We talk a lot about how important developing a social media strategy is for small businesses as an invaluable inbound marketing platform, but have you considered using an internal social media solution to boost communication and information flow throughout your organization? It's a lot easier to do than you'd expect. More and more businesses are integrating a social element into their company's intranet, allowing employees to interact with each other like never before via blogs, RSS and even podcasting. Below you'll find some free and easy-to-use ideas for starting your own internal social network.
There's a good chance your employees or co-workers are already using Facebook on a daily basis, so an excellent starting point for small businesses looking to adopt social media as an internal communications tool is by creating a Facebook Group. A Facebook Group can be setup to be accessible via invite-only, and all communication within the group is restricted to the group itself, meaning none of your correspondance can be seen by your friends that aren't group members. With Facebook Groups you get the same familiar Facebook functionality such as the ability to share pictures, videos and links while maintaining privacy. Groups is probably best used as a tool for a small amount of people, but if you're looking to get a larger group of people interacting there are other great free services for that, such as...
Grouply is a free alternative to the paid service Ning which lets you create your own hosted social networking website. Much like Facebook, Grouply lets you manage media like images and photos, has an events calendar and includes a chat functionality (along with the standard affair of social media status updates and blog posts). One cool feature about Grouply is that if you had a Ning network, Google Group or Yahoo Group they can automatically import all of your past data so you lose nothing in the transfer. Add on top of all of this the ability to skin your network with a beautiful theme and you have a great internal social networking solution! One downside of Grouply is that it's a hosted solution, meaning you'll be given a "yournetwork.grouply.com" style URL. If you're looking for a solution you can host yourself, as part of your company's intranet for example, there are great open source projects for you to take advantage of like...
Elgg is one of many free open source social networking projects that a developer with a bit of know-how can download, modify and deploy to their own server. The upside of Elgg is that, much like WordPress, there are a ton of plugins and themes already created to enhance the look and functionality of your social network. Want to add Facebook-style like buttons to your Elgg network? Just download the plugin. Interested in skinning your network to make it look just like Facebook? You can do that too! The themes and plugins are extensible, meaning you're free to modify and improve them to your heart's content in most cases. Much like Grouply, Elgg has features for interacting with friends via status updates, a blogging feature and many other standard social media features. Best of all, you can host your Elgg social network at your own URL if you already have access to web hosting.
One downside of the Elgg open source project is that it does require a bit more technical know-how than the previous two solutions do. It'd be a good idea to consult with a web developer before deploying an open source social networking solution if you don't already have one in-house. With that said, the technical barrier gives you a lot of freedom to create a social network that works exactly the way you want it to!
So there you have it, 3 different solutions for getting the ball rolling internally with social networking. We've always encouraged folks to talk about their small business on social media websites like Facebook and Twitter, but it can be a productivity tool for your internal operations as well! Using one of the solutions above is also a great way to introduce social newbies to the fundamentals of social networking before entering a public arena like Facebook or Twitter. Has your business successfully deployed a social intranet, or do you have different ideas for free or open source alternatives to Facebook Groups, Grouply or Elgg? Let us know in the comments!