Why is Facebook addictive but enterprise social adoption a challenge?

Working at Brooklyn Art Project HQ / Dumbo Arts Center: Art Unde

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 harmon.ie, 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.

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