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11/21/2011
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Bring-Your-Own Social Networks Arrive

Maybe you've dealt with bring your own device policies, but are you ready for rogue social networks in the enterprise?

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In the enterprise, social networking is springing up all over--but not all of it has been officially sanctioned. Indeed, many internal social networks are hidden--whether intentionally or not--from IT and business managers. What's a company to do? Is it better to look the other way or block these nets? Or, should companies embrace "bring your own social networks" as many have embraced BYODs, or bring your own device?

Like wireless networks and smartphones before them, social networks are coming in through the back door at many companies. That is, end users are taking it upon themselves to deploy social systems like Yammer or Jive, or are turning on social features in platforms such as Salesforce.com, without explicit permission or the support of the IT department.

At Wells Fargo, Kelli Carlson-Jagersma's recently formed social strategy team, led by Nathan Bricklin, is developing and implementing the company's internal collaboration strategy. Currently, there are instances of internal social networks within the company, but only because an employee either set one up on his or her own or turned on a social networking capability within an existing enterprise application, said Carlson-Jagersma. She added that her team's goal is to identify all of those instances and offer them a standard system. "Our goal is to round up all of the social networks in the company that people have snuck in, brought in, turned on, and settle on an approach and the appropriate tool or tools to add business value."

Doug Landoll, director of risk management for IT security firm Accuvant, said it's hard to imagine an organization that does not need to address this issue. "Social networks are a key communications medium and are becoming ingrained into our culture," he said. Whether an organization allows access to social media through the enterprise, attempts to restrict such access, or utilizes social media in their own marketing, social media provides opportunities but also poses a risk that is not well understood by many organizations."

Experts agree that these networks are being set up not out of any malicious intent, but mostly by employees who see the potential of social networking within their organizations and are frustrated by not being able to tap into it.

"Why do people in your organization use unsanctioned internal social networks? The answer is simple," said Joel Lundgren, senior advisor for community management strategies with IFS AB, a provider of ERP software. "They are frustrated because they cannot do their job efficiently. Your current communication and collaboration infrastructure is out of date and doesn't compare with the experience of communicating with friends and family online," he said.

"They feel limited," he added, "hands tied behind their back when all they want is to do a good job. They are fed up with business environments lagging behind the consumer world--their world outside of work. They want to be able to communicate on the go and not be restricted by office hours and time zones. Your employees are ahead of you. They have spotted an opportunity you haven't yet seen yourself."

Indeed, Ari Lightman, professor at Carnegie Mellon University and director of the CIO Institute there, prefers the term "necessary" to "rogue" when it comes to these ad hoc social networking systems. "It's an interesting question. Personally, I don't think these social networks are rogue; rather, workers are using them out of necessity."

With that said, noted Lightman, there are risks: "One of the concerns corporate IT departments face is not only data security but individuals/splinter groups using these mechanisms for malicious intent."

In the end, said Lightman, companies that are hesitant or even loathe to set up some kind of social networking capabilities will need to embrace the model--or at least tolerate it--through the use of controlled implementations. "I think companies need to understand that the next generation of workers is accustomed to using social platforms as a means to communicate, collaborate, innovate, etc.," he said. "If they fail to understand these needs and offer platforms that mimic what they are accustomed to, they will be missing out on enhancing productivity, increasing engagement and, in some cases, ceasing to be attractive to a new workforce."

Lundgren advises that organizations at least begin to address the issue of unsanctioned social networks by meeting with the people who saw fit to set them up, as part of a strategy to essentially "make the unsanctioned sanctioned." This will almost certainly lead to a more purposeful, productive social environment at your organization, he said.

"Book a meeting with the people who took the initiative," said Lundgren. "Find out firsthand what benefits they see from using the unsanctioned tool and how it improves the business."

Are "rogue" social networks popping up at your organization? How are you dealing with them? I'd appreciate hearing your thoughts on the issue. Please comment below or send me an email at debra.donstonmiller@gmail.com.

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