Companies Move Slowly on Social Networks

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In my post Friday about the value of social networks and other Enterprise 2.0 collaboration technologies, I cited an IT Business Edge guest opinion written by Advance Consulting's Doug Brockway, who opined that companies would derive maximum value from such tools by extending them to partners, customers and other external partners. He wrote:

Because social media flows inside and outside the company, you may need to look less for reduction layers (as in the 1980's) and more toward creating a 360 perspective on strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats.

Sounds like great advice, yes? But it'll be hard for many companies to carry out that strategy, considering results of a recent Robert Half Technology survey of 1,400 CIOs from U.S. companies with at least 100 employees. The survey found 54 percent of them bar employees from using social-networking sites, such as Facebook and Twitter, on the job. Nineteen percent allow social-networking sites for business purposes only, while another 16 percent permit "limited personal use." Only 10 percent are OK with employees using social-networking sites "for any type of personal use."


Yes, there are legitimate concerns around employees using social networks at work. Such use may cause at least some workers to be less productive, can result in security breaches and/or cause compliance headaches for employers. But there are emerging benefits as well, including quicker access to knowledge and reduced communications costs.


Even if employers don't sanction the use of social networks, many experts think employees will find a way to use them. IT Business Edge blogger Lora Bentley mentioned Gartner VP Carol Rozwell's contention that banning use of these networks is "futile." A better approach, said Rozwell, is to "find an appropriate place on the spectrums of 'in here' vs. 'out there' and owned vs. shared."


Similarly, IDC analyst Caroline Dangson told Network World that the idea of trying to control social media use "is not going to work." An IDC survey of 4,710 U.S. workers in October found 34 percent use consumer social networks like Facebook and LinkedIn for business purposes, and 9 percent use microblogging sites like Twitter for business purposes.


Applications like Salesforce.com's Chatter, mentioned in the Network World article, are an emerging alternative for businesses. While Chatter is primarily an internal collaboration tool, it also allows employers to offer access to information from outside social sites like Facebook and Twitter. Writes Phil Wainewright on the Enterprise Irregulars blog:

... The notion of providing a mechanism for bringing information, collaboration and status updates into the applications where people are doing their primary work activities seems to me the most productive way to deliver collaboration. While there will always be some activities where people need isolation to get a result, the majority of enterprise endeavors happen as teamwork. Therefore the more non-intrusive contact people can get with other members of their team as they move forward in those endeavors, the more successful they're likely to be.

Wainewright's point echoes one made by Meri Gruber her Competing on Execution blog, that the biggest difference between traditional enterprise technologies and 2.0 technologies is the latter's ability to enhance community productivity. While keeping information in silos may never have been the best approach, it is becoming increasingly unworkable as corporations begin stressing communal contributions vs. individual ones. But just how comfortable are companies with expanding communities to include partners, customers and other outside parties?


Last month when I interviewed John Hagel, co-chairman of Deloitte's Center for the Edge, he told me companies would need to become comfortable with free-flowing knowledge flows, and to communicate and collaborate more with partners, customers and others outside the company. More important, companies must change the way they view these folks. The focus should be on long-term relationships and mutual benefit, rather than short-term, one-sided transactions. Hagel said:

We think companies need to build on the transactions that are already out there, and start to think more systematically and aggressively about how to convert them into long-term, trust-based relationships. Together, companies in those kinds of relationships can create new insights to address performance issues they are all facing, rather than just trying to negotiate down to the next dollar of contract savings.