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9/23/2010
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Socially Challenged

IT's under pressure to deliver Facebook-like social networking inside companies. Yet the biggest worry is getting employees to use it. What's going on?

When it comes to using social networking inside businesses, we're at an odd place in time.

There's incredible pressure on IT teams to deliver Facebook-like collaboration tools. A whopping 89% of respondents to our 2010 Social Networking in the Enterprise Survey say their companies are using some type of social networking, whether it's blogs, wikis, discussion forums, or full-blown enterprise social network systems.

Yet despite this clamor, the No. 1 problem is getting employees to use enterprise social networks. What? Weren't we told that this "younger generation" couldn't live without social tools? Only 10% of respondents to our survey consider their internal social networking initiatives a great success.

We have some suggestions for the other 90%. The main thing is for their IT teams to step into this confusion and lead, and we offer an outline on how to do that.

We dug into why employees aren't adopting IT-supplied social networking systems, and we found some big gaps: They aren't connected to e-mail and other apps, and it's too hard to bring information from the Web into these internal social networks. Meantime, companies aren't even monitoring what people do on these platforms.

IT can help in more strategic ways as well. Only 8% of companies approach their social networking initiatives with a coordinated team from multiple disciplines (most efforts are led by marketing). Companies are shockingly complacent in setting rules and issuing guidance on how employees should use social media--barely a quarter of our survey respondents' companies even have a policy on what to do when employees make inappropriate comments online. Just 14% of respondents have a plan for customer complaints found on Facebook. IT is well positioned to spot where their colleagues are working without a net, and offer solutions.

What follows is an outline of steps IT should take to drive this vital next generation of collaboration. Done right, enterprise social networking will introduce new work concepts and boost productivity. Done wrong, you'll squander an opportunity to help teams who want to collaborate more, and you'll end up burning money on yet another project that's ignored by users.

Why Aren't We Succeeding?

When it comes to enterprise social networking systems, Microsoft's SharePoint leads the pack, used at 71% of survey respondents' companies. Google's Sites (18%) and IBM's Lotus (15%) are the only other platforms with a sizable base. A slate of cloud-centric options, from the likes of Jive, Liferay, and Teligent, each have a single-digit share.

The most-used function of enterprise social networking is the online directory with Facebook-style profiles (22% report heavy use), followed by team or company wikis (13% use those heavily), company discussion forums (7%), and internal blogs (5%). For all those functions, another fourth of companies report moderate use.

The top three challenges cited in our survey are user adoption, explaining the role of social networking, and time requirements to support it.

As IT pushes social networking ahead, here are four questions that can give a quick, honest assessment of those efforts.

Do you have single sign-on? Employees want to log on once for all their systems, and that includes ones for social networking. Congratulations. Two-thirds of companies in our survey pass this test. It's a great starting point for making a social networking system usable.

The next three questions get tougher.

Do you integrate the system with e-mail? E-mail remains the No. 1 communications vehicle for almost every organization, so why do more than a third of survey respondents (39%) not offer any type of e-mail integration with their internal social networks? Adding e-mail notifications and alerts (when, for instance, a wiki group gets updated) would be a great step toward increasing adoption of enterprise social networks. And e-mail is only the start--employees soon will want to be able to chat, too, as they can on Facebook.

We understand you may not have the budget to build or buy a direct plug-in that works with Outlook. But at the very least, let employees send or receive e-mail within the social app. Less than a fourth of companies do.

Third question: Do you know what people are doing in your social networking app? Only 7% of organizations do detailed tracking and analysis of user activity and participation levels, though 30% at least watch basic stats such as page views. A whopping 63% aren't tracking at all.

Detailed monitoring lets companies understand participation levels, spot underused tools, and lay out strategies to increase usage. Viral growth is a myth; you need a plan to expand usage. Monitoring is a key part of that plan.

If you've scored well on all three of these questions, then consider the fourth and final question as a gauge of your commitment to social networking: Are you willing to connect it to the outside world?

Half of the companies we surveyed allow content to flow out of internal social networks--a surprisingly large percentage given that many companies don't want information reposted to external sites.

That said, the fact that only 48% of companies let employees draw in content to the internal systems is perplexing. At those companies that don't let employees bring in external content, people presumably have to cut-and-paste anything interesting they find online.

Instead, they could have something as simple as a share button right on the company's browser toolbar, so a person could just click and add a link to an internal social site. Or they could integrate RSS inbound feeds so they automatically come into the internal system. All doable, and cheap.

Same thing with synchronizing contact information between internal and external systems. Many companies accept LinkedIn and other professional networking sites as valid business tools. Yet only about a third of organizations actually provide tools that help users sync contacts and profile information between internal and external systems. That's not a great message for the user: Get online and win business by working your contacts, but you're on your own managing all of them.

These questions all point to next steps IT teams can take, or at least to the conversations they can start, to advance social networking in their companies. By implementing these kinds of features, businesses can mimic the level of connectivity and interaction users get on Facebook and LinkedIn, getting a better social networking user experience and raising adoption levels.

Hard Rules Nobody Wants To Make

When it comes to policies and procedures related to enterprise social networking--what can be posted on internal and external sites, for instance--beware of taking over the job of HR or a direct supervisor.

True story: A large U.S. manufacturer was monitoring public social networking sites to see if customers were complaining about some recent missteps by the company. Nothing materialized from customers, but negative comments from one employee did surface. The comments were chock-full of words not suitable for a family publication. The monitoring team turned over the comments to the operations team, which took no action. A few weeks later, the same employee blasted out another set of comments. So the operations team asked IT to discipline the employee.

Draw the line. IT often gets the dirty job of saying no to Web surfing behavior, personal e-mail, cell phone upgrades, and anything else unpleasant that involves a microchip. Don't let social networking behavior fall into that realm. Companies must set clear policies and guidelines related to social networking, and IT can help. But they need to come from the entire organization, not from IT.

We recommend working with HR to establish three major policy areas: who can represent the company on social sites, and how; how the company will handle online incidents; and how people should protect their personal privacy on social sites.

That last one might make feel like IT and HR are overreaching, but the default settings on most social media system often aren't in the best interests of your company, or the employee. If you're using LinkedIn for business contacts, for example, the default setting lets contacts browse your contacts. If those include your best customers, do you want to allow that?

As far as how people represent the company online, one model can be seen in Coca-Cola--which lays its internal policy out for public viewing, at thecoca-colacompany.com/socialmedia. Its advice: "Have fun, but be smart."

Once companies agree how they'll react to social media comments, IT needs to give the organization a set of tools to listen in. Only a third of survey respondents are actively monitoring discussions about their companies online. Most rely on rudimentary search alerts from Google and Bing. Specialty applications from vendors such as Radian6 and Scout Labs provide detailed tracking and management.

The question of who does the monitoring should also be part of the discussion. Even though this is a role more suited for marketing or HR, we were surprised to find that IT is in charge of monitoring social networking in 44% of the companies that monitor.

Venturing Beyond The Firewall

"It's a waste." That's the blunt comment about social networking from an IT director at a medical device maker.

OK, so many of you won't make a lot of business connections on a corporate Facebook page. But what about a defensive measure? Wet Seal, a retailer of girls' clothes, went to set up a Facebook fan page and found its name was already taken. Luckily, this was done by one of its own stores, which did it independently. (See more on Wet Seal, p. 18.)

And how about creating your own private community on which engineers, designers, and product managers can collaborate with customers? Or how about at least monitoring the discussions that are going on in the 20 or so private and public communities that probably already exist in your industry?

Beyond the mass market arenas of Facebook and Twitter, there are 150 or so other consumer-centric sites that have 1 million-plus visitors a month. And there are profession-specific systems used by enterprises, institutions, and government agencies, ones that are often wrongly lumped in as LinkedIn wannabes. If you have a specialized market, reaching a small, focused community may be better. PD 360 for education, Sermo in healthcare, ResearchGate in life sciences, and the thousands of application and development communities we love in IT.

Let's be clear. We're not saying that an outward-facing social networking presence is right for every organization. However, every IT team needs to help manage social networking's impact on the organization.

If the message from the top about external social networks is "Just say no," make sure you say it loud and very clear. As noted, only a third of companies we surveyed have formal policies, one way or the other.

And beware of relying on simple boundaries--internal social network versus external social network, with a clear line separating the two. It's more subtle than that. We've given workers plenty of tools to access their e-mail and other systems remotely, often from their home computers via Web interfaces, and chances are they're using the same mail and Web clients for personal activities. A third of IT pros belong to professional social networks outside of the office, and 61% of them use or have used LinkedIn. So employees don't exactly know where your network ends and the Internet begins.

Social networking represents a new, more integrated way of communicating that combines organized group work with free-flowing discussions. People will push to take those discussions beyond internal teams, so you need to think about your path to external integration. Think back to your original e-mail system and the initial hesitation about outside connectivity: Attacks, viruses, intentional and unintentional leaks, and the fear of regulatory blunders were all hot topics in the early 1990s. Companies pushing their instant messaging and unified communications outside their firewalls are having those same discussions right now.

Bring up the discussions related to social networking integration today. They will help force the definition of new features, and let you create a road map for integration down the road.

When it comes to security, your IT teams need to be clear with users about the real risks of social networking. Companies lose a lot of credibility if they just flatly say employees can't use social networking because it's inherently insecure. That's simply not true.

There haven't been any major negative events linked to a social networking platform. What about this month's Twitter attack, which for one morning loaded Twitter accounts with spam retweets, some of them redirecting to porn sites? If you have proper malware and security software on your computer, it was a non-event. And if you don't already have employees protected from malware and have content filtering to prevent pornographic site access, your problem is bigger than Twitter.

The real enterprise security issue is around information leakage, which makes the need for policies and training even more critical.

Take The Team Approach

It's no surprise that, when asked who's driving social networking, survey respondents cited marketing or "pet project" most often. A social networking initiative driven by one department exclusively is far more likely to fail than one led by a team that includes people from multiple functions. Sales and branding are important priorities, but they're more likely to be met if IT operations and support are involved.

Unfortunately, only 8% of companies bring that kind of multifunctional team together to map out their social networking path. "This is the biggest mistake we see organizations make," says Lauren DeLong, president of consultancy InnerCircle Communities. "It's imperative for an organization to have a more holistic view of social networking and not focus solely on internal apps or one specialized site like Facebook."

IT needs to create an architectural vision of how one piece of information can be processed internally, then reposted across different social options, whether Facebook, Twitter, or more niche platforms, including internal ones. That vision should also include a process for monitoring and drawing in external communications.

In reality, IT is out of the loop. We found at least two major social networking platforms that actively promote the fact that departments don't need IT's involvement to get going.

The architectural vision should include whether (and if so, how) to integrate any internal social network with e-mail; file shares; structured data systems (including contact, customer, and vendor information); external social networks; and your company's security, training, and other corporate policies.

We're not saying you have to build all this yet; just lay out the vision of what it could be.

The Web did the hard work for us. It made social networking technologies cheap and relatively stable. Social networking is now part of many people's everyday lives. Forty-one percent of us in business technology who use social networking use Facebook daily, our survey finds, and another 20% use it at least monthly.

The next few years present a new opportunity to rewire enterprise collaboration and communication processes. But it won't just happen because we blog about it. The real secret to success lies in our ability to nail the integration and interoperability between our core systems, including e-mail and structured data. We must lay down some clear usage policies, but also break down any phony barriers we've built based on security or regulatory worries. The move to enterprise social networking is part of a deeper analysis of its impact on sales, marketing, support, and operations.

It also can re-energize previous collaboration projects that failed because of lack of functionality or user acceptance. Employees now are clamoring for this social networking experience at work. In fact, their expectations for how well it will work are sky high, thanks to their consumer experience. IT must help their companies meet or exceed those expectations.

Michael Healey is president of Yeoman Technologies. You can write to us at iweekletters@techweb.com.

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Social is a Business Imperative
Social is a Business Imperative
The use of social media for a host of business purposes is rising. Indeed, social is quickly moving from cutting edge to business basic. Organizations that have so far ignored social - either because they thought it was a passing fad or just didnít have the resources to properly evaluate potential use cases and products - must start giving it serious consideration.
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