Social Networking and Business: A Rocky Relationship
February 8, 2010 Dan Burger
Faced with a tight budget and a to-do list of IT projects as long as your right arm, what chance does social networking have of breaking into the top priorities in your department? That may depend on how far into the future you plan. It also might be affected by a few things the analysts at Gartner target in a report released last week.
The trend toward using social networking systems in business is undeniable, but plenty of obstacles must be overcome before managers and employees alike can be made comfortable. During the next three to four years, expect the collaboration between businesses and social software to be a rocky relationship. Gartner predicts 70 percent of IT-dominated social media initiatives will end up in the junkyard. For a better chance of success, Gartner says social media projects should be led by the folks on the business side.
Realize, Gartner warns, that the skillful coordination necessary to design and deploy Web 2.0-style collaborative solutions is still in the clumsy stage in terms of IT competency. Achieving business value is going to take some time as technologies and tools adjust to a business value proposition.
Organizations searching for the equivalent of “enterprise Twitter” will be disappointed. Consumer micro-blogging requires more control and security features before it can handle the regulatory reality of the business world. Until those issues are addressed, the analysts say Twitter-type networking will have limited enterprise use.
The key words “performance” and “productivity” are always on the table during any IT decision-making process, and Gartner makes note of anticipated difficulty gaining accurate social network analysis on the interaction patterns and information flows that occur within an organization, as well as with business partners and customers. Users resent behavior monitoring, and that means there is the potential to doom this type of analysis. But by addressing privacy and confidentiality issues up front, say Gartner’s analysts, end user buy-in can be achieved.
For certain business activities such as status updates and locating expertise, social networking is expected to more quickly crowd into email territory. As social networking services increase both inside and outside the firewall and workplaces are filled with younger employees, social networks will take on a greater importance. The Gartner forecast calls for 20 percent of business users to prefer this mode of interpersonal communications by 2014–more like a changing tide than a tidal wave of change.
“The rigid distinction between email and social networks will erode. Email will take on many social attributes, such as contact brokering while social networks will develop richer email capabilities,” said Matt Cain, research vice president at Gartner. “While email is already almost fully penetrated in the corporate space, we expect to see steep growth rates for sales of premises- and cloud-based social networking services.”
The Gartner report–available here–also includes great expectations for mobile phone collaboration based on built-in social networking features. Its best advice is to begin testing and accumulating knowledge on applying business tasks to mobile phone applications–the sooner the better.