Enterprise Social Networks Deserve Time, Careful Consideration

Despite the huge success of Facebook, Twitter and others, enterprise social networks have an abysmal success rate. But that doesn't mean you should ignore them: With a thoughtful deployment and careful curation, they can stimulate invaluable collaboration and innovation.

When I attended Gartner's Portals, Content and Collaboration conference two years ago, two statistics surprised me: Barely half of the 500-plus attendees had a Facebook account and nearly 70 percent of attendees said their company blocked access to social media in the workplace.

But in two years, a lot can change.

This week at Gartner’s annual conference, there was a noticeable shift in priorities. Instead of debates focused on whether businesses should block or allow social media sites like Facebook and Twitter, conversations turned to how to bring the fundamentals of social networking into the enterprise to promote collaboration, innovation and sharing.

Social networking isn't new anymore, nor is it going anywhere. As prevalent as it's become today, Gartner says businesses need to embrace this new, social way of working and use it to the business's advantage.

That's where enterprise social networks come in, a new and still-evolving market that's slowly getting the attention of businesses. These tools tend to be centered on microblogging, activity streams and rich profiles, and they focus on sharing, conversations and open-by-default social applications.

Enterprise social networks have a lot of potential to boost collaboration and innovation, and break down business silos. But mass adoption isn't quite there yet: Gartner predicts that by 2015, 40 percent of large businesses will have the equivalent of a corporate Facebook network. Businesses today, which are largely diving in blindly, are having a lot of difficulty achieving social network success.

Often, it's because businesses don't do their homework—or don't know what homework they need to do—before a rollout. They don't assess the social readiness of their business and they don't test it first with small groups of users. They don't know what, exactly, they're hoping to improve when they deploy an enterprise social network, and the tool's interface usually isn't as intuitive as it should be to promote adoption.

Those reasons, and a handful of others, are why 70 percent of internal social initiatives eventually fail, according to Gartner. That's a hard number to ignore when you're trying to gain buy-in.

But businesses that do invest time in researching workflows and take other measured steps are seeing success.

Publishing company Random House, for example, used Socialcast's platform to successfully help manage and share information, and improve employee communication surrounding its 10,000 new book titles and products it produces a year.

Den-Mat, a dental equipment manufacturing company running on painfully outdated technology, used Salesforce's Chatter to update and streamline complicated and outdated workflow processes, and to improve communication and organization. Both Random House and Den-Mat took measured steps before, during and after the launches to ensure the tools were reaching their potential. Both were deemed successful.

Enterprise social networks may not have the statistics behind them just yet, but that's no reason to ignore the potential—or the successes—that businesses have already seen. Just as it took time for people to jump on the Facebook bandwagon and for businesses loosen their grip on social media in the workplace, enterprise social networks, too, will come around.

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