slow app irritates your employees, one that malfunctions all the time will have them reaching for Whatsapp again. This is something you want to avoid at all times so it doesn’t stand in the way of engagement.
  • Is it a cloud-based solution?A cloud-based solution has a lot of advantages. For example, you don’t need any space on your own servers to install the programme. There’s less maintenance costs and you don’t need to worry about the updates that are necessary to meet the latest requirements.
  • Is the platform easy to implement?No internal communication platform is exactly 'easy' to implement as it forces a cultural change which transforms the way the whole organisation shares information. But, when you’re choosing a communication tool, look for a vendor with a clear implementation framework and roadmap. It’s especially handy if the solution provider implements it for you or helps and supervises you in doing so. Best, of all, look for a solution that syncs with your HR system so new recruits are automatically added to the ESN and leavers are automatically deleted.
  • Can you connect it to your existing systems?Many organisations work with certain systems and processes that they’d like to connect with an internal social media. For example, you might want in-store employees to have access to their sales figures; you could choose to integrate a HR tool for booking and monitoring holidays; you might also have a learning portal for employees. It’s convenient if you can see these in the enterprise social network so it acts as a total hub. Check whether the selling party is flexible with designing connectors, like Salesforce, Reat, AFAS, SAP, TryLikes, OKTA, Moovs or Manus+. In fact, if it has an open API, you'll be able to integrate hundreds of platforms into your internal social platform.
  • Can it reach employees who don’t work behind a computer?To actually engage all employees of an organisation, you’ll also want to reach the ones who don’t work behind a computer like shop personnel, hotel staff and people who work in healthcare or construction. If your ESN requires all those employees to have an official company email address, that’s not ideal either.
  • Are new recruits and leavers automatically added to or removed from the platform?A business enterprise social network is also about unburdening HR and comms teams and avoiding extra admin. It will save your teams a lot of time and energy if everyone who’s new to the organisation is automatically added to the system and people who quit working at the organisation are also automatically removed from it. Time and energy they can dedicate to more meaningful projects.

7. ‘Mobile First’ as a basic requirement

If you really want to effectively and efficiently connect all employees within your organisation, you absolutely have to take into account all the people who don’t work behind a desk or computer.

That means people who work in stores, hotels or restaurant, of course; it includes people who work in healthcare, manufacturing and construction; but it could also mean the logistics workers in your warehouses, delivery vehicles or providing security, catering, cleaning services or even events.

An ESN which is designed to be ‘Mobile First’ will take this into account because it’s been optimised around mobile users. These are the things you should expect to see in any ‘Mobile First’ ESN:

  • The app is available for both iOS and Android, as well as a web browser version
  • The app is completely responsive
  • You can share both images and videos with your colleagues via your mobile device
  • You have access to all files and conversations which are stored in the application

Easy usability and interface

8. ESN features you can’t do without

  • Timeline  - This is where you find and place updates, for example messages, photos or documents. Each timeline is personalised to the individual and is composed of the groups they are in and the people they follow.
  • News items - This enables the sending and receiving of highly relevant information and (push) notifications so employees never miss the latest news.

  • Private messaging - With quick and easy private messaging between employees, you prevent the unauthorised use of Whatsapp, SMS and Facebook for work-related matters.

  • Chat bar with status - Curious about which colleagues are online or accessible? With the chat bar, you can quickly see who is online, inactive or offline. You can also see how the user is connected, for example via mobile or web.

  • Personal profiles - Working together is all about people. Extensive profiles gives direct insight into who works in the organisation and in what capacity.

  • Groups - By creating and joining different groups, you always (and only) see information that is relevant to you. For example, create a group for a project or department.

  • Events - Plan and communicate meetings and celebrations simply with the help of an events function.

  • Document management - Prevent your business documents from being shared via Dropbox or Google Docs and save files instead on your social intranet.

  • External users - External users should be possible but with only limited access to your network. That way, you can provide integrated communication but prevent sensitive information from falling into the wrong hands.

  • Adjustable themes - By adapting the theme to your own corporate colours and logos, your network gets the look and feel of your own company and you increase the recognisability and adoption rate.

  • Roles and rights - With roles and rights, you decide who can post news items, events, messages and who can add/remove people from the network or create groups. 

9. Calculating the ROI of enterprise social networks

No matter how engaging an internal social network may be, when justifying the use of such a platform towards senior management it’s important to explicitly illustrate the platform’s successes with numbers. Here’s a quick suggestion how to calculate the Return on Investment (ROI) of an enterprise social network: increase of engagement + decreased turnover of personnel + increased productivity = ROI.



ROI in total