Social Intranet Trends

IBM1.gifEmployee collaboration and open communication are now business drivers in many companies, but social enterprise features are often poorly integrated with the rest of the intranet.’

4 years after their initial study the nngroup have just completed a follow-up study into the use of social communication and collaboration features within organisations. As always their report reveals some fascinating insights, many of which chime very closely with our experiences of helping clients plan and develop their own moves into the world of the social enterprise  –

  1. Social features are now clearly proving their value inside the enterprise – particularly in making communication more open and supporting employee collaboration and knowledge management.
  2. 3–5 years seems to be a common timeline for social intranet projects – those social projects that have been underway for some time and are now more established, have moved past the experimentation stage; companies that went social early are now reaping the benefits.
  3. The drive for implementation has moved from the grassroots to official management support – today, many companies see intranet information sharing and other social features as offering true competitive advantages.
  4. Business Needs, Not Tools or Fads – internal social projects must be driven by business needs — the proper planning and development process remains: business and user needs drive the required solutions; the solutions then drive the tools you should buy or build.
  5. Before implementing intranet collaboration tools, you must consider your company culture. A company culture that values openness and communication is essential for social projects to succeed. Without such a culture, adding deep social features is probably wasted effort as employees or managers won’t want to use them.
  6. Without proper integration ‘social’ will just become another silo. Too often new social tools are left to sit side-by-side with the company’s existing technologies instead of being integrated with other components. This technology fragmentation creates a fragmented user experience which is likely to leave the new tools unused.Social integration involves many challenges: there’s a UI challenge, and there’s an infrastructure challenge, and usually there’s a political challenge (a question of ‘who eats whom’).

Some things are here to stay – despite all the developments and changes in social media over the last 4 years some things have stayed true and are likely to remain unchanged for the foreseeable future –

  • Enterprise Users take to social tools easily – particularly when they’re given them for the right reasons and in the right work context. However, some training may be useful in explaining the different codes of conduct when using social tools in the corporate context.
  • Social media tools are easier to create for internal audiences – developers have the advantage of knowing, or being able to find out, enough about employees and their work to pre-select content and features that they’ll find interesting and useful.
  • As long as attribution is built-in and required, communities police themselves. Companies successfully using social tools often use a gentle hand in creating and enforcing terms of use.
  • Community management still plays an important role in social environments. Community managers are most effective when they manage with a light hand, guiding the conversation rather than controlling it. By keeping a finger on the pulse, community managers will know when it’s time to reignite slow areas or pull the plug on a topic rather than flog it beyond its time.
  • Not all users are producers, but those who just watch and listen also benefit. As with the Internet, user’s participation varies enormously in enterprise communities: some employees participate a lot, while others mainly watch and listen. It’s therefore important to value a community based on a combination of posting and reading.

And yet, many enterprises are still slow to adapt.

Some surveys put adoption of the “social workplace” at large organizations close to 35 percent. However, social is moving into the enterprise in the same manner as most things do in the enterprise — slowly.

According to nngroup, companies seem to land in one of three places along the continuum of social adoption:

  1. Not ready: These organizations are not culturally ready to embrace open communication or not fully convinced that  it will significantly benefit their organization. For these organizations social will be a struggle, but in order to remain competitive they may have to figure it out whether they want it or not.
  2. Cautiously optimistic: Most organizations are still testing the use of social tools and their impact inside the enterprise; they are also searching for best practices to address the challenges that come with the social enterprise. These companies may not have everything figured out but they are forging ahead, knowing that they must find ways to make social work.
  3. Pushing the envelope: Some companies, like IBM above, have thoroughly embraced social and are now moving into full integration. Yet even they don’t have it all figured out yet. With their social tools proven, they are now facing the problems of social maturation and struggling with things like integration and measurement.

It seems that although many organisations have come a long way, there’s still far to go.However, it’s no longer a matter of “if” companies should adopt social tools. It’s more a matter of “when.”


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