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Many enterprises missing out on value of internal social technologies, collaboration

It seems ironic. Even as enterprises become increasingly comfortable with the sometimes-dicey world of external social media — Facebook, Twitter, et al — most fail to see the value in embracing enterprise social media technologies. This is made abundantly clear in a recent McKinsey Quarterly piece co-authored by Michael Chui, Martin Dewhurst and Lindsay Pollak. “Building the social enterprise,” in addition to sharing somewhat mindboggling stats about the use of enterprise social technologies, offers some tips on how to get in the game.

About two-thirds of the estimated economic value of social media comes from improved collaboration and communication inside enterprises, according to the authors. And while approximately 80% of executives claim their companies use social technologies, few have figured out how to use social collaboration toward the creation of any measurable impact or value. Only about one-quarter of executives believe their companies have incorporated social technologies and collaboration into their daily work routine.

Is it really that big of a deal? Well, if your business likes money, it is. The McKinsey Global Institute last year estimated that $900 billion to $1.3 trillion in annual value could be “unlocked” by products and services that enable social interaction. It’s not a simple trick, to be sure, but, the authors write, “a large part of the problem is that many companies, viewing social technologies as yet another tool to be implemented rather than as an enabler of organizational transformation, fail to identify the specific organizational problems social technologies can solve.”

Like any kind of change in the workplace, with social technologies and collaboration, the problem revolves more around people than around technology. Even companies that do embrace the use of internal social media find it difficult to get employees to let go of their email. Harder still is the task of creating an environment in which continual information sharing is the norm. It may be difficult, but not impossible, and is certainly worth putting in the effort. The time to try is now.

Here are some tips for your journey from the authors (and check out the original piece for real-life examples of how  companies have put these tips to use):

  • Add value, not complexity — Social technologies should be used to complement (and ideally replace) existing processes. They should be embedded in the daily workflow, not tacked on as distracting “extras.
  • Provide essential organizational support — No technology in and of itself can change an organization. Companies have to define their objective, select a technology based on the objective and understand the additional organizational change required to support it.
  • Experiment and learn — When it comes to social collaboration, top-down directives rarely work and are usually anathema to the whole purpose. Organizations do well to adopt approaches that emphasize testing and learning where there are no failures, only lessons learned.
  • Track impact and evolve metrics — It’s important to have an open mind about social initiatives and it’s not always possible to have metrics early on, but it’s critical to put rigorous ones in place once you find something in your experimentation that is obviously adding value.

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