A lot has changed in businesses’ attitude towards social networks over the last few years. Not so long ago, senior managers were terrified of company secrets being divulged on Facebook and Twitter, and perceived internal use of social networking to be nothing more than a waste of time, a haven for office gossip.
Now, it is companies without an established presence on public social media that are the exception, and more and more businesses are exploring the benefits of social networking inside the company firewall.
This change of heart is undoubtedly driven by compelling statistics proving the benefits of employee social networks. A recent report from McKinsey Global Institute (MGI) estimates that social networking could potentially contribute between $900 billion and $1.3 trillion in annual value in just four industry sectors.
And whereas most business use of social networking so far has been external-facing, the MGI report finds that two thirds of that the potential value lies inside the company. It estimates that the use of social tools to enhance communications, knowledge sharing and collaboration can enhance the productivity of high-skill knowledge workers by 20-25%.
Yet the harsh reality is that many internal-facing enterprise social networking projects fail in their first six months. It is often tempting to blame these failures on the tools used, but with some companies suffering repeated failures on different technology platforms, it is clear that blaming the tools is often just a convenient excuse for wider organisation failures.
One of the most common reasons for failure of an employee social networking project is a lack of clear purpose for the network created. There was, for a time, a school of thought that said the best social projects were ones driven from the ground up – groups of employees choosing to use a tool, with use then expanding virally throughout the company.
This approach is largely discredited now, because while it is sometimes very effective at getting a social network started, these networks often have no established business objective and usage fizzles out.
Charlene Li of Altimeter Group describes in her report Making The Case For Enterprise Social Networks how “the reality of everyday work” catches up with employees and they are drawn away from the social network back to their “day jobs”, where they fall back in established working and communication patterns. Or, alternatively, without clear business objectives, the network degenerates into a chat room for gossip and trivialities – everything senior management feared would happen…
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