Social media platforms are useful tools for brands looking to communicate and develop relationships with their clients. But social media can also have valuable internal applications for companies.

Enterprise social networks are private platforms that are designed to help large businesses improve their operations with faster, smarter communication.

This is not a new idea, but the corporate interest in enterprise social has recently seen rapid growth and is expected to keep growing. A report by the International Data Corporation predicted that revenue from enterprise social would hit about $4.5 billion by 2016, compared with $800 million in 2011. Here’s how it can change your business and culture for the better.

How and Why to Use Enterprise Social

The best reason to use an enterprise social strategy is the same reason you use public social media: to develop new and stronger relationships. But instead of looking outside your business for those connections, you can tighten the bonds between your employees.

Those connections are valuable for improving your work-focused collaborations. Projects can progress faster with the rapid communication and easy access to information that social networks provide. Especially when your office spans multiple buildings or cities, this type of instant communication is key for efficiency.

Beyond the immediate goals of work, though, enterprise social can help turn co-workers into friends. It encourages employees to be active participants in the company culture, to voice opinions, and to highlight their strengths. Maria Ogneva, Director of Community at Yammer, told us in an interview that traditionally, people at many companies are reluctant to share information, but enterprise social is changing that mindset. Now, the people who share the most are frequently the strongest players in a business.

Before jumping into one of the available networks or programs, it is important to make sure you adopt a strategy for enterprise social. Without a plan, you run the risk of confusion or low participation among your team. It’s the same principle behind making any choice related to corporate culture: you need to incorporate it into every aspect of the work. Once your employees understand how enterprise social benefits them and are trained to treat it as part of their regular routine, they are more likely to stick with the platform.

What Are Your Options?

Your business has many options for enterprise social networks, and each of them has valuable features to offer. Some platforms focus mostly on efficiency within teams. Sprout Social is one of those. The social media management tool has several features for keeping your team members in contact, such as creating customized groups, assigning tasks, and connecting with Zendesk customer service. The combination of enterprise social and social media management make it a great choice for companies that are active on Facebook, Twitter, or similar public networks.

Yammer, Basecamp, Moxie Software, Cisco, Atlassian, and Huddle are other options for improving your internal work collaborations. Whether you want to share files, host a web conference, or monitor a to-do list, the products from these companies can keep your workers on top of their duties. Each has a strong list of features, and you’ll want to consider price point, ease of use, scalability, and support before you make a choice about which one is the best fit.

Other enterprise platforms are designed with more social features. Socialcast, Socialtext, Campfire, and Chatter are programs that are more focused on chatting and updates. These will help form bonds among your workers, although they can also be applied to task management.

Also, keep in mind that there may not be a single platform that serves all of your needs. You may want to use Sprout Social for task management and Campfire for office chat, for example. Keep an open mind about what will best fit your company culture and best serve your employees in making enterprise social decisions.

What enterprise social networks does your company use? Let us know in the comments!

This article discusses Sprout Social, our social media management tool for businesses. To learn about our editorial ethics and our commitment to objective coverage of the social media space, visit our About page.

[Image credits: Highways Agency, Victor1558, Jerry Bunkers]