Social Fears and Anxiety in the EnterpriseIn my work as a consultant I frequently come across organizations that appear terrified of allowing or enabling social features in the enterprise.  It doesn't matter if it's SharePoint’s newsfeed, MySites, Yammer or other social tools -- the thought of introducing these tools internally meets with resistance.

Naomi Moneypenny, chief technology officer at Synxi Products, Many Worlds, Inc. recently presented a webinar titled Enterprise Social: Yammer and SharePoint. According to Moneypenny, more people are using social networking websites now than email and web portals such as Yahoo. Social network usage surpassed email in 2009 and web portals in 2011. In addition, 70 percent of companies are using social technologies in the workplace. Of those, 90 percent report getting some business benefit from their use.

Yet it still seems many companies out there fear these social technologies and aren't open to their use.

Reasons for Being Afraid

Some of the excuses I've heard for not allowing social in the workplace are legitimate concerns, while others border on the ridiculous. Here are some of them:

  • “Our employees might post something that is inappropriate.” -- Your employees also might jump up in the middle of the company-wide meeting and shout something inappropriate. Do we ban those meetings so we can guarantee that won’t happen? The good thing about social tools is that employees’ names are attached to all posts and there will be a record of who posted what.
  • “We’re afraid our employees will spend too much time on the social network and not do their work.” -- People can also waste a lot of time on personal emails, browsing the Internet or talking to coworkers. An organization’s policies for dealing with those issues should also cover social media use. Bottom line is, if an employee is going to waste time, he will. Social media will not all of a sudden turn otherwise productive employees into perpetual time wasters.
  • “We’re concerned about security; for example, we don’t want former employees or competitors to have access to our internal company discussions.” -- For SharePoint sites and newsfeeds this can be combated through security groups, however for Yammer this is a very valid concern. The free version of Yammer allows anyone to create a company network. The problem with the free version is that you cannot remove users from it once they’ve left the company. So former employees could potentially still log into the Yammer network and take information to give to competitors. It’s much better to be proactive and pay for the added security features before someone runs crazy with a free network. For as little as $3 per user per month, companies can get user management features which would allow the disabling of former employees’ accounts.
  • “We have legal/regulatory/compliance concerns.” -- This is also a legitimate concern. I do think that some companies conveniently use this as an excuse not to deploy social tools so that they don’t have to do the work of finding ways to mitigate these risks. It might take a little work, but it can be done. These companies will need to weigh the benefits that they could gain against the risks they could incur when deciding if they will allow social tools usage.

How to Ease the Fears

One of the biggest ways to ease these fears is to demonstrate the benefits and value that companies can receive by bringing social into the enterprise. Admittedly ROI is very hard to measure for social tools, so anecdotal stories may carry more weight here.

Case in point, as a new employee at a firm with over 5,000 employees, I had no idea where to go when I was looking for people who possessed a certain industry expertise, so I posted a simple question on Yammer. I quickly got about a half dozen responses and was able to find someone who could help me with my project. That would not have been possible without our Yammer network.

Moneypenny pointed out several other intangible benefits that companies can receive by adopting social networking technologies. These include creating a culture of transparency and constant improvement, decentralizing decision making to the people closest to the problem, alignment of employees’ higher level motivations and employee engagement.

The opposite of transparency is email. “Email is the ultimate personal silo,” says Moneypenny. It is very hard to extract or glean any meaningful information out of it, or to preserve conversations. Social tools can provide better findability of content, help to locate expertise and share knowledge. And if you’ve implemented it right, you can even experience serendipity, which are “those happy accidents that come from connecting people or ideas or resources.”

Closing Thoughts

Organizations used to have many of the same concerns when email first came out that we now have about social media. It’s only a matter of time before all companies will adopt some type of social tools or features. As the Millennial generation takes over the workforce, they will surely incorporate the only way they've ever known how to collaborate.

Having said that, however, it’s important to realize that social may not be for every company at the present time. A lot of it depends on the culture of the company. Both the executives and employees need to be completely on board, and it cannot be forced on either of them. And as with all technologies, it must provide business value to the organization.

Editor's Note: Read more from Wendy in The Missing Link in SharePoint Site Usability