More on social media use within the enterprise

Earlier this year, Insurance Canada wrote a summary of an IDC study on social media use. I’ve been meaning to post it here. I thought it would be a nice follow-up to my previous post on the riskiness of social media with the enterprise.

One interesting quote:

“If you look deep into the social business movement you will see that we are on the brink of a fundamental change in the way businesses interact with customers, partners, suppliers, and employees,” said Michael Fauscette, group vice president, Software Business Strategies. “Businesses today fall into three camps – the social ‘denyer’, the accidental socialite, and the socially aware. Regardless of where a company falls in these categories, customers expectations of technologies and the way they interact with suppliers have changed, driven greatly by the social Web.”

The study also underscores the fact that social media is about much more than just marketing. The concept of web-based social networks will affect organizations at all levels, as the following statistic points out:


15% of 4,710 U.S. workers surveyed reported using a consumer social tool instead of corporate-sponsored social tools for business purposes due to the following top three reasons, (1) ease of use, (2) familiarity due to personal use, and (3) low cost.

I think this is a very important trend to watch. Driven by the desire to create uniform operating environments and hindered by economic woes, many companies have done little to change their workplace technology “toolbox” in the last ten years. In fact, most office workers are using essentially the same technology they did in the 1990s—some version of Microsoft Office and email.

Technologically, the world was a very different place in the 1990s. The personal computer was still a new concept, and because of cost, employees naturally relied on their employer to provide work-related technology. Mobile phones basically did one thing 15 years ago—they made calls. But today, more and more households have not one, but several computers. And today’s smart phones are arguably more sophisticated than the typical CPUs residing in cubicles across the world.

So while the “getting things done” technology available within the corporate firewall has remained largely unchanged, the technology available to the consumer outside the firewall has grown by leaps and bounds. Social media is a big part of it.

I consider social media a “tool” because it’s a source of information. More than that, a social network is an asset specific to an individual, and its value is proportional to the size and quality of the network. People know from their own personal experience that they can get answers from their networks—from getting a recommendation for a roofer to ideas on cake recipes. People are getting in the habit of asking and receiving, so they can be expected to ask work-related questions too.  And as the number of bodies within their companies has generally fallen, the need for a network of question “answerers” is even greater.

There are so many examples of acceptable use cases that essentially pose no risk at all. For example, consider a department within a large company that no longer has an administrative assistant.  If a manager needs to do an unintuitive administrative task like a mail merge, he or she can either spend a few hours figuring out how to do it, delegate it to another knowledge worker, or turn to the web or social networks to get instruction. If you believe in paying employees to do their jobs, the latter solution is obviously the most attractive. While somewhat abstract, this is a very real benefit to the enterprise and should be encouraged if anything. Generally things that add to the R in ROI without adding to the I are to be coveted.

I have little doubt that the trend toward using more consumer technology in the enterprise will continue. As computer hardware becomes increasingly commoditized, and therefore cheaper, knowledge workers will naturally leverage their own tools to do their jobs more effectively. Social networks do pose threats to companies, but it’s important to understand that their use is not being driven entirely by “time-wasting” motivations. Rather, they could be significant time-savers.

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