As Facebook and other social networks have grown in popularity, businesses have started looking for ways to leverage them within the enterprise. The result: an influx of social software companies vying for a spot in business' technology portfolios, and IT and business executives scrambling to map out long-range plans.
According to a new report by Forrester Research, though, while this new class of technologies is gaining steam in the marketplace, the trend is still in its infancy. The keys to widespread adoption and the overall the success of these new tools, the report says, are in understanding who is using them now, how they're using them, and what policies the business needs to put into place to support them.
Here's a look at the key takeaways from Forrester's report, "The Enterprise 2.0 User Profile: 2011," along with recommendations for how your business can better leverage them.
Enterprise Social Software: Who's Using It Now and How
Of the 4,985 U.S. information workers surveyed in the report, 28 percent use social software monthly, writes report author and Forrester analyst T.J. Keitt. While this number may seem impressive on the surface, breaking it down into the types of people using social software will show that the trend hasn't yet caught on.
The three types of people currently using social software monthly include early adopters, the busiest people within a company and the younger employees. That's not surprising, Keitt says, because these are the obvious candidates for social software: Early adopters are generally open to new technologies; the busiest people at companies tend to look for ways to streamline processes; and the younger members of the workforce help introduce social tools into the enterprise.
According to the report, 39 percent of people who use social software say they use it because it's easy to use and relevant. "The top reason why information workers are using social tools is because the barriers to using them are low and they solve their business problems," Keitt writes.
The number-two reason is because "they're an efficient means for accomplishing tasks," with 38 percent of the vote.
"The fact that it's so close in importance to ease of use solidifies the fact that these busy workers, while most likely to use the newest technologies, will only do so if the tools have a perceptible, positive impact on their work," Keitt says.
And while these early adopters are likeliest to adopt social software, the report found that usage among them is still limited. More than half of those surveyed (55 percent), say they are only using one social software tool, which is interesting, Keitt says, because venders tend to offer inclusive social platforms that consist of many social apps.
This means that public social networks—specifically LinkedIn and Facebook—are still the default enterprise tool that employees turn to for business. "This suggests that most employees discover the value of social for business not behind the corporate firewall, but through interacting with colleagues and clients in the public social sphere," Keitt writes.
Social Software: 5 Tips for Focusing Your Early Efforts
Content and collaboration professionals face a few challenges in creating a roadmap for social software: A small portion of the workforce has adopted these tools, and even that group is limited in how it uses the technology. Here's what Forrester suggests businesses do to focus its early efforts.
1. Evaluate corporate policies. While many businesses still impose restrictions on employees accessing public social networks such as Facebook and Twitter, that won't necessarily stop employees from using their personal computers and smartphones to access them, the report says.
Forrester recommends generating policies that encourage responsible use of social technologies. This may include tweaking current policies that describe acceptable and unacceptable behavior, as well as creating incentives for compliance.
2. Encourage and engage early adopters. Forrester says that while you can't replicate the network effect of millions of engaged users on public social networks, you can create similar value if you enlist early, social-networking-savvy employees to build out their internal social profile page as they did their personal LinkedIn or Facebook pages.
3. Partner with your socially active employees. Start by identifying your most socially active employees both for internal and external social networks. Conduct in-depth interviews with them on how they use social tools and why. Forrester says these combined findings should provide the foundation for how your business plans to effectively use social technologies.
4. Enlist management. In order to make social software valuable to the majority of workers, Forrester says management needs to be involved in order to invest time and resources for creating and pushing the strategy. This may mean enlisting your CMO and CEO to help pick the platform, act as a liaison in communicating expectations, as well as actively using the technology to set an example.
5. With vendors, more is sometimes less. Forrester says that while it's good to provide a range of social tools that give workers flexibility, it's more important to find the tools that best address the needs of your workforce. Be sure to evaluate vendors based on how well their technologies address these issues instead of the size of their offering.
Kristin Burnham covers consumer technology, social networking and Web 2.0 for CIO.com. Follow Kristin on Twitter @kmburnham. Follow everything from CIO.com on Twitter @CIOonline and on Facebook. Email Kristin at firstname.lastname@example.org