Many companies have by now heard the much vaunted benefits of social business software and want to, or have already started to implement these tools. Studies support this. Forrester Research forecasts that enterprise social software will grow into a US$ 6.4 billion market by 2016.

But first some murkiness needs to be cleared.

The furor around “social business” is paired with vagueness about what it means. It can mean different things to different people. To a marketer it could mean using popular social media communities like FaceBook and Twitter for promotions (perhaps better called social media marketing).

To a support and sales manager it could mean using social tools to improve lead nurturing and customer service (best labeled social CRM?). To a CEO it could refer to the broader business philosophy where social design and technology are used to bring together employees, customers and other stakeholders in a seamless collaborative environment.

However, in its most common use, social business refers to the use of social tools -- activity streams, social networking, tagging, “following,” status updates, wall messaging, etc. -- internally in organizations to spur productivity. This article refers to social business software in that sense.

But even here, the path is far from obvious. Vendors bring a broad spectrum of solutions, and everything shipped today seems to come with “social” attached to it -- social intranet, social CRM, social project management, social ERP and social collaboration.

The decision for organizations then is choosing the correct point of entry for social tools into the organization, and doing it right the first time. There are three broad ways in which social business software can be introduced in an organization:


Social Business as a Solitary Child

One approach is to implement social business software as a self-sufficient “enterprise social network” with minimal integration with other corporate applications or processes. Employees are encouraged to participate, connect with colleagues, communicate and share information.

However, since there is no linkage with enterprise applications, information is either created within the network, or manually added and shared. The assumption here is -- socializing is a goal worth pursuing in itself, and leads to productivity as a byproduct when people are communicating, connecting and sharing freely across the organization. This virtual gathering spot, where people freely and informally exchange information, is expected to unlock trapped organizational knowledge.

Although this view does have theoretical basis, it is fraught with certain difficulties:

  • “Socialization” is very hard to track and measure and link with organizational objectives.
  • It is unrealistic to expect employees to spontaneously participate in an enterprise social network to expend social energies. It is more likely that it will become “yet another tool” in an employee's already overloaded repertoire, and never be used much if not linked with the employee's job. It is for this reason that many enterprise networking initiatives have adoption issues. Forrester recently found that despite significant investment in enterprise social technologies, adoption levels are only at 12% within the overall workforce.
  • Companies seem to want more from their social tools. A recent study by Harris Interactive for Microsoft found that 59% of decision makers think the enterprise social network must be integrated with existing investments/ infrastructures, while 66% called integration into existing systems a concern.

Social Business Amongst Close Friends -- Communication and Collaboration

image2_Taneja.jpg Communication and collaborations tools may be seen as the “natural home” for social business tools. Rather than seeing socialization as an end in itself, even business owners see social business software as a vehicle for communication and collaboration.