Social Business, Enterprise Social: Driving Productivity or Driving to Distraction?
Social tools have the potential to increase productivity, engagement and communications.

They also hold the potential of turning into an enterprise-wide time suck.

Dave Eggers "We Like You So Much and Want to Know You Better" introduces us to a character Mae who works for a fictitious “social media” company called the Circle. Mae is a new hire and by all accounts a star employee until she finds out she is underperforming due to a low “social” score. Mae goes on to work all sorts of hours posting, following, nudging, smiley faces and, heaven forbid, commenting on all things social about a company.

This excerpt and the novel it came from, "The Circle," could be a good benchmark for what is happening in today’s social enterprise space -- is anyone listening? Or more important -- is anyone actually doing real work on this new frontier?

This conversation is hotly debated at my company. Caveat, we are a SharePoint shop and therefore really look at the “Social Activity Feed” as the “thing” that killed SharePoint 10! That being said, we also have debated -- who and why are we using Social, Yammer, Jive and all the other coveted Social Activity feeds?

Is This Thing On?

We know that many busy professionals are more likely to consume media like social feeds during what we call “casual computing” -- scrolling through new posts while riding the bus or waiting in line for a latte.

What we don't know is where enterprise social news feeds fall in the pecking order of social media. Are people catching up on what they missed in the office while in meetings all day, or are they looking for a quick hit of mental stimulation and a sense of getting "caught up" with their virtual social circles?

Given the choice between Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn and a corporate social news feed, where do users turn first? And just how long would the average user have to stand in line before getting around to reading his or her corporate social news feed?

Cultivating Relevance, Driving Productivity

It can be difficult to consistently deliver relevant, refined communication in the enterprise. Communication departments have been dealing with this challenge for ages.

How do we engage our team and keep them updated? Social collaboration has the potential to be the medium to engage the employee base. Unlike other corporate communication channels, this one enables (in fact, relies on) employee participation.

The fear in the enterprise is that people will say and do things on social media that they would never say or do in "real" life. The corporate culture that your enterprise has spent years cultivating in the "real world" doesn't inherently translate into social media channels.

Virtually every enterprise that has rolled out social media tools can cite missteps -- small groups of employees commandeer the corporate channel for chatter wholly unrelated to work; or employees stage a social media uprising in protest of the new coffee vendor on campus. These examples represent obvious distractions and can be easily dealt with.

But others are far more subtle. My Chief Creative Officer, Byron Baker, recently summed it up perfectly.

All of the companies we are working with and for want to promote their information to the users, but in the end, they really just want the users to be productive. Social content does have the potential to be distraction, but NOT when you are working on project specific information."

Savvy clients are learning that you can add significant value to a project or collaboration site by adding a social tool, like a news feed, on the margin. This simple addition not only fosters a sense of community, it also supplies a rich set of data that helps frame the conversation around the project.

Ideally, the data is searchable and resides within a framework for a wiki or some other useful “expert” user content that can be consumed by future teams working on similar projects. Social tools like these are easy to justify, especially when their impact is quantifiable.

There are ways to measure the impact of enterprise social tools, ranging from simple metrics around employee-generated posts, comments and shares, to more complex assessments of employee awareness and connection to the organization. Even without an ounce of measurement, we know that engagement with social tools has everything to do with the relevance of your content.

We continue to hear from clients that what the enterprise needs is a better project- and work-focused social productivity tool, not a better water-cooler.

Planning for a Productive Social Enterprise

How do you ensure that your enterprise's social tools have a positive impact?

The critical first step is to wade into social computing with a goal in mind. Know why you are bringing social tools into your enterprise and what business problems you are working to address. If you are simply looking to displace email as the primary mode of communication you will probably be disappointed -- especially if you establish tools that rely on email notifications for new content.

There are lots of great reasons for introducing social tools to the enterprise. But we all need to be cautious about inadvertently implementing an expensive enterprise-wide time suck. Your team already has plenty to do!

Planning for the introduction of social tools should always begin with a use case analysis that, at a minimum, informs the following:

  • How and where does it make sense to invest in social tools at the organizational level?
  • Which socials tools will foster productivity in our enterprise? Which social tools run the risk of being distracting?
  • How will we introduce social tools into our corporate culture? How will we establish expectations that foster productivity?
  • How will you measure the impact of your social tool? How much impact is enough?

If your use case produces thoughtful answers to these questions, you can be confident that your enterprise's interest in social tools is more than just a bandwagon reaction to the newest "shiny object."

If not, you might want to rethink whether social tools are the best investment right now.

Keep your eye on the prize, and remember that the goal of enterprise social is to deliver tools that make your teams more productive, not to add to their daily list of to-dos. I guarantee that none of your employees are thinking, "I wish had one more medium to manage."

Title image courtesy of Lightspring (Shutterstock)

Editor's Note: To read more of Kevin's thoughts on the social business, see his Driving Adoption in Social Business: More Thoughts from the Front Lines