There seems to be some confusion as to what exactly enterprise social network software is and what it does.

Is it a service for companies so their employees can have “friends” at work and share birthday party pictures? Does it have something to do with the place where people can broadcast their opinions in less than 140 characters? Or is it something completely different?

Well, let’s take a minute and see if we can clear up this confusion as to what it really is. Part of the confusion comes from the use of the word “social.” What exactly does this term add to “media” and what about networks? So when in doubt, let’s check the dictionary.

On, you will find:

Social: 1. pertaining to, devoted to, or characterized by friendly companionship or relations: a social club.

So if we add this to the definition of media (a means of communication), we get something like “A means of communication for friendly companions or relationships.” This is a pretty good description of what Twitter is mostly about.

And if we do the same with network (an association of individuals having a common interest), we can come up with a pretty good definition of Facebook. “Social” also has the effect of implying that it is personal.

But what if the common interest of the network is work and the companionship is sharing the same employer? Well, that is a pretty good start when trying to define enterprise social networks. The “enterprise” in enterprise social network shows the true nature of the relationships and common interests.

It is your professional network and not your personal network. So it is all about working together, meeting objectives, getting the job done quicker and more efficiently through open collaboration with internal and external stakeholders.

Hence, in the enterprise social network context, we avoid using the term “social media” as a descriptor, as it commonly refers to “social” communication channels (Twitter, Youtube, Facebook, Myspace, etc..) that cater to individual consumers. We also avoid the term “social networks” on its own for the same reason.

We find that many enterprise customers identify better with private social networks (the thought being that they are customized to cater to a private community like in a company) while others think of it as professional social networks (which directly refers to a network of colleagues, management, team members, contacts, customers, suppliers, partners…..).

Following on that, the term “enterprise social network software” clearly describes the platform an organization uses to enable employees to create, expand, and engage with their ‘private’ and ‘professional’ network within their company and its extended ecosystem of partners, suppliers and customers. What do you think?