Businesses wary of social media adoption

Businesses are wary of social networks, with security issues and lack of control over content causing managers the most concern.

Businesses are wary of social networks, with security issues and lack of control over content causing managers the most concern.

Despite the opportunities, most managers find it hard to come up with a business case for using social networks in a company. An almost evolutionary approach may be needed, with benefits only being realised once the technology has been implemented.

During a recent roundtable on the use of social media in business, participants showed willingness to consider greater openness but reported uncertainty over how to apply these tools to business.

There is a long list of reasons for reticence. Members of the roundtable, which was hosted by Computer Weekly and BT, said new policies and forms of governance are needed to support collaborative environments, and cultural issues can cause problems in some departments as managers are forced to concede control to employees in some spheres.

Keeping information in a confined space, or to a certain group of people, may prove to be increasingly difficult in the more open environment required by social media, and verifying information becomes more difficult. Many companies are too disparate to have one network stretching across different departments. And, of course, managers are fearful of the time-wasting opportunities that sites such as Facebook present.

"Just because society can do it, does not mean business should," said Chris Yapp, executive technical strategy consultant at Capgemini.

Graham O'Dwyer, an architect from Zurich Insurance, said, "More collaboration is like more communication: it is not necessarily better, it is just more."

Overcoming challenges

But any new technology will present challenges, and problems are there to be solved. But it is not a case of one size fits all - each company may face a different set of hurdles.

Hospitals and other social care organisations will have to contend with the question of how to get value from social networks while maintaining security around important personal information.

James Thomas, director of IT at UCL Hospitals, said, "Our stumbling block has been trying to work out how you expose a collaborative world without undermining the governance around patient care. The two represent opposing worlds that we are trying to bridge."

John McCarthy, head of information capability exploitation at the Ministry of Defence, said there are issues with keeping information within a certain group of people when it is exchanged across social networks.

"When you work in a huge organisation on a legacy infrastructure, it is very easy to trust the information you are receiving because you know it is from an authoritative source. There can be no confidence in where information came from in a collaborative environment," he adds.

Effort will be rewarded

But the effort to overcome the issues may be worth it. The use of social networks is so new in business that many of the benefits are not yet known.

Early adopters have shown that clever use of collaboration, in a way that suits a particular organisation, can save money and gain valuable feedback.

Some companies have used Facebook to provide a forum for graduate trainees to talk to potential new applicants. They tell them about the working environment and what the job involves, and the company saves money because while they get fewer applicants, they also get people who are better suited to the job.

Others are looking to do similar things with forums for customers. There are fears over how to control what might be said, especially if it involves strong criticism, but savvy companies are realising the value of such feedback.

Clear benefits

Some objections to increasing collaboration are more easily surmountable.

Neil Franklin, digital and social media advisor at the Department for Work and Pensions, pointed out that employees who waste time on Facebook have always wasted time. Social networks simply provide them with a new way of doing so.

If collaboration is well targeted, the benefits are clear. A conference or meeting can evolve from five people meeting in London, to dozens of people communicating in a collaborative space. It can lead to more ideas and better knowledge of a topic.

And while businesses debate benefits and problems, a new generation of employees is entering the market expecting to use this technology, which is becoming part of everyday life.

The challenges are worth meeting, not just because of the potential benefits, but because the best employees may not be interested in a company that is not keeping up.

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