As platforms such as SharePoint continue to beef up their social media offering the more I am left shaking my head. I don’t think aspiring to have social media work in an enterprise is a bad aspiration, but in the ends it’s a fool’s errand. Here are a few reasons why aspiring and pushing enterprise social media is ultimately a fruitless effort.
Before I begin however I’d like to make a caveat: there are exceptions to this. There are cases of organizations using internal social media successfully, but those companies are often smaller and have a younger demographic. The points I’m going to make are for the majority and not the occasional success. I also envision that in the long-term (hopefully) social media technology will be more prominent in enterprises, but I believe it’s a ways off.
Social Media Has a Professional Stigma
Sites like Facebook and Twitter are often banned either by company policy or forcibly by the company firewall. They are seen as productivity killers, and often punishment is threatened against those that are found abusing it. Naturally when the company then says, “I know we said Twitter could get you fired, but we are pushing this SharePoint tool that provides the same functionality” (although not nearly as well as Twitter). Wouldn’t any reasonable employee be skeptical of that?
Repeated Stories in the Media of Retribution from Social Media
We hear time and time again in the news about people being laid off for comments made on social media sites or people never being hired after viewing content on social media sites. Employees become more cautious about what they post in their own private social media sites, and this makes it even more difficult to get them to use internal social media.
My friend Susan Hanley posted an article about content ratings “inside the firewall,” and her observation is that a lack of anonymity leads to less people giving useful feedback. She even mentions in the article attempting to find a successful using of content ratings in the enterprise and was unable to find one.
The Majority of the Decision Makers Are Older in Age
Selling a vision for social media in the enterprise has to go through executives, and most of them now are older in age and don’t feel comfortable exposing social media technologies in their company. Technology consultants know that without commitment from management and maintaining them as a sponsor and avid user the technology will go no where. You might find a CEO of a large company posting an external blog occasionally, but I’d challenge anyone to find a CEO who on a regular basis updates internal social media regularly.
Enterprise Social Media Technology Always Lags Behind
Microsoft announces Twitter-like functionality in SharePoint 2010, and the rest of the world says, “so what?” It’s been out for years, and by the time Microsoft gets around to cloning the technology it’s nowhere near the current standard. Enterprise technology often gets stuck at a point in time, and they work toward that until release. Microsoft is too large of a company to constantly be reinventing their approach to social media in SharePoint when they do major point releases every 3–4 years.
Enterprise Social Media Lacks Emotional Connection
How exciting is it to go to your SharePoint My Site and see that one of your colleagues added “project management” to her profile as a skill? Not at all. However on Facebook, Flickr or other public social media sites you can interact with family, see pictures of grandchildren and re-kindle long-lost connections. It has more perceived value in your personal life, because it retains an emotional connection. No amount of Twitter-like clone technology in the enterprise is going to make it as exciting as our personal lives. And no Microsoft I don’t think that organizational browser is very exciting regardless of whether or not it’s in Silverlight.
Most People Just Don't Care
Unless a technological solution is actually being used after implementation then it was a failure. There’s no way around that fact, and I wish more consulting companies would own up to that truth. The fact is that the majority of people don’t care about social media. We read news stories that make it seem as though the world revolves around Twitter, but the fact is that it doesn’t.
Our company recently began using Yammer which is another Twitter clone for an enterprise audience. Even though the majority of our company are in their 20s they don’t participate. Why? They don’t care. The only time they do update is when a director mentions we should use it more. Most of them use it out of obligation and not out of a desire to share and communicate.
Social Media Burn-Out
Earlier this decade those who were interested in social media signed up for every site possible. After a while (much like the cycle in enterprise IT) we realize we have too many dis-unified services. This lead to sites like FriendFeed and Lifestream.fm that sought to aggregate all of our social media in a single place. After this roller coaster we become burnt-out and disenchanted and return to our regular lives.
Is There a Future for Social Media in the Enterprise?
You would think by the points I’ve listed above that I’m convinced it will never happen, but that’s not my sentiment. I believe it has an opportunity to be successful, but those issues mentioned above must be dealt with in a reasonable manner. I would also like to see companies making enterprise-grade software to start to innovate and not just play catch-up all the time. It would go along way to capturing the interest of users.