Ten top issues in adopting enterprise social computing

Ten top issues in adopting enterprise social computing

Summary: Last week ZDNet’s Larry Dignan wrote an insightful post that analyzed the recent report from Charlene Li and the Altimeter Group/Wetpaint about early data that seems to show an intriguing correlation between social media engagement and corporate financial performance.The key finding was that companies that are both deeply and widely engaged in social media surpass their peers in terms of both revenue and profit performance by a significant difference.However, we are also seeing the first wave of issues cropping up as the larger cultural, IT, and business impact of social tools begins to be felt.


Last week ZDNet's Larry Dignan wrote an insightful post that analyzed the recent report from Charlene Li and the Altimeter Group/Wetpaint about early data that seems to show an intriguing correlation between social media engagement and corporate financial performance. The key finding was this:

To be specific, companies that are both deeply and widely engaged in social media surpass their peers in terms of both revenue and profit performance by a significant difference.

This report (details and copy here) is encouraging news for those embarking on applying social software to various parts of their business. But, as Larry points out, these numbers can be interpreted a number of ways. Many organizations would rather wait for best practices to solidify before climbing very far up the social computing adoption curve. So while there's increasingly less question that there is genuine ROI in social media, the question still remains whether it can directly drive fundamental, bottom line performance in the average organization today.

This highlights a key conversational thread that came out of last month's Enterprise 2.0 conference: Does social computing really deliver significantly better business performance? Or is it merely a minor incremental improvement?

Unfortunately, despite an growing body of encouraging case studies, evidence, and research, the jury is still out on total impact social computing will have on businesses. This return will even vary widely for many organizations for a number of reasons will explore below. At present, the uncertainty is simply because that there are not enough organizations that have incorporated social computing approaches (which encompasses the full range of social software as applied to business that include social networks and Enterprise 2.0 to things like crowdsourcing and social CRM) across their lines of business for us to get a complete enough picture. Even the ones that have done it, haven't done it long enough to see what the results actually are.

Instead, as companies begin pilots and initiatives, we are seeing the first wave of issues cropping up as the larger cultural, IT, and business impact of social tools begins to be felt.

Social Computing Adoption Curve - Software and Processes

Sidebar: What is social computing? It's the use of social software within and between organizations and any interested parties such as employees, customers, and partners. Social computing, as explained here, can usher in significant large-scale shifts in where productive forces and innovation come from. Organizations will all adopt enterprise social computing tools in slightly different ways and will generally proceed from ad hoc usage, often by applying widely available consumer tools at first, to more evolved open business models. As of this year, about half of all large organizations now have social computing tools deployed in some manner.

The following is a summary of the issues I'm hearing from practitioners in the field as well as from our clients and industry contacts.

While these ten issues with social computing are the ones I hear about most, your mileage will almost certainly vary. However, I believe them to be representative of where we are in 2009. Please note that these are by no means insurmountable obstacles and merely represent a good cross section of what early adopters typically encounter as they begin climbing the social computing adoption curve (see diagram above).

Ten top issues with social computing in business

  1. Lack of social media literacy amongst workers. Anecdotally, the farther a business is from the technology industry, the less likely that line workers will be familiar with the latest software innovations. Those who haven't been maintaining blogs, updating wiki sites, using social networks, sharing information socially, etc. will require more education than those who do. Even the basics of netiquette as well as key techniques to get the most from social computing platforms such as encouraging the building of links between data, tagging information, or establishing weak ties over the network are often poorly understood even by frequent users of social computing tools. In short, social computing requires some literacy efforts in most organizations to achieve effectiveness, just like personal computing skills did a few decades ago.
  2. A perception that social tools won't work well in a particular industry. There is often an assumption in many specialized industries -- such as medicine or manufacturing, just to cite two random examples -- that social tools won't be a good fit for their specific vertical; that they are unique in some way that makes social business models inappropriate or a non-starter in some way. While many enterprise Web 2.0 advances have spread rather unevenly in many industries -- with media and financial services often leading the way in early adoption -- more and more evidence is accumulating that social computing tools have use in most, if not all, industries. However, more than five years after social software became common in private life, it's still surprisingly common encounter a culture of resistance (though often to change in general, and not just enterprise social tools) in organizations that have fewer competitive pressures, are highly specialized, or are unusually late adopters of technology.
  3. Social software is still perceived as too risky to use for core business activities. There is still a broad sense with many that I talk to that social computing applications are more suitable for knowledge workers isolated from the mission critical functions of an organization or in more fungible areas such as marketing and advertising. There's a sense that social computing is not for operations or key business capabilities. This can be ascribed variously to concerns about unpredictability, loss of control, or worries of introducing potential distractions to activities that directly and immediately affect the conditions of the business, including the bottom line. Interestingly, in my analysis of case studies and discussions with implementers, this is the very place where social tools have the most impact when deployed, usually by improving decisions, making key data (or potential experts with the information you need) more accessible and discoverable, and so on. In fact, no case that I can find has emerged of social tools disrupting the workplace in any significant manner, and almost all reports, some of which are indeed integrating social tools into key business processes, are positive. This concern will likely persist for a while yet, pending the arrival of a preponderance of research and internal results belies it.
  4. Can't get enough senior executives engaged with social tools. I've been known to say that most senior executives in large organizations are often read-only users of their IT systems, whether it's Outlook, their Blackberry, or operational dashboards. Despite even the earliest Enterprise 2.0 case studies confirming that social tool adoption is greatly improved by an organization's top personnel leading by example, these are often the folks that have the least time to participate and little practical experience in doing so. (Note: Enterprise 2.0 is just part of the enterprise social computing spectrum, though a very important one.) It's something I'm beginning to hear often, and that is lack of engagement by senior executives in most social computing efforts, public or private. I'm personally torn by whether this is critical for success in the long term, since social computing is largely about tapping into the cognitive surpluses within an organization and across the network, but it certainly is a key factor in the short term by slowing the effectiveness of adoption internally.
  5. There is vapor lock between IT and the social computing initiative. The famous IT/business divide is often holding up social computing initiatives, often by months -- and in some cases for a year or more -- as IT tries to find (and sometimes build) social computing applications that meet requirements for internal software, architecture, security, and governance standards, while still exhibiting the latest best practices on the social computing side. That many of the best social computing applications come from newer, smaller firms that often don't focus on traditional enterprise requirements only exacerbates the issues. IT shops also tend to have limited understanding of the business side of social computing and try to shoehorn existing solutions on hand to solve business needs. While this isn't automatically a bad practice, the classic example of SharePoint and Enterprise 2.0 illustrates how this can often become a charged issue and hold up efforts while it is resolved.
  6. Need to prove ROI before there will be support for social software. This is a classic anti-pattern for enterprise software acquisition in general (and Enterprise 2.0 in particular), and while there are certainly twists that are unique to social computing, the ROI proof objection has increasingly fallen by wayside with the growing number of successful case studies.
  7. Security concerns are holding up pilot projects/adoption plans. Because social tools make many things that were normally private much more public -- including policies, procedures, critical methods, corporate data, and intellectual property -- many organizations would rather wait for best practices in dealing with this important issue to solidify before climbing very far up the social computing adoption curve. We've seen a surprisingly increase and friendly reception lately for tools that address security as well as governance with social computing tools. I'll explore some of these in an upcoming post.
  8. The needs around community management have come as a surprise. Social tools create participant audiences with a shared understanding and sense of community, as well as an internally guided direction. Without suitable management (help, support, guidance, moderation, administration, and planning) communities will (and should) eventually take on a life of their own, but perhaps without your involvement. Community management is the facility through which they stay connected to the organization and its goals/needs while satisfying their own internal requirements. The staffing skills, team sizes, techniques, and tools of community management for the full spectrum of enterprise social computing needs is still something that we're learning as an industry. This is also an emerging story that I'll be covering this year as social computing matures in more and more organizations.
  9. Difficulties sustaining external engagement. As I discussed last year in covering 12 best practices for online customer communities, many organizations have trouble engaging the broader world using their own social computing initiatives. They build communities but their target audiences often ends up preferring the ones they built for themselves, especially if they perceive too cynical an approach or one that is too narrow for their needs (focusing on just a product from one company instead of an entire vertical or niche). Creating thriving social computing environments is still as much an art as a science and while engagement can always be generated through expensive traditional marketing and PR channels, learning the emerging rules for social business can really help.
  10. Struggling to survive due to unexpected success. More and more frequently lately I'm coming across enterprise social computing stories that had considerable and unexpected early success. This led to attention and scrutiny from across the organization and a subsequent struggle to fund a fast growing venture amid internecine turf wars, battles over control, and the battles with competing efforts. With social computing a foreign way of doing business for many organizations, the rapid growth of new effort can spell disaster without careful oversight, planning, and expectation setting. Building a strong network of friendly and well-respected sponsors internally can help this issue in particular.

With a large number of organizations starting to explore some of the more advanced forms of social computing this year, this list is only the tip of the iceberg. As part of this and to learn from the social computing community as a whole about what challenges are being faced, I'd love to build a more complete view of what's taking place on the enterprise social computing landscape. Consequently, I'd like to ask that you please leave your additions to this list below in Talkback. I'll summarize them in a future post.

Please leave your enterprise social computing adoption issues below. I will try to respond to all comments and questions as well.

Topics: Collaboration, Social Enterprise

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  • Vapor lock between Business Process and Social Computing

    Similar to the vapor lock between IT and Business, there's also a big gap in understanding and focus on how Social Computing accelerates process performance.
    The obsession around new metrics for adoption and new ROI standards for social computing often over shadows fundamental performance metrics (more leads, faster closes, supply chain efficiency, etc) which are well understood baselines for any new investment.
    To articulate social computing investments or a social business design as a better execution path to realizing a larger strategy, we need to stack up the benefits of this new computing paradigm against traditional process methods, in the context of business activities. That?s when the purpose and incentives are clear, leading to a much easier path to ROI calculation, as well as adoption.

    - Sameer (http://www.pretzellogic.org)
    Sameer Patel
  • RE: Ten top issues in adopting enterprise social computing

    I would also add from my experience with
    http://tamtamy.reply.it (corporate social network of
    Reply - www.reply.eu) that many employee just think
    that be a part of the "social" thing it's just a waste
    of time. Many do not see the advantages of sharing and
    participating in a social "web/virtual" context, they
    just see it as extra-work or a way the boss uses to
    "spy" them even thought most of the times the boss
    itself is pushing on this social-thing.

  • RE: Ten top issues in adopting enterprise social computing

    Great post Dion. I think you hit the nail on the head across the broader business landscape in terms of where companies stand with E2.0. I do believe there are pockets where progress is being made though. For instance, Helpstream is a Social CRM vendor, and we are finding good traction in the SMB space where companies are more likely to adopt new technology and are less encumbered by legacy solutions and thinking.

    What is interesting is we are now getting more unsolicited RFPs from larger companies which makes us wonder if we have crossed the chasm at this stage. The content in the RFPs suggests these companies are rather sophisticated in thier knowledge and thinking of the application value.

    Could it be that Social CRM is progressing faster than other areas of E2.0?
  • RE: Ten top issues in adopting enterprise social computing

    Good articulation of the issues.
    The scope is huge for social computing solutions and the issues are genuine.
    We have been overcoming the same using flexible models for pilot, deployment and pricing.
    Other issues
    - getting locked in with a technology which fails the change challenge...customers are preferring open source based products and pilot is mandatory.
    - need best of both worlds: intranet + WEB interop without compromising security
    - Switching costs: people want to and wud love to move on with better solutions but legacy and switching costs become a constraint

    Some of the projects we are doing using our Kreeo Framework involves applying social computing for collective intelligence in IT companies, group of investment companies and the best involves driving change for sustainable living through an open and interoperable platform.
    Ecosystem based implementations are exciting customers.
  • RE: Ten top issues in adopting enterprise social computing

    Couldn't agree more with the list but the IT challenge is
    clearly the most difficult -- and time consuming -- to
    overcome. The lack of adoption and engagement is also a
    tough problem but we've discovered it can be overcome with
    the appropriate focus on a launch marketing plan and,
    especially, quality launch communications.
    Tony Brice
    • RE: Ten top issues in adopting enterprise social computing

      @Tony Brice <br><br>Yep, I agree that IT challange is the most difficult one.

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  • RE: Ten top issues in adopting enterprise social computing

    Dion, Great post! Thank you! I cover customer service social media at Forrester and from the indepth study of 20 companies we've found that customer service implementations directly drive fundamental, bottom line performance in the average organization today.

    Not only does social media transform customer service and customer experience, but it is a business transformation tool that transforms the whole company.

    Here's a link to my ROI Model of Customer Service Social Media, the preso and would love to share with you what we are seeing!

    @drnatalie / npetouhoff@forrester.com
  • RE: Ten top issues in adopting enterprise social computing

    Dion - I like your post and appreciate your perspective. I am very interested in point #4 as I am a senior executive who is personally, actively involved with social media. I play the role of guide and aggregator across Newell Rubbermaid's many brands (Rubbermaid, Sharpie, Graco Baby, Goody and Calphalon to name a few). I am in an interesting role as I direct line report to the CIO and dotted line report to the CMO. As the VP E-Business and Interactive Marketing I am a hybrid executive integrating technology and marketing to enhance our brand building efforts through interactive and social media marketing strategies and tactics. So, my background and experience lines up nicely to personally participate in social media...I also have extensive spokesperson experience. I do not think many executives have this combination of skills and experience. Most have risen through the ranks by being great leaders or general managers or exceptionally skilled in marketing, IT, finance or supply chain and operations. So I think having an expectation that a C-Level executive will actively participate in social media is less likely than lower level executives. Also, C-level executives at publicly traded companies have to be very careful about what they say publicly and not cross SEC rules and regulations.

    I do like the comment from Natalie Petouhoff as I believe customer service is the big opportunity for most businesses in social media.

    Thank you again for the excellent post.

    Bert DuMars
    VP E-Business & Interactive Marketing
    Newell Rubbermaid
  • RE: Ten top issues in adopting enterprise social computing

    This corelates with my experience. However, I think the top 5 issues are (http://setandbma.wordpress.com/2009/06/04/why-web-2-0-will-not-work-inside-enterprise/)

    1. Incompatibility ? Structured approach in enterprise vs. Self-organizing approach in web 2.0

    2. Perception that Web 2.0 is a hype

    3. Small size of community

    4. Limiting impact of the organization boundary

    5. Conflicting need ? Security restriction vs. Open access

  • RE: Ten top issues in adopting enterprise social computing

    Dion writes, ?? the question still remains whether it [social media] can directly drive fundamental, bottom line performance in the average organization today.? Depending on how far you go back, the same can be said of instant messaging, Web sites, e-mail, personal computers, fax machines, PR, and marketing.

    And if we look at the average organization, you can bet that all of the above are critical to the fundamental performance. The debate over social media ROI will go on until one day we wake up and realize that while it might be hard to quantify, we know we can't do without it. Don't get me wrong, enterprises should quantify wherever possible. ROI often acts as a built-in motivator that holds people, technology, and processes accountable. But organizations that are strictly tied to ROI-driven performance can often lose sight of the forest through the trees.

    Here, the yin to the ROI yang of social media lies in #8. The very nature of social tools is about communities and collaboration. With suitable management, as the article states, (help, support, guidance, moderation, administration, and planning) communities -- both internal and external -- can be cultivated and play a huge role in the success of the enterprise.

    And a final note on the other listed issues, I believe #1 to #4 are primarily perception issues and will inevitably erode with time. The others will evolve as the technologies that they are tied to keep pace with demand.

    Mike Cassettari
    Vice President of Marketing at Inmagic
  • RE: Ten top issues in adopting enterprise social computing

    Thank you Dion for another excellent post. I agree with all of your points and I'm not sure that this would bump any out of the top 10, but I believe that integration strategies have become a problem for adoption. There is a lack of integration with existing internal systems and lack of integration with consumer-based systems. Everything is still too silo'd. Some of the attributes in these systems such as profiles need to be extended to external systems. Messaging needs to be integrated with microblogs. So there are needs for tools that don't provide new functionality, but take the functions that already exist and pull them together in a full platform. As I said, this may not be more important than your top 10, but seems to be a place of many headaches.
  • RE: Ten top issues in adopting enterprise social computing

    I would add some things to the list.

    1. As an organization you need to control your social computing. Allowing third parties to set up social sites with out your companies consent can be a nightmare for the company. The company didn't set up the site and usually has very little control but if they don't participate, the site becomes a flame posting company hater. How can the company win??? Either pursue legal channels or try to take control of the offending sites.

    2. Social Computing has a lot of hidden costs for companies. Basically once a company opens itself up to broader public interaction you get all of the positive and negative things that go with being very social. The positive stuff is faster communication, shorter supply chains, better services, and more. However the negative things can hurt your company as well. All it takes is for the right people in key positions to say or do something embarrassing and now you have to worry about spin control. A company invested in social computing must stay invested or fail. Training on how to deport yourself in public and on the public Internet become crucial as every single member of you team might be exposed to the general public or at least the general target market, warts and all. The practical joker that was harmless as the office clown could ruin three years of public good will with a seemingly harmless online prank. The purchasing agent who is great at purchasing and is great at their job now also might be exposed as someone who doesn't enjoy talking with low level people outside of their normal sphere of influence. They can't hide behind corporate walls anymore so now a company either has to hire people who can do their jobs and be social or train the pros to be more social. Also a lot of high level business is actually anti-social. Companies make decisions all of the time that are not popular or political but make sense for their bottom lines. These decisions could become heavily exposed to a social network. So pretty much once you are into social networking you are locked in and you might end up spending a lot of money that you didn't expect. You can't just head hunt the top single talents anymore, you have to head hunt the talents that are also good at looking good for social computing and these talents may not be as good as the people who are true specialists. A company might try to solve that by hiring social network people only while hiding the real talent behind a curtain. The problem is if the social people are superstars inevitably the company will find itself saying, "Don't pay attention to the man behind the curtain!"

    Social computing is do able but it is not nearly as easy as the marketing hype makes it out to be.
  • RE: Ten top issues in adopting enterprise social computing

    Dion. Great list. I'm definitely in agreement. My feelings on
    such technologies are simple. Let's work smarter not
    harder. If Skype, Twitter and others like Yammer can help
    an organization gain even the smallest of productivity,
    encourage it. But adoption has to start at the top by
    execs, especially those in IT. As a consultant, I see this
    tension all of the time with execs that dismiss social
    technologies as not applicable or more of a waste of time,
    than enabler of efficiency.

    john j.

  • RE: Ten top issues in adopting enterprise social computing

    As an IT consultant I am fully aware that IT management is struggling with whether social media is productive or obstructive for companies and their employees. Software is being developed and policy and restrictions are being decided everyday by IT managers. The security of company networks are at stake but the potential for innovation using social media is a large enough carrot for the discussion of how to properly utilize the medium continues. Palo Alto networks came up with a whitepaper, http://bit.ly/d2NZRp, which will explore the issues surrounding social media in the workplace. It is important to not only understand the immediate benefits of doing business how one lives, but the threat it presents to a company's greater ROI and productivity when it comes to the server's safety and security.
    If your IT Department wants to block social media apps on the company network... http://bit.ly/d2NZRp and http://bit.ly/cR80Al
  • RE: Ten top issues in adopting enterprise social computing

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  • RE: Ten top issues in adopting enterprise social computing

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