Why does useful enterprise social remain elusive for so many organizations? The promise is there, but until organizations see the results, they'll go on believing it's like the Tooth Fairy -- delivering small rewards, but never seen face to face. Let's take a look at what slows down enterprise social initiatives from delivering and a picture of what the future will bring.

Where’s That Post Again?

The “noise” associated with finding content in a social enterprise can be deafening. We’re almost at that point now. It may be why Gartner said in its 2011 report Converging Communication, Collaboration, Content and Social, “Rather than succumbing to the nihilism and ‘turn it down’ ethic of information overload, enterprise attention management (EAM) will become a preferred approach for rationally dealing with enterprise-wide need to help decision makers find important information and filter out less useful information.”

The goal of facilitating collaboration in the enterprise is worthy -- or have you come to believe you have as much hope with it as meeting the Tooth Fairy? You may be using Yammer, Sitrion (NewsGator), Jive or Chatter. How do you integrate all of these? How do you make them useful tools for productivity?

Beyond the Silo

Surprisingly some organizations still embrace a more siloed approach which equates social computing in the enterprise to a product (Yammer, SharePoint, Jive, Chatter) or style of enterprise social computing (social networking, social collaboration, communities, socially-enabled LOB apps, etc.). The danger in approaching “social” as an activity performed by itself separates it from the work being done.

In the enterprise, social only makes sense in the context of a work-related scenario -- one that can involve communication, collaboration, application/workflow and content-related activities. This inevitably means thought and planning must accompany the launch of a product. Often it requires integration with systems and careful planning around entire business scenarios -- not something to be undertaken lightly by the IT department alone.

Decisions, Decisions about Tools

On top of the proliferation of information, we’ve got the issue of the multitude of tools designed to facilitate collaboration. If you’re wondering what to do about the noise and the multiple tools, you’re not alone. The pain you feel is normal in the cycle of innovation.

It starts with a new idea -- a breakthrough idea -- that spawns lots of me-too companies. As all these players enter the market, the market breaks up, and pretty soon everyone is using a different tool to do (almost essentially) the same thing. The best expression of that idea will fight to keep its leadership. It may fail. And then when it becomes too fractured, we see a trend of aggregation.

Let’s take a look at what things are going to look like:

Future State #1 - Big Tent

When it comes to collaboration, you can’t get anything done when everyone is using a different tool. So where do we see the future of social collaboration in the enterprise? In time we’ll see one single universe that provides the ability to dial into the social enterprise needs we have today. I like to call it the “Big Tent,” where you have access to all the content across the board, but you can sort and surface the right content fast.

Future State #2 - Educated Decision

When it comes to successful social in the enterprise, it pays for an organization to first take a look at a business process (such as sales) and rationalize it -- who are the users, what tools are currently being used, what is the overlap, how can tools make the teams involved more efficient? Step back and research the real needs and working conditions such as mobile, geographic collaboration, etc.

Future state #3 - Easy Like Sunday Morning

Social can only succeed when it’s convenient. If social increases complexity in people’s work lives -- even if it furthers the interests and goals of the greater organization -- you’ll face an uphill battle to get people to adopt your shiny new social collaboration system. It’s got to make life better for the users.

People want to go fewer places to get the information they need and to accomplish the tasks they need to get done. People want to get work done, but work is complex. Unsuccessful social applications just throw a tool at a problem willy-nilly. Successful enterprise social applications keep the way people work top of mind from start to launch and beyond.

Editor's Note: Read more from Kevin in Looking for Bigfoot: Opportunities in Enterprise Collaboration