An Introduction to EASN – Enterprise Anti-Social Networking


So, what is thew “social” in Enterprise Social Networking?

The challenge at the heart of ESN is the word “social”. Social isn’t something you immediately achieve by calling the behavior of the enterprise ‘social’. Social is an emergent property that arises from certain kinds and qualities of interaction.

Interaction is not always social, in the benevolent sense of the word. Interaction isn’t always social, but social is always interactive. In the human or animal organism, cells can interact in ways that can harm or even kill the body. From a sense of social being beneficial, some interaction is not beneficial at all. Cancer arises from interaction. Fighting is a form of interaction.

Wrestling with the word “social”

Is wrestling social for the wrestlers? Is a fight to the death social? Some might say that certain forms of interaction are anti-social.

The problem lies with the dual interpretation of the word. At the theoretical level, all human interaction can be called social – whether beneficial or harmful. In that sense, social networking is social in all its forms – even where there is no perceivable value in the interactions, or where there might even be unwanted cost and damage. Yet the way social is used by most comms leaders in in a loaded way. Social, for them, means “connecting and interacting in value-adding ways” – and that value can be more or less tangible, but is always framed as something that adds value to the enterprise. Our motive for social in the enterprise is to engage in interaction because “it is good for us, and good for the organisation. The term social networking in an enterprise context then becomes about joining in. Not joining in means not supporting the social networking activity. it is a kind of enterprise-level party-pooping.

The Value of Social

Social, as a value-laden term suggests certain qualities. It suggests a productive form of interaction, sometimes designed or intended towards some goal, e.g. innovation or engagement. Social suggests purposeful interaction. It is something that can be more or less achieved. But not all ESN is really social at all. By naming it at social it can often blind us to what is and isn’t working.

So there is the generic term “social” that includes all kinds of interaction, and there is the applied use of it in the term “social networking” that very often has an inbuilt bias of “social=collaboration/fun/friendliness”. Here the confusion arises. Social has developed into a genre, and is no longer a generic term alone. Many enterprises are no longer judging social is “good or bad”, but more simplistically as “in and out” and this is often reflected in the primitive metrics (numbers oif posts, nmbers of replies, reach etc) that are waved like flags to claim ESN success.

Not all business processes in an enterprise need social interaction. Indeed, some may be damaged by it. An example of damaging social interaction is information overload. Another is cyber-bullying.

Yet often, the goal of enterprise social networking is measured in the simple terms of the growth in users interacting, the number of posts or responses. Interaction is often seen as a good thing in itself. It might be quite the opposite. What we are often really seeing is Enterprise Anti-Social Networking or Enterprise interaction.

Anti-social social

Now we have a problem, because there is a growing phenomenon that is often lost in the missionary zeal of “social networking is all good” champions. That phenomenon is what I call EASN: Enterprise Anti-Social Networking. What form does this take? It takes many different forms, but here are a few examples. These examples are really instances of social networking (in the theoretical sense) but can be labelled as anti-social in a more applied sense:

– information overload
– sharing information that invades work flow
– cyber bullying and teasing that creates fear, confidence loss and stress
– interaction that lacks awareness of impact on other business work flows and systems
– delayed responses that prevent decision making or sharing
– fake conversation, insincerity and collusion
– use of language and jargon (and smileyts) that alienate
– creation of digital cliques and elites

These are just a few examples of EASN. We have research EASN very little and that is leading to under-the-radar problems is ESN adoption and performance. it can only get worse if we fail to see ESN more holistically and consciously.

A challenge for ESN Leaders

The worst manifestations of EASN are managed by strict governance, some coaching, better induction and training. But this mostly focuses on traditional behaviours that were already unacceptable in wider society or were embodied in existing good HR practice. Wha we are not giving enough attention to are the more subtle antisocial behaviours. This can include being unclear, ignoring others, failing to listen well, and “spinning” the truth. It can also include more physical world behaviours. It may be “social” to tweet from a meeting to share emerging insights. It is anti-social to text during a meeting whilst not properly listening to s colleague who needs you to fully listen.

EASN is growing at a faster rate now than “good” ESN. Who has it in on their radar?


Paul Levy is the Author of Digital Inferno

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Digital Inferno by Paul Levy

About Paul Levy

Paul is a writer, thinker, facilitator, theatre-maker, and conversifier. He is the author of the book, Digital Inferno.

Posted on March 21, 2015, in Key themes. Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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