Client Insights, Consultant
IBM Center for Applied Insights
If you've paid attention to the business press this past year, you've no doubt heard all about the potential benefits of social software to the enterprise (improved organizational collaboration, transparency, decision-making, and innovation). Maybe you're seriously considering deploying enterprise social software and becoming a "social business." If so, you'll be in good company: organizations that outperform financially are 57% more likely to allow their people to use social and collaborative tools. We outline these benefits in our recent short paper: Social is great! So, now what?
In 2007, IBM launched an experimental internal social networking site for employees -- SocialBlue (once-upon-a-time known as Beehive) -- that was designed to blur the boundaries between professional and personal, and business and fun. The site capabilities included customizable user profiles, status messages, "friending" of people, photo and list sharing, and commenting (on profiles, photos, lists). Through interviews and quantitative analysis of usage logs, the researchers set about studying the adoption, usage, motivations, and impact of social networking in the workplace.
The results were fascinating. Within a year of launch, upwards of 30,000 employees had opted in to use the site. We all know that, on personal social networking sites such as Facebook, we tend to connect to friends and acquaintances -- the people we already know. So you might guess that employees using enterprise social software would mainly want to connect to their immediate coworkers... but you'd be wrong. Employees instead used the site to meet new colleagues and also to connect and keep up with "weak ties" -- colleagues they didn't know well or weren't in regular communication with. They hoped to strengthen these ties in case they needed to call upon those connections later.
Why were all those thousands of IBMers connecting and sharing? It turns out they were Caring, Climbing, and Campaigning:
Caring: Interviews showed that employees enjoyed connecting on a social level with their colleagues. One user explained: "[the system] helps me connect to people personally, which helps me to like these people more, which makes me want to work with them." Another explained that, with teams becoming increasingly distributed and lacking everyday, face-to-face contact, the system "added that interpersonal relationship back in."
Climbing: A subset of users deliberately used the system as a career advancement tool. Techniques included becoming a visible expert on a topic by participating in professional conversations, and also strategically "friending" upper management.
Campaigning: Some users leveraged the system as a platform for promoting and gaining support for their ideas and projects. Due to the flat, cross-divisional nature of the system, some noted that putting an idea out there might garner attention and support from an executive in a way that would be harder to achieve through traditional, hierarchical corporate channels.
Today, 400k+ IBMers continue to connect to one another and care, climb, and campaign using the IBM Connections product, which was influenced by the research work on SocialBlue.
There are two other important "C's" you'll want to carefully consider when you deploy social software to your enterprise: Capabilities and Culture.
Capabilities: The capabilities of an enterprise social networking system have a direct impact on the kind of usage you're going to see. For instance, if SocialBlue hadn't allowed commenting on others' profiles and content, much of the casual, conversational, watercooler-ish nature of the site would not have been possible.
What have you seen as the biggest barriers to adoption or benefits realized within your organizations?