We’ve all heard about social networking, Facebook for the enterprise, and the hype around these concepts. Recent trends indicate that more than 25% of the workforce in any company uses either corporate or public social networking tools in the workplace, and up to 80% of organizations have some kind of social networking tools in place to support internal or external communication at some levels. Plus individuals use social networking tools, such as LinkedIn, in the workplace for personal use.

What is the value of social networking in the workplace? What is social networking in the workplace? An example not directly related to the workplace highlights the power of social networking. An earthquake in 2011 centered in the central part of the U.S. shook our office building in New Jersey. Within seconds, we knew where it was centered and where it landed on the Richter Scale. How? Not from the news, but social networking tools such as Twitter, Yammer, Internet Messenger and Facebook. What if business could harness the power of the speed of knowledge transfer demonstrated in that example?

For businesses, the challenges of providing social networking tools are daunting. Privacy concerns (especially in Europe), eDiscovery, malware, hype – all these things are impacting how businesses use these tools for both internal purposes and to connect with customers.

Hype or reality? We have seen the following both within organizations we work with directly or indirectly:

  • Everyone seems to want social networking in the workplace, but few people understand why or how to implement these capabilities.
  • Many organizations are running controlled projects to test social networking tools within their organization, but they are not focusing on the behaviors that support collaboration and knowledge sharing as well, so they effectively are IT driven projects and often fail because of lack of business support.
  • Global organizations face a challenge conforming to European privacy laws – these can be overcome with careful planning, coordination with legal groups, documented polices, and collaboration with country legal teams can help to overcome these challenges.
  • A McKinsey survey from several years ago indicated that over 80% of organizations found value in use of social networking, but the value is not well articulated in current research beyond finding and connecting people.
  • SharePoint 2010 along with social networking add-ons such as NewsGator has been a driver for social networking adoption in some organization.

What we have come to understand is that organizations have found value in the use of social networking tools to support external communication (company Facebook pages, Twitter, etc.), but internal use of social networking is still largely in its infancy. Concerns about eDiscovery, privacy laws, and essentially the intrusion of these capabilities in the workplace (and the value of this intrusion) are valid.

To go forward, we suggest that business stakeholders need to identify the need for social networking within their teams, and clearly articulate these needs and the desired outcomes of use of these tools. IT and back office organizations need to help develop acceptable use policies, and provide the proper supporting technologies. Change management is also a huge key to success. End-users need to understand the value of the tools, the end-state outcomes, and the behaviors that will support reaching the end-state outcome. The enabling technologies (SharePoint, Yammer, etc.) should become transparent as business objectives are met.