When will enterprise social networks save us from email hell?

Dom Burch is the founder and MD of Why Social, a strategic marketing consultancy, and former senior director of marketing innovation and new revenue at Asda. Trained in PR, Dom has spent the last 17 years in a variety of comms roles at Asda, Direct Line and Green Flag including head of PR and head of social.

There's an entire movement called Working Out Loud who celebrate the art of open communication in the workplace, so why is it so many organisations are still wedded to pesky email as the only digital means of communicating?

Let's not forget the dreaded digital inbox we suffer today was born out of an analog equivalent. Emails are based on the original paper based memo system, where important information would be sent via internal mail in a brown reusable envelope and placed in your in tray. Anything addressed 'to someone' meant it was for action, and anything 'carbon copied' to others was for their reference, in other words it meant no action was required. Read it and file it.

Yet no-one I know ever conforms to that convention these days.

Once was a time you'd open all of the emails sent to you first, as you knew you had to do something. Anything merely cc'd to you could be left to one side for a quieter moment. Those days are long gone.

If you ever dare leave your desk (or BlackBerry in my case as I don't have a desk) unattended for more than ten minutes you can easily return to find dozens of dull conversations swamping your ever burgeoning 'to do' list, with no regard paid to their relative importance, urgency or relevance.

My heart is pounding with frustration at the mere thought of it all.

Deep breaths Dominic. Deep breaths.

Over the last twenty or so years our email infrastructure has become more clogged up than the M62 on a bank holiday weekend. Full to the brim, everyone fighting to edge to the front of the queue, getting absolutely nowhere fast, beep beep goes the red little red light.

Yet in every other walk of life technology has moved on considerably.

Like it or loathe it, Facebook brilliantly realised that 200 updates in your timeline each day placed in chronological order was no better than managing your work email inbox. Its algorithm helped bring order and sense by promoting the most important and relevant stuff to the very top. They've since clogged it up with sponsored posts, but that's another story.

Imagine if your email did same. The really important conversation was promoted to the top. Calls to action were clear. Your boss' emails weren't buried under an avalanche of other people's emails, each one telling you whether they wanted prawn cocktail or soup with their team Christmas dinner.

But of course there is an answer, and increasingly more and more companies are waking up to the benefits of harnessing social tools in the workplace. Be that Yammer, or Slack or Facebook for business, organisations are now not just more accepting of the technology they are eagerly embracing it.

The BBC reported this morning that Facebook has already signed up 300 companies including Heineken, Hootsuite, and Royal Bank of Scotland. Following a successful pilot programme RBS confirmed it will be rolling out Facebook at Work to all 100,000 employees in 2016.

Kevin Hanley, head of design at RBS says it's all about facilitating collaboration between different arms of the business. Facebook at Work is "a key component in driving a more transparent, engaged, collaborative, culture." At Asda we've slowly been adopting a tool called Fusion, built by a local company called IMP Media.

IMP customise its Fusion tool for the specific needs of each client they work with. EE’s internal social network Splash is based on Fusion, and its original aim as I understand it was to bring the employees of Orange and T-Mobile together when the companies merged, and create an easy-to-use tool for staying in touch with company news, sharing info like competitor insights, and probably most importantly socialising.

We first saw the power of using an enterprise social network tool during the Grand Depart of the Tour de France last year. Asda sponsored the Tour Makers (think London 2012 Games Makers), and was tasked with training them up, clothing and feeding them, and helping ensure they were in all the right places.

IMP customised Fusion, creating Rendezvous. 10,000 people, strangers at first, who were quickly able to forge groups, solve simple problems like swapping t-shirts that didn't fit, swap tips on travelling to various points of the course whilst avoiding road blocks, and share pics of the spectacle itself, which could then be amplified to the outside world.

Issues were dealt with promptly and contained with little interference from the centre. And the unofficial Facebook group that had initially been set up by a Tour Maker off their own back was closed down as it was surplus to requirements.

We've since adopted a similar Fusion tool, renaming it My Green Room, and rolled it out to our army of community life colleagues in our 600 shops. Accessible via their smartphone, and with the type of functionality they are used to seeing on Facebook, Twitter or Pinterest, it is proving to be a valuable addition to their day jobs.

Uniting a community of people who are geographically dispersed, but super connected both in terms of what they do each day, but also the problems and challenges they face. Just imagine an email conversation with 600 people participating. It would be the manifestation of hell on earth.

Dom Burch, senior director of marketing innovation and new revenues at Walmart (Asda), explores the ever changing world of social media marketing in his 'Thought of the Day' blog. You can follow him on Twitter at @domburch

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