Just Like a Label: Analogies to Make Your Enterprise Social Network Work

|   Feb 23, 2012

In most social networks, there’s a lot of lurking going on. That is, a large portion of users are logging in, reading posts, joining groups, and watching – but they’re not posting any new messages. There’s a significant body of research on why lurkers lurk, and the same research has shown that only about 13% of social network users actually intend on lurking when they join a community1 . That means that 87% of your community’s users have the intent to post at some point. So how do you make it easy for these employees to feel comfortable enough to post?

One of the most successful recommendations we’ve made to our customers is to “make the social network tangible.” Especially for employees who are not familiar with online social networks, describing the social network with tangible, more tactile words helps them understand that they already participate in physical work activities that a social network mimics. If you can create an analogy between a social networking feature and a physical work item or activity, you can help break down the barriers to posting.

Here are a few examples that we commonly use.

Using Tags – tags are like the little labels that you put on a file folder in a file cabinet. When you tag a message, you’re classifying or labeling it so that it’s easier to find. When you file several papers or files into one folder, you do it because they relate to each other. Tags do the same thing – they label messages and group them together so that you can find related messages.

Using @mentions – @mentions are akin to asking a colleague a question in a big meeting, or calling down the hall to a cube-mate to share an update. @mentions allow you to broadcast your thoughts to a general audience, but at the same time, make sure that certain people take notice of what you’re saying. In an office environment, this is done in places where you have many people gathered together (as in a meeting) or gathered virtually (on a conference call).

Private message – when you need to speak privately with a colleague or your boss, you go to an office and close the door. You’re guaranteed a secure, private place to share your thoughts. A private message sent inside a social network achieves the same effect: one-on-one communication that is completely confidential between the sender and recipient.

When shared with your lurkers, these suggestions may help transform their activities by simply providing more thorough education. What others comparisons have you made that have had a positive effect on the community?

Reference 1: Nonnecke et al (2004): Online Lurkers Tell Why


  • Great post Carrie! I really like how you connect the “real” workplace with the virtual workplace. Just to add, another thing we do is highlight the top users or most active people. Our community managers/internal comms people keep their eyes out for new names. So, when someone who has never posted before says something, we are sure to like or comment on their post to encourage them and let them know they’re being heard.

    Commented on February 23, 2012 at 9:58 am
  • Great post! Sometimes we forget that for non-millenials, this might not be intuitive right away. I guess I could be considered a lurker in many cases. Although I do comment quite a bit, it tends to be only in the virtual versions of the places I’d speak outloud, like in my team meeting. Certain groups can be intimidating to newbies due to an overuse of jargon and inside jokes or references that might not be familiar. It’s difficult to strike the balance between making groups an extension of the work environment, and being open to expanding our day to day network. I think the true value of enterprise social networks comes from breaking down some of those barriers. If they exist in the physical world (people being timid in meetings), it will most likely exist in virtual ones as well.

    Commented on February 23, 2012 at 3:05 pm
  • One thing I do is try not to use IT terms like click, open, download, post, etc… Instead, I try to use expressions like “Stop by and see whats happening”, “pop in for a bit and share what youre doing”, “grab the latest newsletter”, “look who walked through the door”, “step in”, “dont just stand there, respond when someone talks to to”, etc

    Commented on February 24, 2012 at 3:05 am

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Socialcast by VMware (NYSE: VMW) is a social network for business uniting people, information, and applications with its real-time enterprise activity stream engine. Behind the firewall or in the cloud, Socialcast enables instant collaboration in a secure environment. Socialcast is headquartered in San Francisco, California. www.socialcast.com