Are we close to seeing a social revolution in business? Considering how companies like Salesforce.com, Oracle and IBM have been shoving their respective tools into the ring, one would think so, but a few big companies on a bandwagon doesn’t necessarily mean transformation is near. In a recent survey from Forrester, TJ Keitt reveals some interesting statistics that indicate only a small percentage of people understand and take advantage of the social phenomenon. 

Putting the Hype Aside

Numerically speaking, Forrester surveyed the social business practices of 4,985 US information workers and found that 28% of employees utilize some type of social software on a monthly basis. While at first this may seem like a fair amount of usage for such fresh technologies, upon closer look the research company found that this percentage is represented by three distinct groups of people:

  • The early adopters: As it turns out, a person’s willingness to experiment with technology is directly affected by their income. The more money, the more gutsy. Accordingly, a sizable chunk of the first wave of social business software adopters takes home a pretty penny (more than US$ 60k per year) and their positive attitude toward new technology makes testing a social app or two all the more likely.
  • The business folk: Social software users are a highly educated bunch with much of their responsibilities housed in the business department: 23% hold advanced degrees, and 49% are in management. Hoping to lighten their load, these individuals commonly seek out tools that are designed to help efficiently and effectively complete tasks.
  • The youngsters: The bright-eyed and bushy-tailed kiddies of Generation X and Y have much to do with the Social Business hype. Collectively, these two groups account for almost two-thirds of social business software users.

If content and collaboration professionals want to see some real adoption, it’s essential to understand exactly how these groups are using these new tools, or, in this case, how they're not using them. 

Social Isn’t Essential

Believe it or not, Forrester's report (The Enterprise 2.0 User Profile: 2011) found that just 22% of social software users consider these tools to be vital to their work day. So long as they stay floating around in the periphery like that, vendors will find it difficult to expand adoption beyond the three groups above. 

What's interesting to me is that despite the heavy push for social suites (see: Yammer, Salesforce, Jive, etc.) business folk don't seem to be thinking about these technologies as a layer of their work flow. Instead, Forrester says most (55%) are using just a single social tool:

Social Software Use -- Forrester

Further, the "network effect" of using these tools isn't on the forefront.  "Undoubtedly, an employee’s social graph — her connections to people and information, which power social technologies — is what makes social tools the efficient, problem-solving apps early adopters love. However, 'colleagues preferring to use' the technology rates 10 percentage points lower than 'ease of use' and 'addressing an employee’s needs' as a reason for using enterprise 2.0 tools. Thus, social technologies only become a factor when they clearly serve some business purpose," writes Keitt. 

In other words? A family of easy-to-use social tools is great, but while we're still just getting our feet wet vendors would do well to offer them à la carte. 

Starting Out Right

While these stats might be a bit unexpected, the good news is that content and collaboration kids gearing up to roll out social business strategies now have the opportunity to create a sort of roadmap template. Take the opportunity to tap early adopters in order to figure out what works and where it would make sense to focus early efforts.

And while you're at it, keep a handful of tips from Forrester in mind:

1. Prioritize the right tools, not the most tools

While employees are still focusing on single tools rather than suites, take the time to find the tools that best address business needs. This way, you won't end up with a shopping cart full of things you don't need. While several vendors currently offer this approach, MangoSpring immediately comes to mind.

Last year the company released MangoApps 2.0, which was heavily focused on the modularity bit. Customers pay only for what they need, and can integrate popular third-party platforms such as Google Apps.

2. Leverage use cases

While we all know how important it is to learn from our own mistakes, it's also not a bad idea to look at other successes and downfalls before creating a social strategy. Earlier this year, I covered some actual social business implementation insights from four companies that have managed to find a method to the madness. 

3. Boost corporate social profiles

Forrester says you can't replicate the popularity of consumer social tools, but you can create similar value if you can get early, social-technology-savvy workers to build out their internal social profile page.

It's not brain surgery: get the influential people on board and the rest will follow.