When it comes to social networking, most companies find themselves in a jam. While they're extending their brand presences on the ever-popular public social network sites--Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn--they're having a devil of a time getting employees to embrace their internal social networks.
We asked business technology pros to assess their internal social networks, and the results skew downward: Only 13% say they're excellent, 25% good, with 37% average and 25% fair or poor. For a high-profile initiative that everyone from the CEO down is watching, a 62% chance of producing average or worse returns counts as a high-risk proposition.
This comment from one survey respondent, a senior IT director with a large technology company, captures the mood: "We have tried for over four years to push social networking in the enterprise. People just view it as one more place to have to look to get information."
Lackluster adoption is the biggest obstacle, cited by 35% of the 394 respondents to our Social Networking in the Enterprise Survey at companies using one or more internal social networking systems. That's exactly the same percentage as a year ago, even as Facebook grew its user base 50% to 750 million people. Facebook's expected public offering this year will only add to the pressure for companies to do more in-house with social networking. Vendor CEOs such as Salesforce.com's Marc Benioff, Yammer's David Sacks and Jive's Tony Zingale are pounding this drum, promoting their own social software platforms, yet it's clear that IT organizations must do more than ride the coattails of Facebook and Twitter.
InformationWeek isn't the only one seeing employees slow to embrace social apps. Forrester's survey of 4,985 U.S. information workers, published last fall, found that only 28% of workers use any kind of social software at least monthly for work--and of those many are using only a public social site such as Facebook. Just 22% of social software users said the technology is vital to their jobs. The top reason people cited for using social software at work (39%) is that it's easy to learn to use and fills a job need. An almost equal percentage (38%) said it's the most efficient way to do their jobs. Ease of use and efficiency are much more important than the peer pressure of colleagues saying they prefer social collaboration, Forrester's TJ Keitt notes.
Another research firm, the Corporate Executive Board, released a survey of 53 companies in September 2010 showing that user adoption of Enterprise 2.0 technologies lagged initial deployment by five to eight quarters. Gartner this year is predicting the social business software market will get tougher for small, independent vendors, as giants such as Microsoft, IBM, Google, VMware, and Oracle focus on it.
So, is it time to write off corporate social networks as just another technology fad? No way. Social networking can pay off, but only if IT organizations take a stronger role in their companies' internal and external social networking efforts.
Internally, this means leveraging the habits users are developing on public sites and bringing those habits inside the company. In some cases, companies just need to tweak their in-house social software, integrating it better with email, for instance. CIOs and other business leaders must also give users a reason to stay active on internal social networks, by keeping content fresh and relevant, by making it easy to access, and by providing links to people they might otherwise connect with.
Most companies' marketing and support teams already are active on public social networks such as Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn. Now IT organizations need to step up their role, providing guidance on everything from security and monitoring to the best way to share content outside the firewall.
Our survey finds that in 54% of companies, marketing has taken ownership of social network monitoring tools, up 13 percentage points from just a year ago. That may seem like a good fit, but not if marketing isn't correctly setting up monitoring and coordinating activities with other groups like customer support. It's not hugely important who's in charge of those tools, but if IT is to have any role in how a company uses Facebook and other external social sites, it needs to fix its internal social networking projects first. And that may require a change of mindset.
"People are trying to rationalize, police, and control the tool," says Chris Laping, CIO of the 30,000-employee Red Robin restaurant chain, which has started testing Yammer for enterprise social networking. "The power of information technology is sharing information. What we naturally do with systems is lock them down, which prevents us from sharing information."
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