Social Media: Fear and Apathy in the Enterprise


Just last month I wrote about companies' apparent reticence toward Web 2.0 tools.


Now there's a new survey from Avanade, an integration firm specializing in Microsoft technologies, that provides further proof. Integrating social media technologies into the existing technology mix is not on their agendas, say 60 percent of companies. Just 18 percent of respondents already have an integration strategy for these technologies.


Key barriers to adoption: security concerns, cited by 76 percent of respondents; fear of using unproven technologies (58 percent); senior management apathy (57 percent); and concerns about negative impact on productivity (50 percent). Interestingly, doubt about achieving ROI didn't show up in this survey, as it did in a recent McKinsey survey that I cited in my August post.


When breaking out the numbers regionally, U.S. respondents seem even more fearful and apathetic than their global peers. Just 5 percent of U.S. companies have an existing social media strategy, vs. the overall 18 percent.


Yet despite this reticence, more than 60 percent of respondents say that social networking is the next major step in collaborative activities and business technology. The survey highlights another recurring theme: the enterprise's anxiety about users, rather than IT, taking the lead on social media technologies. More than 75 percent of respondents believe social networking will enter the workplace by stealth if not proactively managed. Nine out of 10 companies say that the next crop of employees will bring social networking to work.


Their concern about the "next" group of employees sneaking new tools into the office makes companies seem more than a little delusional. As IT Business Edge blogger Loraine Lawson points out, many companies likely already have existing unsactioned deployments. Loraine links to a Computerworld article about a Gartner presentation which contended that the real value of these tools comes from facilitating external, rather than internal, collaboration.


That's a theme echoed in the Avanade study. Eighty-five percent of U.S. companies say that a slowing economy will necessitate a focus on finding new ways of communicating with their customers. Of the early adopters participating in the survey, two-thirds say they've experienced improvements in customer satisfaction and 64 percent now enjoy an improved reputation in the marketplace. Two in five of the companies say they can tie an increase in sales to their use of new forms of social media.


A similar slant is seen in a recent Deloitte study of customer communities. Though Deloitte found that many companies were not fully leveraging such communities, plenty of companies said the communities led to enhanced brand awareness, improved customer loyalty and generation of new ideas.


The Avanade study is a bit unusual in its focus on external collaboration. The studies cited in my August post focused far more on tools most often used internally: videoconferencing, collaborative workspaces such as Sharepoint, tagging software and wikis, for example. Do companies find it harder to get their heads around customer-facing tools, or are they just not being asked about such tools as often?


Those using such tools, such as Dell with its IdeaStorm site, appear to be achieving good results with them. But they've had to sacrifice something that means a lot to many companies: control. And that's where the fear comes in. Says Vida Killian, manager of IdeaStorm:

Dell has really embraced the fact that we don't control this. On our forums, which started out as support, there wasn't a lot of positive out there to begin with. So it's accepting the fact that people are going to talk about anything and everything. That, from a company culture perspective, makes us more successful in the online community.