Culture in the Cloud: How Enterprise Social Networks Can Either Enhance or Hinder Your Global Organization


These days, many of us spend more time socializing virtually through various social media sites rather than in the “real world.” Businesses are chasing this trend and redesigning their intranets to function more like Facebook or LinkedIn. These internal social platforms are called “Enterprise Social Networks” (ESNs) and can boost global virtual collaboration, engagement, and knowledge sharing practices between business units and with clients and partners.  Examples of ESNs like Yammer or Tibbr undeniably bear a lot of benefits, as they break companies’ geographical, functional, and cultural silos and foster a sense of community within the organization.

Just as with face-to-face interaction, road blocks can pop up when participating in the forums. And for global organizations, the challenge is even greater! A company’s diverse workforce includes a wide variety of employee values, mindsets and preferences. Each person brings their own cultural norms into the social network setting.

For instance, colleagues from Japan or South Korea who tend to value modesty might not be comfortable posting personal photos, but instead prefer to use avatars or pictures of pets to set up their personal profiles on companies’ intranets.

A common ESN practice in the US is to participate in public polls and discussions, known as “working out loud.” In regions, such as the Middle East, Asia, and Eastern Europe, sharing too much information in a public forum might be risky behavior, as they pay closer attention to organizational hierarchy and social status and maintain separate private and public persona. Employees may become more comfortable over time if they first “lurk,” and then work in closed groups via shared documents.

Successfully implementing a thriving ESN platform across multiple cultures  involves:

  • Ensuring your platform includes a variety of features to accommodate various participation preferences, such as closed chat rooms in addition to open forum discussions.
  • Getting the buy-in and sponsorship from the local leadership when rolling out an ESN and when promoting open forum discussions, virtual “town hall meetings”, or any new feature of the tool. The local leaders will motivate their teams’ participation in accordance with their local cultural norms.
  • Adopting one platform across the organization for all your collaboration and knowledge sharing needs. This way you will avoid creating confusion as to what tool is to be used and when and simultaneously will nudge participation in public forums and especially lurking across all cultures.
  • Considering the following factors in each global location:
    • Access to technology
    • Internet speed
    • Local laws and regulations
    • Language barriers
  • Investing in building and increasing cross-cultural awareness and a global mindset across the organization to minimize virtual miscommunication, a common struggle in global organizations, and to promote inclusive practices.

Taking these steps can increase the effectiveness of your company’s communication over ESNs.

Written by Yulia Carson, Director of Global Talent Development

Contact Yulia here