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Why is Facebook addictive but enterprise social adoption a challenge?

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It hardly takes a raft of studies or in-depth research to prove that consumer social media like Facebook and Twitter can be hugely addictive. From our personal lives and stories in the media, most of us intuitively know that the little shots of connection and amusement we get from these sites make it sometimes difficult to log off, even when you know your excessive time on them is less than healthy for your brain (or your self-esteem).

While the addictive properties of social media are totally obvious, so is the truth that introducing social tools in an enterprise context is a tricky business, and driving adoption is sometimes a painfully slow process. As David Lavenda, VP of marketing at social email company, recently pointed out here on WebWorkerDaily, recent Forrester research found widespread under-utilization of the social tools that organizations have invested in, with 64 percent of companies reporting they realized few, if any, benefits from the investment.

And that’s a paradox. Why do we love social tools in our personal lives but often shun them in a professional context? Author and prominent business thinker Tammy Erickson recently pondered this question on the HBR Blog Network, outlining the key differences between the consumer social experience and the enterprise one. In our personal lives, she argues, social media have these characteristics:

  • We’re usually invited to participate by people we know and trust.
  • There are specific things we want to do with the other people involved, such as share photos, stay up-to-date on a club’s activities, or develop a personal reputation.
  • We get something back from participation: advice, practical information we need, a network to tap when times are rough, or the emotional pleasure of seeing others’ photos or hearing their news.
  • We have control over who sees our information.
  • The applications are intuitive — there’s no training required.
  • The applications are well-tuned to support the specific tasks we want to perform, and their features are regularly rated and refined.

Meanwhile, social at work is very different:

  • Often we’re instructed to use it by someone in authority, rather than invited by friends.
  • Little of what we actually get paid to do (or believe we get paid to do) requires information or input from the vast majority of other people on the network.
  • Participation feels like dropping pearls into a black hole — there’s often no sense of getting something in return for sharing an idea or suggestion.
  • We have no control over who sees our information and little idea what “they” are doing with it.
  • The site is unattractive and requires a manual to get started.
  • The software is generic and requires a work-around to do the specific things we would really like to do.

In the thoroughly interesting post she goes on to make suggestions on how organizations can make enterprise social more appealing to speed uptake of the tools, including offering a clear purpose for the initiative and tailoring offerings to existing user behavior. Have a read for her complete recommendations.

Do you think Erickson has nailed the essential differences between personal and professional social tools?

Image courtesy of Flickr user See-ming Lee.

4 Responses to “Why is Facebook addictive but enterprise social adoption a challenge?”

  1. Tom Catalini

    One is fun, the other is not. Context matters.

    We’re motivated to share on social networks at a very personal level, and we are engaging on those networks with others who are active – a very distinct subset of the workforce as a whole. Being part of this subset is not so apparent, however, when you delve into the big wide world of social media – it feels like “everyone” is there.

    When you “network” internally there is an analogous subset of active users within your own company. The contrast between active and non-active suddenly becomes stark, however, since you can more readily see that “everyone” is not there. Feeling more in the minority, you can easily start to question why it’s worth it. And why you’re doing it at all.

    Corporate social efforts need top level engagement and need to become part of the culture…. clearly it’s not an issue with tools since the same tools are available inside and outside the corporate walls.

    • Jason Harris

      For those who work in an environment where work is fun – or perhaps where we learn constantly from our co-workers; work based social networks can work. I’ve seen it first hand.

      @ rajasekarraju if folks are given non-work reasons to connect, there are ways internal communities can be built.

  2. rajasekarraju

    There is no incentive for social collaboration at work. The “social” and “fun” part of social media is absent. Social at work is more driven by managers’ KRAs and organization goals, often proving nil stimulus for the contributor.

    Peer reviews and appreciation in most cases don’t happen. And of course, it sounds like work without rewards except personal satisfaction.

    Add pictures, videos, personal information, comments, share, review, badges, better user experience, make it fun to collaborate…and you may see some traction.