Recent research from Harris Interactive (on behalf of Microsoft) offers an idea of what's important in the area of enterprise social networking. Microsoft Director of SharePoint Product Management, Jared Spataro, offers the SharePoint point of view on that research.

Harris Social Networking Study - Key Findings

The study was conducted online in February with 202 decision makers who work in an organization of 1000 employees or more that either implemented, or are in the process of implementing, an enterprise social network. Of the 202 decisions makers, 102 were IT decision makers and 100 were senior business decision makers (VP or higher).

Of those surveyed:

  • 61% work for organizations that have a social network already deployed and 39% work for an organization that is in the process of developing one.
  • 65% believe it is absolutely necessary/extremely important to have IT involved in the implementation of a social network. Maybe even more interesting is that the business ranked this as more important than many of the IT decision makers.
  • Most orgs would use a mix of existing and new software to develop a social network. Only 18% would go out and get brand new software.
  • 59% of decision makers think the social network must integrated with existing investments/infrastructures. And more interesting, the business decision makers sees this as more important that many of the IT decision makers.
  • The biggest concern for most orgs is security (90%), followed by integration into existing systems (66%), compliance (53%), governance (44%), ability to build custom applications for social networking (27%).
  • Critical success factors? 1. Collaboration 2. Productivity 3. Adoption 4. Value to business processes 5. Cost Savings
  • Key factors to implement: 1. Information sharing 2. Collaboration & Productivity 3. Improved business processes 4. Employees asked for it 5. Greater transparency between the business & its employees
  • Top Features Used: 1. Instant messaging 2. Email 3. Video conferencing 4. Ability to follow documents or sites 5. audio conferencing 6. Activity Stream 7. Video Sharing, 8. Liking 9. microblogging

Forrester projects this market to be US$ 2.4 billion by 2016, which means a lot of organizations are starting to truly understand what's required to be successful in today's climate. 

Gartner says that 70% of IT lead implementations in 2012 will fail. That kind of makes sense considering the study results about where IT decision makers don't necessarily think they need to be involved in deployments or that back-end systems need to be integrated. It points to the idea that IT doesn't yet see the value in enterprise social networking solutions.

Microsoft's Vision for Social

All of this research has Microsoft excited -- because it bodes well for SharePoint in many ways. But Spataro points out very quickly (as he has done before) it's not about social for social's sake. The idea is to pull people to the center and make it about task completion. Social helps get things done, whether that's with the employee, partner or customer.

But there's also a lot of buzzwords floating around, making organizations think they need to have the next Facebook. They don't.

Microsoft, Spataro says, focuses on two approaches:

  1. Experienced - connected
  2. Connected Platform

Connected Experience

In this approach it's about how employees get the work done. What that means is that it's not necessarily about all the bells and whistles and new "Facebook-like" features. As it's pointed out in the Harris Study organizations are looking for functionality like instant messaging, email, video conferencing. Likes, activity streams and microblogging are not top on the list. These are the tools, Spataro says, that people are familiar with, so bring those capabilities into the social software solution and focus on productivity.

Spataro says that there is now an element of serendipity -- organizations get it that interactions are important, but they don't want just another inbox (and the activity stream is not going to replace email).

Connected Platform

The core platform has been developed, so now the focus must be on managing and governing the information and interactions --  security, integration with systems of record and compliance were top concerns in the Harris Study.

The real value of social is the social graph Spataro points out. Who is talking to who and what are they talking about? You can get a standalone solution up and running quickly but social will require the connected experience and the platform to be much more integrated if it's to be successful.

Spataro doesn't believe that email is going away. He recognizes that real-time communication is hot, but that doesn't mean that we don't need email. He feels they are complimentary and all different methods of communication will play a role -- graceful escalation he called it as people more to deeper interactions.

So what's next? How does an organization really do this? For as long as we've been discussing social business strategies and technologies, many are still just getting into the mindset that they need to do something. Spataro says a pattern is emerging:

  • Start with a pilot - thoughtful implementation using a small group
  • Then drive broader adoption -- have people using the solution invite others, slowly build the social graph
  • Finally build your social apps

In the Harris study, 30% deployed social networking solutions broadly, but 48% are still in the early pilot stages. The market is just getting started, but it's not about getting something up and running quickly, it's about making it work in your company.

So SharePoint -- What Does it Mean?

Obviously there are some big hints here regarding what we can expect for the next version of SharePoint.  Email, IM, video conferencing -- I suspect all will be a part of it.  I'm interested to see how email will fit into the bigger social picture. Will we see something like IBM is doing with its Connections platform? Or is Microsoft heading in a completely different direction?

I doubt we'll see major underlying platform changes. Now many will say that's good, others will question whether SharePoint is really moving in the right direction.

The idea of SharePoint having a real social graph is interesting. The social networking aspects of SharePoint 2010 aren't as developed as many would like -- which is why vendors like NewsGator and Telligent do so well. And I can't see Microsoft doing anything that would hurt the development of these partner tools. As Spataro has said before, Microsoft focuses its development on core capabilities and leaves the enhancements to the partners. Time will tell if this has been the case for SharePoint "15".

What I do think is clear is that social will be tied to collaboration and business processes often seen in SharePoint implementations (at least those done right). That I think is the right path to social.