The State of Social @ Work – The People’s Perspective (Finally!)

September 11, 2012 Balakrishna Narasimhan

By Balakrishna Narasimhan (@bnara75)

There’s no question about it.  Social media is having a huge impact on the way we live, from how we communicate and organize to the way we buy things or ask for help.  But what impact is it having on how we work?  Ask a vendor and they’ll tell you that social tools can change your business – but only if you buy their product or service.  Ask an analyst and they’ll likely talk about social media’s potential in the business, but point out how ROI is still not quantified and where risks remain. 

But what if we ask the users?  It sounds elementary but it’s amazing how much of the research today on social in the enterprise focuses only on technology buyers or executives, not the actual employees and managers who are (or could be) using social tools and processes to improve the way they sell, service, market, recruit, collaborate or share.  The adoption of social tools in our personal lives is creating a revolution from the ground up, so we asked ourselves, why does all the research focus on the top down?

Get the Social @ Work eBook

This is why we created our first “State of Social @ Work,” a survey of over 300 users in the U.S. and U.K. that tries to better understand how employees are using social tools on the job, how far along they think their companies are with social, and the ways in which they think their company could benefit by adopting social. 

Today we announced the results of this survey, and released an eBook with more detailed data and implications.  Some of the results we expected, some were surprising, and some just raised more questions. 

People Use Social Tools a Lot More Outside Work than at Work
We walked into this project assuming that people were becoming more social in their personal lives – an assumption confirmed in our own survey. Almost 90% of survey respondents said they use at least one social tool personally, with social networking topping the list of tools used at 66% of respondents.

However, we weren’t so sure how social people were on the job. Our survey results indicate the people are using some tools – especially in areas like social recruiting – but overall respondents  used social tools twice as often in their personal life than in their professional life. We ourselves talk a lot about the consumerization of IT and employees are bringing the tools they use at home into work, so we found this a little surprising. However, as @dahowlett pointed out to us recently, “employees work for companies and they want to keep their jobs.”

People and Companies Recognize the Value of Social
So are people not using social tools on the job because they aren’t permitted, or because they don’t think it’s important? It’s hard to say definitively, but results indicate that employees do think investment in social is important. More than 40% of respondents said their company should invest more in becoming a social enterprise compared to other business priorities. We assumed people would say social was important in a vacuum, but this was somewhat surprising when contrasted to other investment areas.  We honestly thought they might be more skeptical.

Where are companies making investments? More than 35 percent of respondents said their companies had set aside budgets or resources to make business processes more social. We weren’t surprised at the top two areas – “establishing social media policies” (47 percent) and “building out a presence on social sites” (37 percent). But we were surprised at what came in third – “adding social features to existing internal applications (31 percent).” The fact that the average employee pointed out a change in their internal business applications says a lot about the success of vendors like, Workday and yes, even Microsoft, who are investing in social side of their platforms.

Why should companies make investments? According to research from analysts like Gartner, the majority of enterprise social activities are externally oriented – focused on using social media to engage with prospects, customers, partners or suppliers. Therefore, it wasn’t surprising that respondents in our survey also pointed to customer-facing processes as the place where improved social tools and processes could have the biggest impact. 

Perceived Benefits of Social Vary by Geo and Company Size
What was surprising was that beyond “attracting new customers” and “servicing existing customers,” perceived benefits vary by geography and size.  For example, U.K. respondents were twice as likely to select employee engagement as those in the U.S.  And larger companies put half as much importance on attracting new customers as small companies and they were 1.5x more likely to value employee engagement. The results make sense, but are something to think about as companies determine where to make investments.

It’s Still Early for Social, But It’s No Fad
There’s still a long road to go before social becomes pervasive in business, and a lot of confusion remains.  When asked if they would consider their company a social enterprise, the majority of respondents said “no” and 20% didn’t even know what that question meant. Whether they’re talking about the term (which might be good news for who recently announced they’re walking away from that term), or the concept is up for debate. But what shouldn’t be argued is that understanding what users think is more important than ever before.

Start With Your Users For Success
Ultimately, the success of any software initiative, and especially a social initiative, depends on users. So, before rolling out new social technologies based on executive mandates or a persuasive vendor pitch, remember to ask your employees how and where they think social could help them do their jobs better. You can get a running start with our State of Social @ Work eBook!

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