Enterprise social media - where are they now?

After an initial rush towards enterprise adoption of social media and social networks, it seems that for many organisations, the idea of enterprise tools to stimulate a collaborative and social approach to the working environment is stuttering the same way that many early unified communications (UC) solutions once did.

The initial thought process seemed to make some sense. Everyone is being overloaded by email, businesses want their workers to collaborate more, and they like sharing and communicating with contacts on social media, so give them an enterprise social media tool. Bingo, they will all adopt it!

The supplier side of the industry went along with the idea with the same enthusiasm it did for UC; buy up companies with the latest staccato social media sounding name (has no one done spatteror splutteryet?), place it in a suitealongside other communications tools, then everyone will use everything – right?

No. Most of us have evolved our communication preferences over a long period of time and we are pretty much all set in our ways and need some convincing, encouragement and good reasons, to change. It may be true that millennials are more au fait with technology and are more accustomed to using the latest things, but all this means is that the ways they are set inare just more current. Like anyone else, they have preferences and work best when they can choose their favourites.

Furthermore, with so many types of communication, media and social groupings at our disposal the chances for the recipients and instigators all having the same preferences for (or even access to) particular forms of communication diminishes. Who you contact and whether they will respond will depend on an increasingly complex negotiation of shared tools and media. It will also depend on favourite devices and current context, as for many people desktops and fixed-line phones have given way to tablets and mobiles.

It gets even worse. You may prefer to hear from your boss over email, your general colleagues on the phone and those you are friendlier with via a shared multi-media portal – and that might vary depending on time of day, subject matter and how things are going generally.

Outside work, this is less important, as individuals can make their own decisions about what technology they want to acquire and to a large extent who they want to communicate with. But anyone wanting to become accepted by a social group, gang or tribe needs to adopt its preferred methods of communicating.

This in theory should be the case at work, but the trouble is that the forms of communication made available are dictated from the leadership down, rather than bottom up from the consensus of the workgroup. It means that there may be a shared common platform, but it might be resented and rebelled against, which impacts on the benefits that most organisations were aiming for in the first place; getting people to better communicate, collaborate and be more effective as a team.

It might also cause extra expense. For example, while many companies thought that calls via direct dial extensions from fixed desktop phones over IP trunks from site-to-site and country-to-country was a great money saving idea, employees were sat at their desks making calls from their mobile. It was to hand and more convenient for them, despite the higher cost, as those being called were probably already in the employeeslist of the contacts, so dialled without having to remember a number.

Simply having a top down strategy or investing in some new cool tools, no matter how well integrated they are to current systems and business processes, then throwing them at users and expecting things to stick, wont work. That is a poor approach for any technology, but for social tools in the current communications environment it is a non-starter.

So how could enterprises approach social media tools better?

Take a friendly and informal approach. Adoption is critical; get people engaged, find out preferences before even investing in any tools and so from day one it is possible to have support, consensus and common building blocks. It will not be perfect and will have to adapt and evolve, so grow a strategy with that in mind. 

Just like the BYOD challenge, corporate communications has been overtaken by personal preference and choice. Rather than fight this, as with BYOD the best thing is to not blindly go with, but harness, the flow. Technology can really help people communicate, but only when they adopt it on their own terms and the adoption of social tools for the enterprise can benefit from cultivating a ‘grass roots’ movement, not treating employees like mushrooms…