Gilbane conference: Communities in the enterprise world

Social media and Enterprise 2.0 tools, such as Facebook and Twitter, have grown in popularity, with millions of users and lots of attention from the press. The enterprise continues to have mixed emotions toward these applications.

Social media and Enterprise 2.0 tools, such as Facebook and Twitter, have grown in popularity, with millions of users and lots of attention from the press. Despite consumer popularity, the enterprise continues to have mixed emotions toward these applications.

On one hand, the opportunities for communication and exchanging information  -- with customers, internal employees, and so on -- are clear. At the same time, noise and clutter in this domain confuse potential enterprise adopters.

A panel discussion at the Gilbane 2008 content and collaboration conference, being held this week in Boston, discussed adoption of social media in the enterprise. The panel consisted of:

  • Steve Paxhia and Geoffrey Bock, both analysts from Gilbane, a content management consulting company
  • Abbie Lundberg, Editor in Chief of CIO magazine
  • Patrick Moran, Chief Marketing Officer at Mzinga, an enterprise media and content delivery platform.

Gilbane Conference: Communities in the enterprise world

Two issues raised by the panel particularly caught my attention. As an enterprise-focused blogger, my primary concerns relate to how organizations view and adopt these technologies.

Internal collaboration vs. external community building. The first point I found interesting focused on the social media life cycle inside organizations. The panel suggested that many organizations start with social media to enhance collaboration inside the firewall. Eventually, as these organizations become more comfortable, they use the technology to create customer-facing communities and interact with external groups.

Internal collaboration offers organizations a relatively private sanctuary to explore the many new issues raised by the technology. For example, CIO magazine's Abbie Lundberg described challenges around information sharing:

There's a blurring of lines the risks and benefits of sharing proprietary information. Using social media requires participants to share information, but limits and policies are also necessary. In many ways, it's completely uncharted territory.

Mzinga's Moran recommended that companies using social media designate a senior person to address these issues and develop policies as needed.

Enterprise adoption. Lundberg said CIOs are "institutionally cautious," making them reluctant to embrace new technologies, especially from smaller vendors.

Because CIOs naturally seek to avoid risk, they tend to focus on stable, mature technologies and processes, rather than experiment with new tools such as Enterprise 2.o. At the same time, they are under pressure to innovate, grow their business, and reach out to customers, a requirement sometimes at odds with their conservative bias.

To help lower organizational adoption risk, Gilbane's Bock suggested that vendors encapsulate important functions and benefits of older applications into their new products. The panel said potential enterprise buyers usually want to start with low-risk pilots that make experimentation easy.

Ultimately, achieving social media success in the enterprise depends on vendors clearly articulating the value, return, and benefit their customers can expect.

My take: Potential enterprise buyers find so much clutter in the space that they are confused about what to buy. Couple that with CIO's tendency to avoid risk, made worse by the economy, and I think social media adoption will take more time than most observers expect. Yes it will happen, but slowly.

[Photo by Michael Krigsman.]

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