Businesses Create Proprietary Social Networks

scissor/social networks

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.

4 comments about "Businesses Create Proprietary Social Networks".
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  1. Ruth Barrett from, June 3, 2010 at 7:25 p.m.

    It isn't a proprietary social network.

    It's a collaboration network using collaboration software developed by Microsoft who is one of many players in this application category, Jive Software being another. It may be expanded to include partners, for example, or for many technical companies they have been very helpful in connecting directly with the customer in driving product innovation.

  2. Brian Hayashi from ConnectMe 360, June 3, 2010 at 9:52 p.m.

    While the first-generation web connected pages and servers, social networks allow fine-grained management of connections/relationships with people. So yeah, if you call Best Buy's Twelpforce a social network, then BT's new network fits the bill as well.

    That being said, the purpose of a social network doesn't necessarily have to mean "to compete with Facebook". Maybe it's not about how many followers you have. Perhaps it's about how many people you can count on to help you get things done.

  3. Alison . from, June 4, 2010 at 1:26 p.m.


    Organizations can register for a beta invite to try (, the hosted version of the popular open source Elgg software that powers private social networks for such organizations as Wiley Publishing, major universities such as Harvard and Stanford Universities,and governments including the Federal Canadian Government and the State of Ohio.

  4. Harold Cabezas from Cabezas Communications, June 6, 2010 at 2:45 p.m.

    Good post, Erik.

    I remember when I mentioned to colleagues in 2008 that eventually all companies would have in-house social networks, they looked at me like I was insane.

    Many people socialize with people they work with, apart from the obvious needs for work-collaboration. I suspect this may not catch on in the US for another 12 months....but I believe it will.

    Companies will realize that it is in their best interests to have their employees fraternize/collaborate on a company network than an outside social network (i.e., Twitter, Facebook) during the course of their work days.

    This will lead to in-house social media teams that would need to spark interest in employees constantly (community managers) with regard to work issues and personal stories.

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