If your organization's social media initiatives have fizzled more than fostered debate, don't despair: yours isn't the only one. Social media has taken the mainstream by storm, but its adoption in the business world has been more uneven. Why is the road to better internal discussion often so rocky?
Yammer is a freemium enterprise social networking tool with 5 million users across 200,000 companies, and a $1.2 billion sale to Microsoft under its belt. Company co-founder and CTO Adam Pisoni says that all-too-frequent communication issues stem from the predictable, hierarchical mindset found in many businesses. The solution lies in listening to "lazy" employees, he says--and applying "bring your own device" (BYOD) principles to software as well as hardware.
"I was speaking to a very senior IT leader at a large Fortune 500 company, and she was telling me that they had spent a lot of money on a content management system for their employees," Pisoni told me in a telephone interview. "They had this large, complex, difficult to use CMS, and for some reason, her employees were 'too lazy' to use it, and instead they were bringing in their own tools.
"I couldn't help but be struck that this seemed totally backwards. She was saying that because her employees wouldn't use this byzantine thing that wouldn't work very well, they must be lazy. And I was thinking that the reason they weren't using it is not because they're lazy, but because they're essentially trying to innovate" and work around artificial limitations imposed by officially sanctioned social media tools.
Consumerization Is from Mars, Corporations Are from Venus
According to Pisoni, a major schism occurred once employees could find better technology on the streets than in the office. Consumer technology keeps advancing, innovating, and redefining itself at a blistering pace. But rather than embracing change, the business world battened down the hatches and dictated which tools employees can use in the workplace.
"(Out of the consumer space) you've seen the rise of social networks, which have been the most successful software of all time," Pisoni says. "Facebook is the most successful anything of all time, getting to a billion users in so few years. It's funny; compare that to social media initiatives in companies today. A recent Gartner story said that 70 percent of IT-dominated social initiatives fail. So you have this weird dichotomy where in the consumer world, the most popular tools are the social tools, but in the office, they're the most failed tools.
"Throughout the 2000s, you had consumer companies innovating like crazy while you had corporate companies locking down like crazy. Fast-forward to today and the gap--the gulf--between the (social) tools we have available at work and what we have available in our personal lives has become so great, and the access to tools has become so ubiquitous, that you've got this proliferation of 'lazy employees' who are just breaking the rules to try and make their jobs more powerful and efficient."
A BYOD Approach to Software
Yammer feels that letting employees choose which software is the best fit for their jobs is a continuance of the consumerization of IT and a "revolution in the enterprise today." Convincing employees and IT departments to join the "bring your own software" (BYOS) cause are two totally different beasts, however.
Many IT departments are just starting to warm up to the idea of letting employees bring iPhones to work, after all--wouldn't investing in social tools suggested by employees create whole new headaches and costs? That's where the freemium model used by Yammer and several other enterprise social network tools comes into play, Pisoni argues.
"Historically, companies have had to buy (software) before they try it or view demos, and adoption risk is probably the greatest risk in software. It could be great, but if no one uses it, it doesn't matter. Part of the importance of the freemium, viral business model where any employee can sign up for free is that we get to guarantee a company that their employees will use and choose this software even before (the company) pays for it. We essentially 'de-risk' the purchase by making it freemium. We say, 'They're already using it, they already like it.'"
Open Your Ears
Social media experts preach that businesses should spend more time listening and less time talking. Pisoni's plea for companies to listen to so-called lazy employees is basically the same thing. How can you ask employees to fully invest in your internal social initiatives when your IT department won't listen when those employees complain about the initiatives, or more dramatically, bring in third-party tools of their own?
On the flipside, while nobody knows what tools are needed as well as the person doing the job does, many companies understandably would have some reservations about letting staff churn and burn through official work on unsanctioned software.
What's the middle ground? How did your business decide which social network to use? What do you think when employees find a workaround to company-sanctioned tools?