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Product and Topic Expert
Product and Topic Expert

Research shows that enterprise social software has really worked – because it hasn't been enough about work.

Facebook and other social networks are helping foster large, vibrant communities of consumers around the world. Companies are hoping to emulate that success within the organization to help employees work together more effectively. And the collaborative software market is growing fast, with 52 percent of organizations investing in enterprise social last year, according to Forrester Research.

But the latest research shows that adoption of enterprise social within organizations has been disappointing. A mere 10 to 20 percent of eligible workers actively use their organization’s social platform, according to more than half of respondents to a Dachis Group study.

Social software often deploys as a silo, separate from where work is done. As a result, business people struggle to understand how social technology impacts the bottom line. Unlike other business applications, such as Customer Relationship Management (CRM), there’s no obvious direct link between social software and tangible business benefits.

Many executives view social media as “a distraction drawing people away from meaningful work ... [and] a reason to reinforce control rather than reinvest in collaboration,” Gartner’s Mark McDonald said. “The real question for social media advocates and executives is not ‘to be or not to be social,’ but rather ‘What are the right structures for social media in the organization?’”

Failing to align social with business can result in a vicious cycle:

  • If there isn’t an obvious business use case, there’s no adoption
  • If there’s no adoption, no one generates content
  • If there’s no content, there’s certainly no business use case

“We have an incomplete skill set involved in defining, evangelizing and executing what ‘social business’ entails,” said Sameer Patel, head of SAP’s enterprise social software business in his blog post Social Business Facts and Fiction. “There’s massive untapped opportunity out there.”

Many observers agree that the key to improving social media adoption is better links to business process and business value. Forrester Research:

“In environments where social business solutions have been deployed and there have been issues with adoption, survey data demonstrates perceived lack of business value (46%) and lack of integration with workflow and business applications (50%) as critical roadblocks.”

A Venture Beat article predicted that 2013 is “the year that standalone social business software will die,” because “communication is only as useful as the context that exists to enable workers to act upon it.”

In order to better align enterprise social with the business – and deploy it more successfully – organizations should follow four key principles:

No. 1: Integrate Social Seamlessly With Work

Social software should be something that shows up when you need it, enabling and enhancing what you’re already doing. It should solve discrete problems and directly improve existing performance metrics. The goal should not be “killing email,” but making business people more effective.

Organizations need to understand in detail where collaboration makes sense in different business processes. Sales people collaborate differently from human resources teams, for instance. And collaboration should be an integrated part of existing workflows, not a standalone system. For example, a sales person who uses a CRM application every day should be able to collaborate directly from that environment.

Information streaming into a CRM system could change the approach to a sales opportunity, according to Forrester Research. Connecting a social business layer to that CRM system could provide that information to the right salesperson in time to correct his or her approach.

Integrated collaboration is also useful in finance, where organizations around the world routinely encounter invoices that look strange. Whether data points go missing or an unexpected invoice appears, invoice exception handling requires people work together to solve the mystery in an auditable environment. Budgeting is another key financial process that requires collaboration with many people across different organizations. Using collaborative tools for tasks like this is just “better finance,” rather than “social enterprise.”

No. 2: Propose The Right Tools

It’s not enough to take today’s “inch-deep mile-wide” collaboration tools, such as a feeds, forums, blogs or wikis, and expose them inside applications. Social networking tools are an excellent solution for employees with questions that they would like broadcast to many others, such as a marketer looking for reference customers. But what happens when that person receives dozens of replies? He or she then needs to find the two or three people who have the best answer, and then collaborate with them to gather data, rank different possibilities and make a decision.

These types of collaboration require different collaborative constructs that are better adapted to narrower, more work-focused tasks, such as collaborative pro/con tables, ranking, agenda-creation, etc. Aligning social with business workflows makes it possible to simplify collaboration interfaces, showing only the most important, best-adapted tools at any moment -- and makes it much easier to establish the value of collaboration.

For example, instead of thinking generically about the value of being a social enterprise, a VP of sales can see how collaborative learning tools help speed up the lifecycle of onboarding a new sales representative, making them more productive in less time than before. Social becomes another tool in the company arsenal, making sales more effective.

No. 3: Be Proactive About The Initial Experience

In order to jump-start user adoption, enterprise social systems should use the full power of the information available in the company. Beyond social relations created by the employees themselves, organizations should use the wide-ranging information in internal systems to make intelligent recommendations. For example, based on employees’ roles and place in the corporate hierarchy, people could be automatically enrolled in particular groups with recommendations on people to follow, documents to read, training courses to take, etc. Over time, the system should learn from usage, continually proposing new and refined recommendations. The social home page could become somewhere users live, rather than just another open tab in a browser.

No. 4: Make It Pervasive And Easily Accessible

Organizations today have a huge variety of different enterprise systems. Integrating enterprise social platform with business workflows also means easily integrating it with different on-demand and on-premise systems inside and outside the organization, as well as through mobile devices.

Transformational Business Opportunities

The world is changing, and we must change with it. By following these four principles, organizations have a greater chance of successfully embedding social technologies into the workplace, allowing them to take advantage of transformational business opportunities.

The next generation of market-leading organizations will digitize their enterprise model with new capabilities enabled by social technologies… moving beyond linear, process-driven organizations to create new, dynamic, networked businesses that focus on customer value,” says Forrester Research’s Nigel Fenwick. “These social businesses change the competition and set new standards for how companies, governments, and nonprofits deliver value.”

For more information on integrating Enterprise Social seamlessly with business processes, see this presentation by Sameer Patel: “Rethinking Work: The Next Chapter in Social Collaboration

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