Organizational social anxiety

The social media movement has divided the enterprise into two camps.

Guest editorial by Caroline Dangson, IDC

As I talked to the vendors exhibiting at Enterprise 2.0 in Boston, I noticed less emphasis on the buzz word social and more emphasis on collaboration and getting work done.  From these conversations I realized that the enterprise is not yet sold on social.  Some executives hear the word social and immediately think Facebook (the poking and throwing sheep) for business.  And believe it or not there are executives still fearful of the transparency that comes with the social media spotlight.  The social media movement is disruptive because it challenges traditional power structures - no one person gets credit; no one person has power.  Executives who do not understand what social can do for their business only see that it forces them to give up control and power.  Hence, there is still a need for education.

The social media movement has divided the enterprise into two camps.  There are companies that trust in social media and are embracing these new ways of doing business.  On the other hand, there are companies that are fearful of changing the way they do business and need concrete, quantifiable evidence that social media provides a return on investment.  I believe the tough economic situation is making this divide even more pronounced as it pushes companies to either take risks or retreat into comfort zones.  What is interesting is that executives fearful of the social media movement have no way to stop it as individual employees are bringing these tools into the workplace.  According to a mini poll conducted by IDC's Software Business Solutions Group this past January, 51% of total respondents said employees at their company use social networking services for business.  Two-thirds of those who are using social networking for business do so through a self-directed, not corporate, initiative.

Corporate culture has everything to do with adoption of social media.  I believe the number one factor preventing full adoption of social media is the lack of executive trust in employees.  This culture is about control and creates a workplace of silos.  This type of workplace is not set up to be social and the silos are barriers to worker productivity.  The fun factor for this environment is low and young, energetic talent will come and go.  I think connecting employees and allowing them to have some fun is an important investment as it keeps workers interested and invested in the company.  Talent attracts more talent and keeping these workers is a key business objective.  Companies also face the fact that close to 20% of U.S. executives, administrative, and managerial employees will retire in the next five years.  The next generation of workers have grown up using social media.  Organizations who want to attract these workers need to understand how they work.

Those who use social media for personal reasons can more easily translate its value for business purposes.  This is why so many social software vendors are finding success in offering free trials - get your hands dirty, realize the value for you, get addicted, and get sold.  This is really a great prescription for what I call organizational social anxiety.  Fear comes from inexperience.  Failure comes from not trying.

Caroline Dangson is a research analyst covering social media with IDC’s Digital Marketplace team. In this role, Ms. Dangson drives IDC's Digital Marketplace: Social Media service which advises clients on how to leverage social media to effectively communicate and collaborate with target customers and business partners based on actionable primary research. She also tracks trends for enterprise social media participation, monitoring and measurement in this program. In addition, Ms. Dangson runs the Digital Marketplace and New Media Watch program, which delivers timely and frequent strategic news analysis and opinions about the most important events in the online marketplace.

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