Enterprises grapple with social engagement

The latest report from the Social Business Council shows that organizations have made significant progress towards embracing social media. It's also clear that there's plenty of hard work ahead.
Written by Dion Hinchcliffe, Contributor

Over the past summer, the Social Business Council conducted a survey of its members to assess their current progress with enterprise social media. The results of this survey have now been released as the Current State of Social Engagement Inside the Large Enterprise report. It tells an interesting tale indeed about social media at some of the world's largest companies.

Founded in 2009, the the Social Business Council is a peer community of those working on realizing social media within their organizations, and its focus in particular is large enterprises. It periodically shares its data from members publicly, and the latest report is a snapshot of organizations in North America and Europe.  Disclosure: I currently work for the Dachis Group, the company that owns and operates the Social Business Council.

While much of the talk in the industry lately has often been of the imperative to become a social business (take the Dreamforce event last month as a prime example), the report leaves little doubt that social media has broadly moved into the enterprise. However, it also paints a picture of the trials and tribulations that comes as an integral part of the package when it comes to achieving social business adoption and transformation in large, distributed, global organizations.

With questions devised by council founder Susan Scrupski, the responses in the report come from 56 organizations and were typically from those leading social business efforts in their organization. In terms of company size, responses came from organizations from $2B to $375B in revenue and between 4,000 and 1.8M workers. Ten questions about the state of social business were asked, with a focus in particular at how engaged workers were with the 'official' social business environment at the organization.

The answers to many of the questions were graphed in the report and provide a highly useful snapshot into the state of the art with social business. Perhaps even more useful were the freeform responses allowed to provide additional -- and often more nuanced -- insight into how social business is faring at these organizations. In fact some of these are highly illuminating and were both positive and significantly less so.  Good examples of freeform responses in the report include:

[Our enterprise social network] is growing, but extremely difficult to grow beyond 50%. Change management and investment of resources to handhold the remaining audience for adoption is not available.

And this from one of the more successful participants:

It is changing the way we work and truly flattening the organization. Trust and transparency are key to the success of this effort.

Perhaps less sanguine was this response:

As one of the advocates for the installation of the platform, it is frustrating how it is not being promoted internally. Its akin to having a telephone system installed where only 10% of employees get a phone or are even told about the existence of phones!

While the report itself provides the best details, some of the questions surface important snapshots of what is actually happening within companies as they adopt social business approaches. A case in point: As I've cited many times in my talks and workshops, perhaps the biggest question I'm getting about social business these days is about who should 'own' social business in the organization. While I believe the short answer is having a centralized support resource (with full time staff, community managers, and management authority to govern the effort) that empowers and enables decentralized uptake and action across the organization, the council survey paints a picture of what's actually happening today, as seen in the chart below:


Social Business Ownership - Engagement At Scale Report

Based on the survey data, IT departments far and away control and own the social business environment within most organizations (74.5%). Coming in second is Corporate Comm, at 38.2%. Knowledge management, marketing, and other groups round out the major areas that own the platform where social happens in their organization, but represent a small minority of respondents. While multiple responses were allowed, and it might not seem surprising that IT should own the technology component of social business, it does highlight a signature challenge with social business: That social often becomes just another software roll-out project. Why is that an issue? The report emphasizes that the cultural and change management issues are just as important as the technology adoption:

The challenge with introducing social collaboration software is not limited to the new technology itself, but rather with introducing new modes of behavior for corporate employees. Early adopters repeatedly emphasize how the cultural aspects of the social collaboration journey are far more rigorous and demand serious attention.

This is a realization that is still underappreciated, even as it's well known among social business practitioners, namely that social both requires and causes often profound changes in thinking and working in those that adopt it. These changes may not align well with parts of the organization that haven't gone through them and makes social media a real challenge to meaningfully adopt in some companies. That's not to say there isn't a lot of value in doing so.  With sources like McKinsey's new report on social business famously claiming there is $1.3 trillion in total economic value to be claimed by companies that achieve strategic adoption, you can bet that the challenging yet highly promising road to social business will continue to be followed.

Related: Social business and enterprise usage: The lessons

Finally, the report also zeros in on the level of engagement, which highlights another important social business topic, the use of tools that many often feel are optional. The chart belows shows respondents' reported level of engagement. Just 9% said they had over 50% engagement, while the 34% says between 30% and 50% of users logged in to the social network internally. As we can see from the social business success stories I explored earlier this year, companies like BASF report substantial and highly useful levels of adoption, but it often falls well short of the entire company.

Social Business Level of Engagement - Engagement At Scale Report

In my explorations of social business adoption, global companies typically have this challenge. Because they're large firms that have many divisions, subsidiaries, and far-flung regional headquarters, there are many corners in which users might find themselves where they have little knowledge or connection with company's social network.

We should also remember that e-mail has the same issue.  Many types of workers, particularly hourly ones, aren't issued e-mail credentials either, depending on the tasks they perform. Seeking 100% adoption in these cases isn't the goal, not does it need to be. Instead, it should be adoption that has sustained and meaningful business impact. From my experience, and borne out time and again in the case studies we captured in Social Business By Design (John Wiley & Sons, 2012), high-levels of adoption are not necessarily required to get impressive business results.

So, in short, large companies are rolling out social networks, they are encountering challenges that include cultural change, limited resources, and the sheer length of time it takes to effectively engage at scale across an entire organization. That said, the report stresses that members feel their their efforts are a success overall and -- perhaps most importantly -- that all of them are continuing their social business journey.  For the largest and/or most complex organizations, it's now clear that road to becoming a social business will take many years, but one that is increasingly seen as a required move in order to grow and evolve while remaining successful and sustainable.

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