Challenges of Social Computing in the Enterprise

I read this report from GigaOM and it got me thinking about the challenges of trying to create a successful Facebook-like environment in the enterprise.

Challenge #1: Smaller community. Facebook has over 400 million active users. Your company will have thousands. You can assume that only a portion of those will be active contributors, and that within that smaller group, those people will be split into smaller communities of interest. This leads to a trickle of information flow, which isn’t going to keep people coming back. Even within Facebook, I wonder how many users are just playing games, versus having interactions with friends. The Facebook statistics page does not provide this information. This is important because…

Challenge #2: Enterprise apps do not exist as part of the social platform, and there will be a long migration for existing companies before that changes. If anything, the trend today is to put social networking features into the app, rather than building the app within a social networking platform. That’s not a surprise, as what platform would you choose?

Challenge #3: The browser dominates the deployment model. I try not to generalize my personal preferences, but if I am going to interact with something on a regular basis, it needs real estate on my desktop. That’s why I use Seesmic Desktop for Twitter/Facebook messaging. It’s always open. A browser takes up too much real estate, so eventually that page is out of sight, and out of mind. I think a push model is the only way to go to be successful.

Challenge #4: The enterprise does not have a culture of sharing. I don’t know the root cause of this, but in general, I have found that most enterprises only share information when it is required to get a task done. Rather than seeking out interested parties, information owners sit back and wait for information seekers to come to them. This results in a lot of wasted time and effort in finding out those information owners. In general, I think there are way too many barriers that prevent information sharing, whether due to corporate culture, legal and regulatory environments, internal politics, or many other reasons.

So what do we do? You’ll have to read my next post where I will try to ofer some suggestions for addressing each of these.

6 Responses to “Challenges of Social Computing in the Enterprise”

  • Martin Howitt:

    Interesting points Todd. But I’m not sure about all of them: 🙂

    Challenge #1: Smaller community. < but the community has more in common than random folks on Facebook, because they are all involved in the same enterprise. We ran a pilot here on our network (4000 users, only 250 involved) and there was plenty of discussion.

    Challenge #3: The browser being the dominant deployment model: I think it is more important than ever to provide cross-platform delivery, for use on mobile devices and desktops of varying form factors. WordPress, for example, exists as both a browser-based interface and a mobile app

    Challenge 4: the culture of sharing. The absolute biggest reason to deploy social tools inside the firewall is to change an organisation's culture. It won't do it on its own, but it's a place where that change can happen.

    The single biggest impact of a social platform was the reduction in email: I saw a 50% drop in email volumes and a corresponding increase in productivity! These tools need to be piloted and introduced gradually but I feel there is useful mileage to be gained from them.

  • My responses:
    On the smaller community, you’re right that there is more shared interest around the business as a whole (at least there should be). Once you break down that large group, however, critical mass can be an issue.

    On the browser challenge, the issue is not that the browser isn’t the dominant cross-platform delivery model, it’s that it’s just another app, and that app isn’t always open. There needs to be “always open” screen real estate dedicated to the real-time communications.

    On the culture issue, I think we’re making the same point. It’s a huge challenge that has to be overcome, because we need to be sharing more. Merely giving people a tool won’t change that, however. It’s all part of the challenge.

  • Jordan Haberfield:

    You hit on all the key points Todd. Social media is less about the app and more about the strategy behind it. Without the right culture in place, it will never be more than a distraction. I plan on blogging about this myself, but the 4 key activities for a Social Media Strategy need to be to Listen, Engage, Share and Measure.

  • Interesting post and good comments however i would say this could be different depending on your sector and the size of your “Enterprise”. I work in the public sector and whilst my organisation has about 25000 employees the community i belong to is across the whole sector and therefore is much larger (greater than 1million) so the issue of critical mass depends on the level of detail and the topic being discussed.

    The issue of apps is i believe a red herring in this scenario. The key for me is isn’t doesn’t matter where the social aspect is, either in a discreet platform or as part of an business app. As long as it exists it will foster and cultivate a culture in time.

    The issue of browser is only an issue if you are replicating tasks across different systems. When my council piloted a social software system, the browser became prominent because we made a decision to stop emailing each other and therefore pushed the behaviour into the browser app. It was only at this time we saw the additional value. It is also worth noting that “social” should be able to be seperated – much like the phone can be turned off, sometimes you need to be able to switch off and get your head down.

    I agree organisations don’t have cultures that support sharing but most organisations don’t have simple ways and methods to make sharing information easy. Chicken and Egg here i think. The problem from my perspective is people spend too much time worrying about how to make knowledge and information accessible when they should worry more about how to make the process of sharing it simply and easy for everyone.

    I look forward to reading your next post

  • Found your blog while snooping around on the web and was interested in your take and style. I write a similar blog on EA at the above site. Here’s a link to a posting on the same topic –
    While I agree that most companies won’t benefit from a straight internal facebook implementation, I think the power comes from blended “social media applications” that use social media tools to a meet meaningful business needs in combination with other more traditional things like BPM.
    I figure people have a basic need to be connected. Since most of us spend most of our day “at the work place”, promoting connectedness there make people more happy and makes the business more organically productive.
    Nice post, BTW. What software to you use for this blog?

  • Social Media is automation of interaction that we do anyway, but with the platform we just reach more people. The next step will be to encourage new behavior – and hence create business value that doesn’t exist. But I haven’t seen evidence that we are there yet.

    On #3, I find myself regularly working in 3 messaging channels: Google Chat, Google Voice, and Skype – and 2 ad hoc – yahoo IM and Sametime. I find that I need to have a thin client running for each of these to be effective.

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