Enterprises ignore social networking at their peril

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Enterprises ignore social networking at their peril

Analysts have warned that social software techniques and technologies are becoming crucial in supporting and strengthening collaboration and non-routine work in businesses..

As many organisations struggle to justify investments in social software, Gartner advised enterprises not to dismiss the phenomenon as a fad or a threat to productivity.

The analyst said that businesses often struggle to identify where to start or what business areas to address with social software, and has identified five major challenges when pursuing social software applications.

"Some enterprises have achieved substantial results with social software, and many enterprises are now experimenting with the technology," said Anthony Bradley, research director at Gartner.

"The demand from workers is escalating and they are turning to the consumer internet if their corporate technology provider is not offering a solution.

"Organisations need to exploit this growing consumer literacy for business purposes and prepare a social software strategy with a realistic understanding of the associated challenges, risks and benefits."

Gartner maintained that all organisations should at least be at the stage where they are investigating social software, even if the explorations are likely to result in a "wait and see" strategy.

The analyst warned that almost every organisation will face some cultural obstacles to the use of social software, including the difficulty of motivating a large enough portion of the community to progress beyond observers to active contributors.

Gartner advised enterprises to invest the time and resources to understand, design, grow and nurture social software implementations, rather than simply installing a tool and expecting a community to automatically assemble and flourish.

However, data security breaches and the privacy problems of Facebook, MySpace and YouTube have worried many businesses and are often stated as impediments to social software initiatives.

But Gartner said that these social applications are advertising driven and intended to be open to the general public.

Most enterprise applications of social software, on the other hand, should address more constrained social circles with defined privacy measures which are easy to implement.

Social applications, as with all social structures, will contain bad behaviour which needs to be anticipated and addressed in application design and social mediation.

Good governance of social sites hinges on good policies and enforcement by the participants rather than elaborate rules automation implementation.

Gartner advised organisations to balance the benefits of mass collaboration with the risks of bad behaviour, including security breaches.

Finally, Gartner said that many organisations are not yet equipped for a virtual workplace and virtual workday scenarios, and are concerned with managing productivity in this more loosely structured work environment.

Organisations will need constantly to challenge the way they evaluate employee productivity, and promote the work/life balance as social software becomes more pervasive in the business environment.

"The severity of these five challenges will vary significantly from one organisation to the next, as will their impact on decisions concerning whether, when and how to proceed with social software," said Bradley.

"There are no absolutes. For each potential social application organisations must balance the business benefits over the risks of overcoming these challenges."
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