Social networking growth still unchecked in the enterprise

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Only one in seven companies have formal procedures in place for managing the corporate use of consumer-oriented social networking tools, indicating that the associated risks are "either overlooked or not well understood", according to a survey commissioned by Cisco Systems.

This is a topic we have discussed several times before. Social networking sites have been identified as a possible source of malware and a fertile hunting ground for companies seeking information about their competitors, while it has also been noted that businesses are not ready for the "technology democracy" demanded by tech-savvy employees, wanting access to a range of new and emerging tools to conduct business tasks.

According to the latest poll, 75% of companies identified social networking sites as the social networking tool they primarily use, with 50% also identifying extensive use of microblogging. These are used for multiple purposes, including marketing and communications, HR and customer services.

Despite this wide and deep penetration, it was noted that social networking policy typically involves more stakeholders than standard corporate initiatives, because companies have yet to define who "owns" external social media strategies. Without this responsibility being established, it is difficult to control and manage social networking initiatives. Companies also struggle with policy creation and adoption because copying an existing governance process from other, more structured areas (such as IT) often is not appropriate.

The policies implemented by a number of companies and public sector bodies, and supporting advice, is available hereherehere and here, for example.

Only one-in-ten respondents noted direct IT department involvement in externally-facing social networking initiatives. Although the IT department is not typically involved as a primary decision maker, respondents did recognise the need for tools to scale and properly integrate with existing business processes to reap the maximum benefits.

Looking forward, it was noted that "respondents recognised that consumer-based social networking and collaboration tools will continue to evolve, as will their complexity, and that these tools will continue to influence the way business is conducted". The key is how these tools are adopted and integrated into the enterprise IT environment.

The study is based on interviews with 105 participants representing 97 organisations in 20 countries worldwide. Research was conducted by the IESE Business School in Spain, E. Philip Saunders College of Business at the Rochester Institute of Technology in the US (an interview with Neil Hair, the lead researcher, is available here), and Henley Business School in the UK.

Stewart Baines

I've been writing about technology for nearly 20 years, including editing industry magazines Connect and Communications International. In 2002 I co-founded Futurity Media with Anthony Plewes. My focus in Futurity Media is in emerging technologies, social media and future gazing. As a graduate of philosophy & science, I have studied futurology & foresight to the post-grad level.