Consumerization of IT: The Social Networking Problem

Companies embracing high-stakes social networking tools face a litany of problems, from poor first impressions to bitter employees taking over online conversations.

Mon, March 12, 2012

CIO — Social tools debuting at the enterprise level face many pitfalls that can derail even the best laid plans. A few IT leaders speaking at the Consumerization of IT in the Enterprise Conference and Expo in San Francisco last week revealed some of these social danger zones.

Social collaboration tools from enterprise vendors such as Microsoft, IBM, Cisco and Salesforce can help co-workers find each other over a vast expanse of departments and buildings to work on a project. Co-workers can communicate through text, pictures, audio and video. Employee blogs and wikis form a knowledge base that lets employees find answers to questions in mere minutes.

"I answer one question for 18,000 people," says Bryce Williams, social collaboration consultant charged with making social networking pervasive at pharmaceutical company Eli Lilly. "I never have to ask the same question twice. If someone asks the same question, I just link" to the answer.

Yet a few missteps can trip up even the most promising social enterprise networking effort. They include a poor internal marketing effort from the outset that leads to lackluster participation, as well as employees secretly seeking to undermine social networking.

Coming Soon to a Computer Screen Near You

A poor first showing of a social collaboration site or tool can put an end to the technology before it has a chance to take hold. That is, a social network needs to get to critical mass quickly. Think of it as a new-age twist on Metcalfe's Law: Greater participation means more value, yet newness means there's little or no initial participation.

Dan Pontefract, senior director of learning and collaboration at Telus, a major wireless telco in Canada, tried to get out in front of this conundrum by putting together a site and video about collaboration and social tools that are coming to a computer screen near you. Called What If, this "movie trailer" was designed to inform and excite.

"Didn't go as well as it should have," Pontefract says. "People didn't have any idea what this was and got more confused. Lesson learned is that you need some of the tools" already in place.

Kevin Jones, consulting social and organizational strategist at NASA's Marshall and Goddard Space Flight Centers, had similar issues with NASA's Spacebook, an enterprise social network designed around Facebook and launched in the summer of 2009 to much fanfare.

"It failed because the focus wasn't on people," Jones says.

Spacebook's problem was that it began life as an IT project, one that didn't take into consideration an organization's culture and politics—"but that's the glue," Jones says. "No one knew how Spacebook would help them do their jobs," as opposed to an existing method of collaboration, such as email.

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