Following Facebook's dismal performance on Black Friday-responsible for a mere 0.68 percent of the day's total online sales-media leaders have begun to speculate as to social media's ability to drive direct sales. And although such speculation is warranted, New York Times columnist, Stephen Baker, in a recent Sunday Review op-ed put it best: "Social networks, like them or not, are fast laying out a new grid of personal connections. Even if this matrix of humanity sputters in advertising and marketing, it's bound to spawn new industries in consulting, education, collaborative design, market research, media and loads of products and services yet to be imagined." Baker smartly illustrates social media is a still gestating industry, sure to birth a brood of yet unimagined verticals that may very well one day mature into essential elements of business. And no truer will this be than of the 'enterprise social network.' Revolutionizing Internal Communications Although an internal communications network is far from a new idea, enterprise social networks (ESN) are vastly different from their intranet cousins. Mainly, enterprise social networks mimic the look and feel of the networks we've come to use daily, but in doing so encourage a dialogue in which all employee voices are equal to that of the most senior executive-ESNs level the playing field, at least insofar as they allow equal opportunity for every employee to be heard. And though this may seem an uncomfortable prospect for traditional corporations, it shouldn't: In the end, enterprise social networks aim to share information, encourage collaboration, and strengthen company culture. Consider the following 3 important benefits to adopting an ESN. 1.) Streamlined Communications In a May 2011 study, The Radicati Group found the growth rate of email sent and received to be slowing due to the adoption of other communications platforms, including social networks. Enterprise social networks can radically reduce inbox clutter, replacing time-consuming email threads with discussions concisely displayed on the network in public or private discussions. 2.) A Company Knowledge Archive Enterprise social networks provide an all-access platform for important corporate documents. Process memos, training resources, relevant industry news updates-ESNs can be used as data storehouses to help keep all employees on the same page. And in the case of new recruits, becoming familiar with formal systems or even company culture is more efficient thanks to the wealth of centralized wisdom ESNs provide. 3.) Real-Time Crowd-Sourced Content Regardless of their training or experience, public-facing employees-sales and customer service-inevitably encounter new issues in need of fast attention. Enterprise social network provider, SocialCast, in a recent case study highlighted one primary benefit to internal networks: crowd-sourced answers, quickly. Global business analytics software provider, SAS, representative, Karen Lee, states, "If someone in one country needs a quick answer to a question about customer deployment they simply post the question to [the network]. Answers come back almost immediately from other locations." According to Lee, the same is true of key documents. "Or, if an employee needs a specific document, they can post their request to [the network]. Just as quickly someone else responds with a link to that document's location. ESNs function as a real-time supplement to employee handbooks, helping gradually to refine corporate systems and guidelines. Related: Opt for Document Management Software, as well. Platforms to Try Enterprise social network providers is fast becoming a competitive vertical; but, you'll likely want to investigate Yammer, Chatter, or SocialCast-all three solutions have growing customer bases and are subsidiaries to stable parent software companies. Photo credit: sproutsocial.com Bio: Jacob Penner is a consultant at CloudTactix, a Madison-based inbound marketing agency. Feel free to connect with Jacob on Google+, LinkedIn, or Twitter, or contact CloudTactix directly to learn more about inbound marketing.