Social Media, Social Enterprise: Isn’t it all the Same?

June 29, 2012 Balakrishna Narasimhan

By Balakrishna Narasimhan (@bnara75)

During the past few months, social enterprise has not only been a hot topic, it’s seen a lot of investment. Salesforce acquired BuddyMedia, Oracle acquired Vitrue and now Microsoft has acquired Yammer. The valuations of these companies have been frothy as has been the rhetoric from the press about the social revolution in the enterprise and how the influence of Facebook and Twitter is reshaping enterprise apps.

Into all this enthusiasm comes a new survey from Deloitte that at face value seems to question some of the value of social enterprise technologies, at least when it comes to building and improving organizational culture. According to the survey of about 1000 employees and 300 executives, ~40% of executives believe that social media is critical tool to drive culture, increase transparency and improve employee relationships while only 27% of employees agree. This could be interpreted to mean that employees are less convinced about social enterprise tools than executives who think that a technology solution is a panacea.

It could be how the question was asked, the confusion between social media and social enterprise apps, or any number of things. However, it’s hard to argue with the conclusion that having a collaborative culture is the foundation of a collaborative organization but thinking that social enterprise tools don’t materially change how organizations behave is flawed.

A McKinsey survey from late 2010 took a more nuanced look at enterprise social technologies by looking at the impact on internal interactions, interactions with customers and with partners. The results were pretty unequivocal with companies using social technologies within their business seeing significant improvements in information sharing and collaboration.

Interestingly, the McKinsey survey also found that impact of social media multiplies as you apply it to internal interactions and external interactions. They found that becoming an internally networked organization helps you bring much more of your organization’s insight to bear on any issue and being externally networked brings you much closer to your customers and partners. Combine the two and you have a recipe for competitive differentiation.

In Appirio’s own experience, both with customers and within our own organization, social technologies can have a transformative impact. For example at Appirio, we started with a very open and collaborative culture but as a distributed organization it’s been challenging to maintain that as we grew fast. With Salesforce Chatter and Google Apps, we’re able to maintain that culture and in many ways supercharge it. Google Apps and Google+ gives us a way to personalize our interactions with email, calendar, files, rich collaboration and video capabilities. Chatter gives us a way to share valuable information and work together across our organization. We have 100+ Chatter groups that create a great sense of engagement among our employees. These groups enable people who have similar interests, whether on a work-related or non work-related topic to find each other and connect. We have Chatter groups for social purposes (Fantasy football, Musicians, Cricketers, Newbies, Foodies,..), work-related topics (Project Estimation, Mobile, Social Enterprise,..), projects, proposals, regional teams, community outreach and lots more. All of our executives participate in these Chatter groups and it not only makes us more productive, it breaks down barriers across the organization.

It also creates a neural surplus (a great term I first heard from Ramon Baez (@RamonfBaez), CIO of Kimberly Clarke, at an industry event) across our organization that we can bring to every interaction with customers. This manifests itself as being able to respond in real-time to a tricky customer question or finding a creative solution that one might not have thought of to finding a great restaurant in an unfamiliar city. One thing’s for sure, if we tried to switch off our internal social media tools, we’d be far less productive and far less engaged as employees.

What have you seen with your business? Have social technologies helped you become more collaborative or not? Tell us about your experience with social technologies @appirio or in comments below!

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