What would Facebook look like without photos of drunken nights out and tales of misbehaving cats? It might look a lot like the internal social network at Nikon Instruments.
The tone is decidedly businesslike, as employees exchange messages about customer orders, new products and closing deals. And the general rule is that “if you don’t want your company president to see it, don’t post it,” said John G. Bivona, a customer relations manager at Nikon Instruments.
As social networks dominate lives, businesses of all sizes — from tiny start-ups to midsize companies like Nikon to behemoths like Dell — are adopting them for the workplace. A number of corporate software companies have sensed the opportunity and offer various systems, some free to existing customers, others that charge a fee per user.
One of the biggest providers of corporate social networks is online business software company Salesforce.com. It said 80,000 companies use its corporate social network, Chatter, up from around 10,000 when it was introduced a year ago.
Yammer, a start-up, said its service is used by more than 100,000 companies, up from 80,000 a year ago.
In the business world, the connections are between colleagues, not personal friends or family, and the communications are meant to be about work matters.
But it can be tricky to transport the mores and practices of social networking into the office.
For instance, some workers prefer to be “lurkers” who read posts rather than write them. Others are just not interested. At Symantec, the computer security company, a few employees initially disliked the idea of an internal social network, but nevertheless used it to air their complaints.
Another issue is how to protect corporate secrets. And employees may post private information more widely than they should.
“It’s sometimes a disaster,” said Susan Landry, an analyst with Gartner. “It sometimes gets shut down by security or compliance.”