Social networking goes to work


Enterprise-class social networking is apparently all the rage — news that will be met with mixed emotions by anyone who feels that these tools can be more annoying than useful.

The premise of these workplace-oriented social tools — things like Yammer, Socialcast and features and functions in IBM Sametime and Microsoft(msft) SharePoint, is that they help workgroups and departments work together better, know where everyone is, and cut down on phone- and e-mail tag.

Social networking products, especially instant messaging (IM), took the consumer world by storm a decade or so ago with millions of users downloading AOL, Yahoo, and Microsoft IM clients to their PCs and phones. Many of those users brought IM into the office, where IT worried about security and compliance. That’s when IBM, Microsoft and others started coming up with enterprise-grade IM and other social tools. The problem is that the same sort of services people like to use with friends can be viewed as intrusive at work. The challenge for companies, which have high expectations for the communications efficiencies that these services can create, is to figure out how to make the enterprise versions as compelling as the consumer versions. joined the social networking party three years ago with Chatter, and Microsoft has been pushing SharePoint as a vehicle for social networking in a workplace context.

As rolled out its integration of its Rypple social networking-oriented HR-management acquisition into its CRM and Chatter products, Microsoft’s SharePoint team was on the road touting research into what companies “really” want in enterprise social networking. A Microsoft spokeswoman said enterprise social networking will be a big area of investment for Microsoft in the coming months.

As is its habit, Microsoft attacks this market with a “platform” approach (as in, why buy plain old instant messaging when you can buy a big hunk of software?) — which puts workplace social interaction in the context of getting your job done.

Right now, a lot of the talk around social networking touches on “frothiness,” said Jared Spatero, senior director for SharePoint product management in an interview Wednesday.  “The discourse is all about how feeds and follows will change your life. We think it’s about task completion, not stalking people and hearing about what they had for lunch,” he said.

Here are some highlights from Microsoft-funded research on enterprise social networking adoption plans conducted by Harris Interactive. The researcher surveyed 202 “business and IT decision makers” in companies with more than 1,000 employees. (Note: The respondents worked for companies that either have social networking in place or plan to implement it.)

  • 65 percent of respondents believe it is “absolutely essential or extremely important” to involve their IT department in creating an enterprise social network.
  • 57 percent are inclined to use a mixture of new and existing social software.
  • 25 percent said they will leverage existing infrastructure.
  • 18 percent will adopt new social software.
  • 90 percent cited security as a top concern in rolling out social networking.
  • 66 percent said integration with existing systems is a top concern.
Social networking can certainly foster collaboration in a workplace — especially if group members are not in the same location — but if it’s overly intrusive, it can be more a hindrance than an asset. It remains to be seen whether any one vendor’s approach will finesse that fine point.
Photo courtesy of Flickr user 10ch.

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