The 7 differences between Intranets, Collaborative Intranets (or 2.0) and Enterprise Social Networks

Estimated reading time: 6 minutes

Probably these concepts are already quite familiar to many of the readers of this blog… Probably many of you use them as synonyms or don’t distinguish between the concepts. However, today’s article aims to establish the main differences between these terms and the concepts that they represent. So here we go…

1. The name

Different concepts, different names. This is the basic idea of language, although on occasion only people we call “experts” (due to their experiences or knowledge) are capable of distinguishing between these conceptual differences, like the number of different words we can use for a river… brook, course, run, stream, creek, rivulet…

So the fact that we use Intranet, Collaborative Intranet (or Intranet 2.0, if you like) or Enterprise Social Network means that they are different concepts. Terminological differentiation isn’t free. What is their main terminological difference?

  • Intranet: Technical term made up of “intra” (internal) + “net” (network). Digital space connected in an internal network.
  • Collaborative Intranet (or 2.0): In this case, we give it a “last name” which gives it a nuance: collaborative and/or social (2.0).
  • Enterprise Social Network: Finally, we refer directly to a Network, which is what matters, the interlinked structure between all its components.

2. The definition

According to the terminology difference, we find ourselves faced with different definitions. I’ll try to give you a “neutral” and general definition, using written reference sources (essentially, Wikipedia).

  • Intranet: An intranet is a private network of computers that use Internet technology to share part of its information and operational systems within an organization. The term intranet is used in contrast to Internet, a network between organizations, making reference to a network within the area of an organization.
  • Collaborative Intranet (or 2.0): The same definition as above to which we add, as we pointed out in the previous point, a collaborative and/or social nuance, meaning that its contents and structure can be enriched collaboratively by its members’ contributions.
  • Enterprise Social Network: In this case, we refer to a network, a space that is structured and completed by the relationships between members of the community and whose contents are provided by the members themselves. All members have the chance to contribute to the collective knowledge, always within (as in the previous points) the scope of an organization.

1. The issuer

Since with these three terms we refer to a digital environment in which contents are transmitted internally… who exactly is the author or issuer in each one? Returning to our power of three:

  • Intranet: The issuer is the one defined as the voice of the company: Human Resources, Internal Communication or even IT. The ones that have decided why and what the intranet will be used for.
  • Collaborative Intranet (or 2.0): In this case, the issuer is the same, however, permissions are given to employees to enter comments, opinions or valuations, to give that touch of “collaboration” in the corporate internal system.
  • Enterprise Social Network: In an Enterprise Social Network, all members of the business network are issuers, authors, voices of the company: employees, partners, customers, followers, influencers, detractors, competition… All contribute knowledge to the project, all help to make the company grow. Be it directly (giving them access to the network) or indirectly, gathering their contributions on the internet (external network) through content tracking systems (Google Alerts, RSS, etc.).

4. The recipient

In the same way there is an issuer, in a communicative process there is also a recipient. Who are the contents that are published in each of these corporate digital spaces aimed at?

  • Intranet: At employees. Classical top-down vertical structure.
  • Collaborative Intranet (or 2.0): At employees, and in some cases, at top management. Giving the option to comment on what the “voice of the company” transmits, this voice can become “heard” and can receive and/or listen to contributions.
  • Enterprise Social Network: At everyone, as the idea is to encourage bottom-up knowledge, not creating information silos, and that the ideas of all employees (especially the productive ones) reach the top levels and vice versa, as on many occasions the vision of management is not properly transmitted to the work teams.

Combining points 3 and 4… any contribution and collective active listening (“the power of the crowd”) proves to be more enriching than isolated, individual contributions and responses.

5. The tool

We could also call this section “technology” and go on for lines and lines by describing each concept at a technology level… But I’m not going to do that. I’ll try to be brief :-)

  • Intranet: (Almost) custom software, normally costly to implement, both in terms of finances, resources (people and technology), and time. Complex configuration, clearly structured functions and difficult to modify. SharePoint or SAP would be a good example of this type of intranet.
  • Collaborative Intranet (or 2.0): (Almost) custom software, normally costly to implement, both in terms of finances, resources (people and technology), and time, with a “social layer” that adds collaborative features that the software itself does not posses and that would be complex to incorporate natively in the system. This is a hybrid solution. A possible example would be the social layers that are added nowadays to “SharePoint” (including Zyncro).
  • Enterprise Social Network: Software with a social DNA, commonly SaaS that allows horizontal integration, easy incorporation of new users, quick and simple personalization, that incorporates new features and integrations easily, with mobile access, and that in turn has many configuration options (like traditional software) but based on usability and intuition concepts, like mainstream social networks. Giving an example here isn’t too hard… Zyncro is an Enterprise Social Network 😉

6. The goal

In this section, I should probably hand over to Josep Baijet, Director of ZyncSocial, one of the professionals I know with the most experience in implementing the three environments we have looked at and the author of the SocialMethods, the goals sought with the implementation of a internal, social corporate solution. So I’ll summarize what he suggests according to our classification:

  • Intranet: It attempts to establish a top-down communication, act as a corporate document repository and be the point of access for the company’s applications.
  • Collaborative Intranet (or 2.0): Same goals as the previous but includes the goal of being the starting point for contributions from the company’s employees.
  • Enterprise Social Network: In this case, we should look at the SocialMethods: co-creation, collaboration, conflict resolution, engagement, process improvement, knowledge management, external communication, document management, innovation, training, relationships between people, mentoring, workflow, project management, sales management (leads management and interactive customer service flows), personal productivity improvement. To find out more… SocialMethods by Josep Baijet.

7. The company

Last but not least, we need to look at the type of company that looks at incorporating one system or another…

  • Intranet: “Established” companies, normally large scale, whose members still do not feel ready for the change, as they usually have an intranet already which, as we said, they have spent much money, time, resources and effort on.
  • Collaborative Intranet (or 2.0): Companies, normally also large-scale, that are aware of the need for change but that want to do it in a controlled, gradual manner, reusing what they already have.
  • Enterprise Social Network: The company 2.0. An enterprise in which size DOESN’T MATTER. On this occasion, I won’t linger on the details. To find out more about this type of hyper-connected, hyper-motivated, hyper-technological, hyper-efficient company… check out this infograph.


I could go on describing the differences for several minutes more…

  • Type of contents
  • Benefits
  • Implementation times
  • People in charge of each project
  • Errors that can be committed

But maybe these aspects should belong in a second part of this post. For the time being, what do you think? Are the differences between environments evident? Have I managed to express them clearly? Remember, none of the options is the best or the worst, just different… But nonetheless…

If you think you are ready to benefit from the best of an Enterprise Social Network…

click here! 😉