So let’s dive into an enterprise social network for our organization, you say?

Know this — not everyone is going to use it. Most probably won’t, in fact, and when you research a vendor for the platform, all of them will look pretty much the same.

Knowledge Workers Not Convinced

social business, Enterprise Social Networks: Vendors All the Same; Adoption Still Slow

Those are some of the findings from a four-month enterprise social network research project by Tom Petrocelli of Neuralytix,an IT market research and consulting firm. Petrocelli spoke with dozens of enterprise social network vendors, including Tomfoolery, Bitrix, Bloomfire, Salesforce, BroadVisionBroadVision and IBM.

Notable among his findings:

Learning Opportunities

  • Most vendors will produce much of the same features through their platforms
  • No single industry is an exclusive adopter of enterprise social
  • APIs are key to application and process-oriented applications
  • Fewer than 15 percent of knowledge workers who have access to an enterprise social network use it on a daily basis

“Imagine of all the subscriptions to Microsoft Office, only 12 percent of your employees used it on a daily basis,” Petrocelli said in an interview with CMSWire this week. “When these enterprise social networks came out, the messaging was that everybody will know how to use because it’s just like Facebook. Well, that didn’t happen. The last couple of years it’s been about really helping people get work done. But the numbers (of users) still doesn’t budge.”

Top Findings

Petrocelli shared 10 themes from his research in the enterprise social space:

  1. Companies must answer the “why” when shopping for a network. Don’t just jump into this world because everyone’s doing it. Do we need this? Why do we need this platform? What business objectives will it help us solve? Organizations that “want to collaborate” more need to know why. Do you need to collaborate with the finance guy? “Try to move away from those vague goals of collaboration,” Petrocelli said.
  2. Vendor features are all the same. It’s become difficult for vendors to differentiate their features in their applications. Vendors have all the basics covered here for the most part, he found.
  3. User experience matters. The most important part of an enterprise social network? Whether or not the user experience fits the users and the type of work they do. The more attractive and intuitive for each user, the better, naturally. But user experience in an Enterprise Resource Planning (ERP) system vs. a Customer Relationship Management (CRM) one needs to be different. Can the system adapt accordingly? “The finance guy may need a different experience than the one in manufacturing,” Petrocelli said. “The better experience, the least resistance to adoption."
  4. No single industry dominates the space. One vertical hasn’t been a huge adopter of enterprise social networks over the rest. If there were any vertical patterns, it would be vendors migrating to particular industries because they’ve found success.
  5. Regulated environments not afraid to dive in. Industries like finance and healthcare -- in which super sensitive information lives -- have taken to enterprise social networks despite the information-flow concerns. “They want to get those conversations off email because it’s a dangerous area,” Petrocelli said. “The ability to archive social network conversations is important to industries like financial services. Many of them are tapping into these conversations because they have to.”
  6. Enterprise social networks add value to existing software. Existing purchases like CRM, ERP, Enterprise Content Management (ECM) and Human Capital Management (HCM) can be integrated into enterprise social networks.
  7. Freemium is a burden. Organizations giving away freemiums end up spending more often. “It’s a drag to have to deal with all these freeloaders, and at the same time they never convert,” Petrocelli said. “And if you shut them off, you get complaints. Some are backing away from the freemium model, but others are still burdened by it.”
  8. APIs a key. If you want to integrate applications, you have to have good APIs. The value of the enterprise social network will drop if you can’t put it into other applications and conduct business in a cross-silo fashion. “If you’re still cutting and pasting, that’s not doing it,” Petrocelli said.
  9. Psychology of knowledge worker use not well understood. It’s tough to crack the reason why knowledge worker use of enterprise social networks is low, according to Petrocelli’s findings. Mostly, however, the non-users simply find no value added to their business days. This brings back the “why” question — why is a network important for an organization? 
  10. Professional services can help. Outside perspective can help in the adoption of a social enterprise network, even coming from a vendor. It can help you figure out why your organization wants to do this and why it needs to do so.

Ultimately, organizations must remember that technology for enterprise social networks can help your organization achieve business outcomes — but it’s not the solution.

“Too often the approach is from the technology side first,” Petrocelli said. “But where is it going to help? If I have to change the company’s culture, than clearly the software is not designed for me.”