By now, we're all intimately knowledgeable about Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn and all the other social networking sites out there. Some have their roots in the business community, such as LinkedIn, while others have a decidedly consumer bent, such as MySpace. Still others hover over the space between, such as Twitter and Facebook.
However, social networking's role in the enterprise to date has been relegated mostly to marketing efforts that sometimes are akin to fitting a square peg into a round hole. IT research firm Gartner believes that will be changing, and sooner rather than later.
Mark R. Gilbert, research vice president at Gartner and co-chair of the Portals, Content and Collaboration (PCC) Summit slated for early next month, believes social networking for business will establish a firm foundation in the next year as companies look at the success of Twitter and Facebook adoption in the enterprise. In fact, Gartner has published its five predictions for 'social software' in the enterprise, which extend way beyond marketing. Here's a quick breakdown:
By 2014, social networking services will replace e-mail as the primary vehicle for interpersonal communications for 20 percent of business users: Gartner believes changing demographics and work styles will lead this revolution in business communications. CTOs would do well to take heed of this prediction and make whatever changes necessary to their networks to support not only the change in communication method but also the myriad of security issues and government regulations regarding e-mail compliance.
By 2012, over 50 percent of enterprises will use activity streams that include microblogging (a la Twitter), but stand-alone enterprise microblogging will have less than 5 percent penetration: Twitter (or some successor) will remain the de facto source for microblogging because of its sheer reach. Gartner believes that any company instituting its own microblogging site for in-house purposes will fail miserably. Unless, of course, it wants to hire a team of tweeters to continually update the site and make it relevant to all employees all the time-including whose birthday is being celebrated in the lunchroom at 2 p.m. and which bathroom stall is out of toilet paper. It won't be long until the company realizes it doesn't need to waste its money on that information.
Through 2012, over 70 percent of IT-dominated social media initiatives will fail: Gartner believes that when it comes to social media, IT should stick to providing the platform and not the content. IT simply cannot deliver a solution that targets a specific business value, according to Gartner. Rather, enterprises will need sink some dollars into developing entirely new skill sets around designing and delivering social media solutions. Only then can an IT organization build and deliver a social media solution that is both sound and effective.
Within five years, 70 percent of collaboration and communications applications designed on PCs will be modeled after user experience lessons from smartphone collaboration applications: Blame it on the iPhone and its 'There's an app for that' mentality. Smartphones have changed the way users interact with communications and other applications simultaneously. And as more users look for richer enterprise experiences through their mobile communications platform (partly because they're not sitting at their desk and partly because it's easier to look it up on the smartphone), companies should invest more energy in developing applications that will enable employees to do their jobs anywhere, anytime. And that includes the more mundane apps such as HR portals.
Through 2015, only 25 percent of enterprises will routinely utilize social network analysis to improve performance and productivity: Folks are inherently private when it comes to what they're doing with social networking sites-a head-scratching contradiction if I ever heard one. Maybe it's because social networking sites have traditionally been thought of as taboo at work; maybe it's because of the invisible wall some put up between work life and social life. Either way, compiling analysis of social networking activity is tough. For that to change, Gartner says enterprises must embrace social networking from within and encourage employees to utilize the media to the company's advantage. Only then can accurate metrics be achieved.
Gartner's predications pose a number of challenges to CTOs, but none that can't be overcome. It will take a change in attitude from the top down, and a plethora of new knowledge from the bottom up. Most of all, it will take time. But realizing social media's impact and preparing today will almost ensure success tomorrow.