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Taking the social out of enterprise social software

Despite the benefits of social software, enterprise social software adoption rates are lagging. To improve adoption rates, take the social out of social business.

Editor's note: The numerous benefits of enterprise social software have yet to rise above the stigma commonly associated with social networking sites. Where's the business or productivity value in being social? Aren't social software tools just another means to distract from the task at hand? To get business leaders and employees on board with enterprise social software, don't mention the social aspect.

Social networking, social media, social business -- these are all terms we've been hearing lately as vendors bring what were consumer-oriented tools to businesses. "Social" is the word du jour, and enterprise vendors are adding the term to their products and services in order to be more hip and current. What was once under the category of Web 2.0 or Enterprise 2.0 is now being called social-this or social-that.

When talking about enterprise social software, we're referring to both its internal and external uses. Internal enterprise social software refers mainly to communities, collaboration and being able to find the right resources and expertise within an organization. External social business refers to a wider range of things, such as customer service or social CRM, social marketing and much more. Social software tools include blogs, forums, wikis, podcasts, microblogs, content communities such as YouTube, and of course, social networking.

While the use of enterprise social software for external or customer-facing uses is growing, the number of companies actually deploying and using these tools internally is very small, despite the many benefits that these tools provide.

There are various reasons for this lack of business social software adoption -- the fear of disruption and changing the way people work, the lack of a clear ROI, the cost of purchasing and deploying these solutions, getting management buy-in, issues of security and privacy, social networking governance issues and more. I believe that one of the biggest reasons both individual business users and organizations have been reluctant to adopt enterprise social software is because they don't see the value of "social" in business. They may believe that social is fine for consumers, but is a waste of time for business.

Social media combines technology, social interaction and collaboration to create value. As a business owner, why would I want to encourage social interaction? How can social interaction help create value, rather than distract workers from their tasks at hand?

Bucking the trend towards all things social, I propose that we take the term "social" out of enterprise social software for internal usage. I know it sounds crazy, but I believe that this will help spread enterprise and end-user adoption of these useful business tools. Focusing on what social software tools do and how they help workers be more effective and productive will encourage adoption by both the enterprise and end users, who might be reluctant to embrace a "social" tool.

When most people think of social, they don't think of business collaboration, or what I call "collaborative communications." Recently I was speaking with a couple of people who were complaining that their company was implementing social software tools, and they didn't understand how social software tools could possibly help them do their jobs. They viewed social software as a waste of time and a distraction, and said that they had no intention of actually using these tools. However, when someone explained that social software tools would actually let them collaborate and share information with co-workers -- and that the tools would help them find the right people in their organization to get needed information -- they had an "aha moment."

My point is that enterprise social software for internal purposes is more about collaboration and finding the right expertise and resources to get needed information in order to do one's job, so why include the term "social"? Some people associate social with consumer uses rather than business uses, and they are reluctant to adopt these tools.

It's not about making new friends or writing on someone's wall. Enterprise social software can be a useful business tool, but people have to understand its value. Why would an enterprise invest time and money in something that it believes would distract its workers? The value proposition needs to be made more clear, and the focus needs to be on the business value. I say, take the "social" out of social business.

In part two of this article, I'll discuss building user adoption of enterprise social software.

Blair Pleasant, President and Principal Analyst, COMMfusion LLCAbout the author: Blair Pleasant, president and principal analyst of COMMfusion LLC, and co-founder of, provides consulting and market research analysis on voice/data convergence markets and technologies aimed at helping end-user and vendor clients both strategically and tactically. Prior to COMMfusion, she was director of communications analysis for The PELORUS Group, a market research and consulting firm, and president of Lower Falls Consulting.

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