We know from the K2 Advisory CIO Research Forum that when a request for social media tools is made the main question asked by IT Departments is: What is the demand and is it worth it? The problem with this question is that it is defensive in nature, suggesting that the tools are an annoying fad, exposing the organisation to risk for very little return.
A better starting point is to ask, "why does my organisation want to use social media and what does it want to achieve?" From our new research study Collaboration: using social media across internal silos to improve productivity we know that the answers to this question are typically either "to provide a cross-organisational productivity tool" (46%) or, "to improve productivity for virtual teams" (27%).
The design of every organisation starts with the best of intentions by trying to draw clear boundaries between departments, to clarify who is responsible for what in order to get things done more efficiently. The unintended consequence of these intentions over the years is that managers begin to forget to collaborate, and then they neither build the habit of doing so, nor see any reason to start. And so silos are formed.
So why is this bad? It really is a question of organisational culture – silos can lower levels of productivity because employees spend time searching for information, recreating information that already exists and accidentally using the wrong information, and even, occasionally, deliberately sabotaging the efforts of internal "competitors".
Dropping social media tools into this mix won't change things because staff do what they do for reasons. If you want them to do something different, you need to take away the reasons they're doing what they're doing, and give them reasons to do something different. In other words, just providing new tools will not improve productivity if the organisation's culture remains silo'd. Rather, the tools need to be part of a considered transformational programme, otherwise expectations of social media tools will be set too high. Thought must be put into providing reasons for behaviour to change. But this is an impossible challenge for a CIO alone to take on.
Tools from suppliers such as Yammer, Huddle and salesforce.com are stepping up the pace of adoption of Web 2.0 technology within organisations. However, it is interesting that despite the clear radical impact which Web 2.0 tools such as Facebook have had on life outside of work, the main drivers for social media tools within the enterprise remain bound by the enterprise firewall. The technology is seen in incremental terms as an upgrade for existing collaboration software, it is not widely seen as offering a portfolio of supporting tools for a transformational programme.
Ironically, this means that use of social media in enterprises may take far longer to change organisational structures and information flows, than consumer Web 2.0 applications have taken to topple governments in the Middle East! The pace of such change in organisations appears to be very slow because there is a real lack of imagination in how many organisations think about the reasons for adopting social media tools.
One of the places to really see the impact of these tools is to deploy them in areas of rapid change, e.g.: where there is an internal restructuring, or a merger or acquisition. Social media tools provide a very easy way for employees in changing organisations to get to know each other and begin to work together productively much faster. This is such an obvious solution area for quick internal wins in using social media tools that it is interesting it does not already have a higher profile in the market.