Why Enterprise Social Networking Falls Short

Companies must focus more on using social networking to build external ties to customers, suppliers and partners -- not just among employees.
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Outside of work, we love social tools, which now account for 20% of all online activity, up from virtually zero five years ago, according to ComScore. Users mix and match dozens of different tools and options, from Facebook and Twitter to social file-sharing tools such as Dropbox and Google Docs.

So have our widely deployed enterprise social networks ridden this wave of popularity, redefining how we do business? Not quite. Our InformationWeek 2013 Social Networking in the Enterprise Survey, our third such survey since 2010, paints a similar picture as in prior years: 85% of respondents say their organizations have some form of enterprise social networking in place, yet their results are mediocre. Only 18% of the IT pro respondents to our survey say their internal programs are a "great success," and a mere 10% characterize their external social networking initiatives that way. Non-IT respondents tend to be even less enthusiastic about their internal social networks but somewhat more optimistic about their external efforts.

The lukewarm reception isn't for a lack of product options. The original leaders in enterprise email and collaboration, such as IBM and Microsoft, have kept improving their enterprise social software, and they're joined by specialists such as Jive, Telligent and Lithium.

McKinsey & Co. forecasts that $900 billion to $1.3 trillion in annual economic value is created through the use of social technologies, two-thirds of that coming from social collaboration between and within companies. The consultancy forecasts fabulous potential productivity gains of 20% to 30%, depending on the industry.

Will that happen? No way, not if companies continue to approach enterprise social networking the way they are today. That's because business unit and technology teams aren't doing a good enough job of connecting business needs and technology capabilities.

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Our free research report on enterprise social networking has 40 charts from our survey of 451 business technology pros.

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We revamped our social networking survey to compare the thinking of these two groups: Of the 451 respondents, 286 are IT pros and 165 are business users, many of them with marketing in their titles. About two-thirds of those organizations have more than 1,000 employees.

Our results show a disconnect between IT and business units. IT generally sees social networks as focused on employee collaboration and separate from external communications. Non-IT users put the focus on integrated and external systems, as they look to connect with customers and suppliers as well as colleagues, and also to study the competition.

Bingo. We've found the crux of the problem. And it's largely IT that has to change to focus more of its social networking energy on customers, suppliers and even rivals.

Opening Ranks

Less than one-third of organizations in our survey have a proper level of integration to allow external access to their social networks, let alone have policies on how to communicate with customers, employees and vendors in the social world. There's no need to scrap legacy collaboration systems -- email, network file sharing and internal social platforms such as IBM Notes/Domino, Microsoft SharePoint and Jive are solid foundations. But they must be readily accessible on tablet and other mobile devices, and the data flow from social collaboration systems needs to move as freely as email. It's that simple.

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