Is Social Software Relevant To Information Workers?

Summary:Less than 30 percent of the workforce uses social technology, according to new Forrester data.

I'm not saying anything shocking when I say enterprise social software, has been a hot topic over the last five years. The set of technologies designed to flatten corporations have spawned dedicated blogs, press, and conferences. And our surveys of content and collaboration professionals show businesses are embracing these technologies: 42% of firms are making new investments in Enterprise 2.0 software, and 46% are investing in team workspaces (on which social technologies often ride into the enterprise). So, obviously we're over the hump and well into this new social era of business, right? Well...not so fast.

I'll go out on a limb here and say that businesses are not more social - at least, not in the broad-based fashion people envisioned when we first started talking about Enterprise 2.0 in the heady days of the mid-2000s. How could it be? According to our recent survey of 4,985 US information workers, 29% of the workforce uses a social technology. While you may be thinking to yourself this is a good start, allow me a moment to point out some key differences between Enterprise 2.0 users and the rest of the workforce:

  • They're your highest paid employees. Over half of this group earns more than $60k a year, compared to just 36% of non-users.
  • They're the most educated members of the workforce. Sixty-five percent of this group has completed at least a 4 year college degree compared to 55% of the rest of the workforce.
  • They're the leaders in your office. It's not surprising to see 49% of this group are managers are executives given management's enthusiasm about social technologies. Just 31% of non-users are in similar positions.

Given that these tools are more or less walled off  in the upper echelons of the US information workforce, it's hard to conclude that they're living up to their billing of providing equitable access to information and ideas across an organization. But, you could say it's a beach head; a natural place for social software to enter the business and spread in a (counterintuatively) top-down fashion. It's a good idea except for one hitch: Our data also shows that the heaviest users of collaboration technology value social software less than other collaboration tools. This suggests that if we look at what's probably going to spread fastest because the power collaboration tool users see value and push its use, it won't be the social tools that many of us thought would dominate in the enterprise at this point.

Now, I know this all sounds like gloom and doom. But I think there's actually a bright side here. I do think that social software has the power to transform how groups of people interact and work together. And I think there's an opportunity for content and collaboration pros to roll these tools out smartly to the parts of the workforce that will derive the most benefit from them immediately. But, in this isoltated fashion, does that mean that social software ultimately fulfills its promise of transforming entire business cultures and process, as Enterprise 2.0 evangelists suggest? Or is social software just a link in business collaboration's evolutionary chain?

At our upcoming Content and Collaboration Forum, my colleague Ted Schadler and I will be discussing how to, among other things, provide tools to keep the mobile workforce connected, engaged, and productive. Our data clearly shows that, for now, a one-size-fits-all approach won't work -- so where do we begin? And how does that play into the continuing evolution of businesses' collaboration strategies? Additionally, my colleague Rob Koplowitz will be discussing in his keynote address whether or not social technologies have been as successful in transforming business as we were promised. We hope to see you there for these thought-provoking conversations.

Topics: Enterprise Software, Collaboration, CXO, IT Employment, Social Enterprise, Software

Kick off your day with ZDNet's daily email newsletter. It's the freshest tech news and opinion, served hot. Get it.

Related Stories

The best of ZDNet, delivered

You have been successfully signed up. To sign up for more newsletters or to manage your account, visit the Newsletter Subscription Center.
Subscription failed.