Social networking the enterprise

26 Mar 2009

Hold the front page: Enterprises are having trouble adopting social networks.

Equally unsurprising, it's because businesses aren't used to social networks.

A US consultancy, the Burton Group, says it decided to do a field study of social networking in business because many clients saw the potential but ran into trouble on execution.

Even when firms had worked up sound business drivers for social networking projects, "many still had a noticeable level of uncertainty" over the business case and ROI, Burton said.

"[O]rganizations are struggling with non-technology issues such as business case, metrics, policies and controls, roles and responsibilities, employee participation models, and cultural dynamics."

If that puts you off, the good news is that not only are most enterprises battling to come to terms with SNS, but everyone feels they are lagging behind.

"Such perceptions are unfounded," says Burton. "Many organizations have not yet made an enterprise-wide decision on social networking tools."

The main reasons cited by Burton's clients for adopting SNS are:

"¢ The technologies are expected by younger workers
"¢ It can enhance collaboration and community-building
"¢ It can leverage knowledge held by employees, e.g., expertise location and employee-led innovation
"¢ It can improve bottom-up innovation

But the core problem is the disconnect between social networking and the traditional business enterprise culture. Businesses are top-down and not much given to exposing their inner workings to other people in the same firm, let alone the world.

Social networking needs to be seen less as a technology issue than as a tool that can drive, and be driven by, behavior change.

SNS adoption in businesses will be slow. Most companies will not implement Facebook or Twitter until they see the clear benefits reaped by early adopters - or competitors.

It takes some skills to use these tools, too. If your marketing vice-president can blog about the company's products in an informative way, and uses it to engage effectively with customers, that's all to the good.

But there's no point setting up a Twitter feed your customers or staff aren't using it, or if there isn't some real-time information or experience your staff or customers have to share.

The telling issue right now is over the business case. There is nowhere a consensus on how to measure the financial value of a wiki or a Facebook site, making it extremely hard to get backing from CFOs.

The takeout‾ If you're planning a social networking project at your organization, make haste slowly - you're way ahead of your colleagues.

And if you're feeling left behind, don't fret. You're where everyone else is.

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