Building the business case for corporate social media

The use of social media technology in business has been permeated by perceptions that staff are simply Twittering their mates about what they just ate, Facebooking photos of colleagues or taking up valuable network bandwidth watching their favourite YouTube videos instead of working.

There remains a high degree of scepticism about social networking, but much of that attitude misses an important point.

The success of the big consumer sites illustrates a trend that could have significant benefits for business.

The concepts that social networking tools embody have relevance for every IT manager. What organisation would not want to improve communication and collaboration between employees – especially in a large, geographically dispersed operation? More importantly, what company would not want to improve their communication and engagement with customers, suppliers and business partners?

For all the talk of Generation Y and the idea that social networking is a young person’s game, the levels of collaboration involved apply to every employee.

But why have so few organisations applied the principles of social media through technology developed for the workplace?

Perhaps it is a little like trying to make a business case for email 20 years ago. The IT experts of 1990 knew that email would clearly benefit their organisation, but proving a return on investment for the technology to a chief executive was a different matter. These days the idea seems quaint.

So the more that forward thinking companies try out social media and see what benefits they achieve, the easier it becomes for others to use their example to make the case.

Insurance giant Aviva is one of those examples. The company is achieving big benefits in knowledge management and internal collaboration. CIO Toby Redshaw says the firm wants staff to feel they work for an employer that “gets it” when it comes to the modern workplace and the tools they have available.

It may take more than 140 characters to build a business case, but the evidence for evaluating social media in a business environment is growing.