Social Behind the Firewall – Part 2: Two Reasons Social Doesn’t Work



We are not ignorant of the fact that there are times when enterprise social tools are not enthusiastically adopted. The reality is that relatively little of such Web 2.0 internal communications happens in companies today. Our initial research suggests two key barriers to the effective use of enterprise social tools.

Barrier #1: M&Ms – Bitter Candy

Misperceptions: Social media activity can be perceived as counterproductive or even wasteful by managers and leaders within the organization. At one multinational the common perception is that if you have an active presence on the company’s Yammer site, you must not have enough “real” work to do. The fundamental assumption is that social media activity does not have business value.

Misuse: Such misperceptions are largely driven by misuse of enterprise social tools. Another common issue at firms where social activity is actively encouraged by senior leadership is the encouragement of activity that has a sub-optimal impact on the company’s bottom line. For example, a firm may encourage its employees to contribute to internal social communities, blogs or twitter-like feeds, but their activities have a limited impact on the firm’s base competitiveness. There may be some value in pictures of the team’s latest social outing or an internal blog where a director shares his or her “two cents” on the latest company-wide strategy. However, the director’s energy may actually be better spent leading their managers through activities directly related to their core business activities. For example, as a collaborative platform for collecting ideas on how to drive further cost savings in the team’s operations or tracking deals in their sales pipeline.

Barrier #2 Change Management Burn Out – Losing Employee Engagement

In this scenario, employee participation on internal social sites is actively encouraged, but when the change management barrier rears its ugly head it stops any momentum of business value dead in its tracks. Employees have a lot of head knowledge about the “strategic importance” of internal social tools, but fail to actively use this knowledge to engage in any actions to use social tools. The social tools at such companies may be chalked full of content that is at best very transactional in nature (think Web 1.0 organizational charts and dry department materials for download). In a worst case scenario, users may even refuse to use the tool at all because legacy file sharing platforms and email are sufficient for their current collaboration needs.

Sources of BurnOut

Change management burn out is most common in companies that have already cycled through numerous “revolutionary” collaboration tools. Each tool may have had some adoption early on, but with each refresh it becomes harder and harder to truly engage employees in using these platforms consistently. In the end, veteran employees (who often hold the most valuable best practices and institutional knowledge in the company) largely opt out of actively using enterprise social tools. They are highly skeptical of both the longevity and legitimate business value of social tools.

Your Experience:   Where have you seen enterprise social tools run into one of these two barriers in your workplace? How have you overcome them?

Reprinted by permission.

Image credit: CC by Bruno Cordioli

About the author: Joab Meyers

Joab Meyer, Supply Chain Business Operations Manager at Cisco Systems and David Wolf, Managing Director at Allison+Partner, aim to help companies chart a path to integrating social media into their internal communications. They are the co-creators of New Water Cooler blog  on social media in the workplace.

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