The Evolution of the Social Enterprise: How Data Will Rule Business Communications
The social tools that successfully translate qualities of intuitiveness, ease of use, and a user-driven framework into a business context are likely the ones that will push enterprise social software forward.
Although the outlook for enterprise social software is positive, with a projected 19.4% CAGR from 2013 to 2018, there is clearly something missing that keeps social collaboration and similar tools from achieving their potential. According to Gartner, which predicts 80% of social business efforts will not achieve intended benefits through 2015, the problem is that businesses are focusing too much on technology.
That is a valid point. As the namesake implies, successfully deploying social tools is largely about the social framework in which they are implemented. Encouraging employees to use any technology effectively requires strong support from managers and other leaders. This is especially true for new technology that requires a change from existing processes. However, the technical aspects of social software are equally critical.
Collaboration tools provide a good example of this challenge. It's not that most business leaders and employees can't recognize inefficiencies in their existing practices. It's that alternatives are unfamiliar, and, in many cases, require too much effort to learn.
Traditional social sites like Facebook gain traction well because they are user-driven. They stimulate discussions and have the capacity to maintain connections with both casual and professional interactions. They are intuitive, and effectively serve as hubs of information and communication.
Consumer-grade social sites are so good at encouraging user buy-in that a 2013 study from Avanade found 74% of respondents used Facebook for enterprise collaboration, more than the share who used Microsoft Sharepoint, IBM Open Connections and Salesforce Chatter. However, Avanade's research also found that enterprise-centric tools benefitted from considerable gains when considering the platforms business leaders expected to deploy within the next 12 months, suggesting that 2014 and the coming years will be a major test for the technology.
Bringing Social to the Enterprise
The social tools that successfully translate the aforementioned qualities – intuitiveness, ease of use and a user-driven framework - into a business context are likely the ones that will push enterprise social software forward. The leading tools are already starting to do this – IBM Connections and Salesforce Chatter offer interfaces that look and feel similar to the traditional social media news feed. They've also streamlined the processes for sharing files and implemented internal search functions to help employees connect and communicate better, but there's still a crucial component missing: integration.
Just as consumer social sites serve as central hubs to fulfill a range of needs and activities, enterprise social software has to be able to be a central platform from which to do work and communicate with stakeholders throughout an organization. As Gartner has advised, part of addressing the issue of integration will be up to business leaders to encourage and incorporate the use of these tools into everyday processes.
However, this can't be achieved without making those processes seamless from a technical standpoint. Users can move files to Dropbox outside of the software's interface, and consumers can share the bulk of Web content on Facebook with the click of a button – it needs to be equally easy to upload and share files within enterprise collaboration software.
In the enterprise, this integration can go beyond software. If social tools really are to be a hub of workplace activity, then they must also be able to work alongside other forms of communication, including email and phone systems. This is likely part of Cisco's vision for its products, given the company's partnership with enterprise collaboration company Jive, announced in May 2014.
Data: The Next Frontier for Enterprise Social
The lion's share of marketing material for social platforms focuses on the advanced productivity benefits of social software – heaven forbid an organization uses something as archaic as email to share files! It is true that email does not scale as well as more robust document sharing platforms; it's also true that social adds value by encouraging more natural status updates and discussions around a given project.
Many business leaders already recognize the benefits of transitioning to a better platform. As Forrester's January 2014 The Business Value of Social Content states, 60% of social technology decision makers say that integrated collaboration solutions could drive better business results.
But productivity is only part of that value. Facebook is not the mega business it is solely because it effectively brings people together and creates seamless experiences. It also collects and uses vast amounts of data, both in advertising efforts and in improving how it interacts with consumers and marketers. This is why the future of enterprise social platforms will be largely about data, and some companies are already betting on this.
In July 2014, enterprise analytics firm Mattersight filed a patent covering its behavioral analytics technology, which can be used for email, Web and social media content. The company's existing products use algorithms to analyze text, phone calls and other interactions to improve relationships between customers and employees. Mattersight's full vision is clear: The ability to bring together data from every communication channel and thus gain a better understanding of customers through their interactions with businesses.
That is only one vision of what a unified hub of communication data might provide. It's doubtful that even Facebook's leaders could have initially visualized how the company's library of user behaviors would eventually be used. For example, a 2013 Cambridge University study found a correlation between liking the Facebook page for "curly fries" and high IQ. Although this had little to do with curly fries, it exemplifies the value of connecting all that information – it will allow anyone who looks through the right lens to see formerly unknown relationships.
Of course, a number of technologies matured to make studies like that possible. Algorithms became smarter, computing systems became more powerful and people became infinitely more connected. However, social is and will continue to be a key component of that kind of insight because few other platforms have managed to pull together the necessary volume of behavioral data.
Bryant Harland has been writing in the technology sector for more than five years, initially as a content marketer for several leaders in the IT security and cloud storage industries. He serves as a Technology Analyst for market research firm Mintel, where he covers a wide range of technology purchasing and usage trends. The views expressed by the author in this article are the author's alone and do not represent the views of Mintel.