Social business: win or fail?

It would seem the adoption of social as an internal business communications channel has been slow, despite pundits lauding it as a groundbreaking tool for innovation, collaboration and internal crowdsourcing.

A colleague recently shared this Sloan Review article which says that “[a]ccording to a survey of large companies in the U.S. and Europe already involved in social initiatives, only 10-20% of their employees are actively involved in social collaboration.”

So why aren’t employees applying their ninja social skillz in-house, when we all know they’re linktwitting their facebooks off?

Generally speaking, I think social communications tools in the workplace can be intimidating to employees:

1.    Everyone’s watching
The pressure to be smarter is higher.  And the faux pas that feels small on twitter feels bigger when it’s in front of colleagues (even though rationally, those colleagues could be following you on both)

2.    It’s too informal
Too many people are still stuck in the habit of using email as a ‘back up’ to document exchanges – social sometimes feels too intangible for discussions that then need action steps (and a ‘cover yourself’ mechanism).

3.    Too much noise
It’s hard to work out what to pay attention to and what to prioritise

I think internal corporate based social will only really work if:

  • Employees feel empowered (and safe enough) to talk and engage freely
  • There is a mechanism to convert social sharing and discussion into actual work streams and responsibilities
  • There is some function (similar to reddit or dig) to vote up really interesting or valuable content
  • There is a clever way to search and save interesting stuff, so that it doesn’t just get lost in the stream
  • That it’s used in conjunction with other internal channels for important comms – recognising that some people will NEVER use social channels

This is a bit off the cuff, but something I’ve been mulling over.  The power of social could be massive for businesses (especially ones that are large and global), but the trick will be replacing the trusty inbox with tools that are more useful at fostering good connections, not just overwhelming people with more data.

Is your business using social?  What do you think works?

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