Journeying back through the mists of time, I remember a period when some people thought every brand and product should have its own, proprietary social network. This idea never quite panned out, because it was very silly: people are unlikely to want to join literally thousands of different social networks, and it's a lot easier to just create a profile for your brand on an existing social network like Facebook. However, the proprietary social network idea is back, and gaining ground, as a business application.
This week British Telephone (which also provides broadband, digital TV, mobile, security and networked IT services) said it will introduce an online social network resembling Facebook, based on Microsoft software, for its roughly 100,000 employees. The proprietary BT network will enable employees to collaborate on projects wherever they are, including in the office or working remotely.
Interestingly, part of the rationale for the new proprietary BT network is to allow employees figure out which personnel are best-suited for each project -- a charmingly humble admission of ignorance on the part of management, which speaks volumes about the "wisdom of crowds." While most bosses might figure they know best, BT's management is realistic enough to concede that the rank and file might actually have a better handle on their own talent.
At first glance BT-style social networks are unlikely to pose much of a threat to Facebook: anything work-related is supposed to be so inherently lame, right? Well, yes and no. Recently surveys have noted the overlap between workplaces and social networks, raising questions about, say, the propriety of employees being "friends" with their bosses. And unless your workplace is completely, utterly dysfunctional, chances are you've made some friends there -- or at least formed relationships springing from shared goals and the sheer amount of time spent together. Proprietary social networks also have the advantage of being officially approved for use by the powers that be.