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Why Social Media and UC Don't Mix

Social media has quickly become a dominant form of communications because of its pervasiveness and multimedia support. As such, social media would seem a natural channel to integrate into unified communications platforms. Although this integration has happened in the contact center world, where leading vendors often support social media outreach and monitoring, it is largely missing from enterprise UC.

Social media, like chat and email, seemingly fits well with UC, providing a short message of a few kilobytes that is easily sharable among an audience of peers and like-minded individuals. However, I can think of two key reasons why social media has not yet been broadly integrated into enterprise communications: trust and community.

Building Personal Trust
Linking single sign-on to a specific phone extension or email address and then providing an employee with full access to her Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, and other relevant accounts would be a trivial IT task. Even so, employees are reluctant to provide companies with direct access into their social media accounts. So the bigger issue is not whether a company can enable seamless support for social media but whether it has earned the trust of its employees when it comes to handling relevant social information.

With social media's one-to-many focus, employees would be creating a semipublic or community-facing persona -- efforts that are more typically associated with Web conferencing or video conferencing than standard phone calls. Supporting broadcast and conference-based communications can be difficult from telephony and UC systems, even to the extent that employees are often challenged to set up a simple three-way or four-way call through them. Because employees have learned over the years to work outside of the UC suite for anything outside of a standard phone call, social media is not a natural fit for UC. Employees do not trust corporate UC systems with the same information that they might provide to their own smartphones.

Inspire Your Users
Second, social media breaks down the barriers between the enterprise and the outside world by standardizing usernames, messaging, and communications capabilities. This platform is often ubiquitous and easier to use than UC. In today's world, the easiest-to-use app wins over all others. It is no longer about having the best suite of apps, but about creating the best-of-breed app for a specific use case -- think Snapchat or WhatsApp.

But from a corporate perspective, the UC decision is typically based on the employee's business needs. User preference doesn't come into account during the buying decision. UC platforms cannot truly support new social media capabilities in the same fashion as employees are used to outside the company, where they can configure and personalize their mobile phones and tablets to the nth degree with the latest and greatest apps and functionality.

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To be fair, the most modern UC suites do allow end users to pull new apps into their communications interfaces. But the truth is that the majority of corporate phone systems have not been updated to the newest app-inspired or WebRTC-based programmatic communications tools because their CIOs are focused on fully depreciating existing phone systems rather than collaboration. For social media and UC to integrate fully, employees need to feel just as comfortable using corporate UC as they are with their chosen mobile devices and wearables.

UC & the Corporate Hierarchy of Needs
To better explain this, Blue Hill asks companies to consider their UC investments through the lens of what we call the Corporate Hierarchy of Needs.

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Traditionally, UC is considered a foundational investment that simply enables basic communications and then is properly secured and governed based on corporate and industry desires. However, the next step for UC is to support community and collaborative interactions and reach that "Love/Belonging" stage of maturity. To do so, UC needs to support collaboration with employees, partners, customers, and prospective clients. Although the lowest common denominator of real-time communications is voice, today's collaborative world also includes video, pictures, chat rooms, social media, intranets, and project management tools. Just as all of these capabilities are one tap away on the phone, they also need to be one tap away for UC to work fully.

The Missing Link Between Social Media & UC
Frankly, UC often skips the Love/Belonging step by moving directly from safety, security, and governance to attempts in calculating direct return on investment (ROI). This is where the gap between social media and UC needs closing. There are somewhat intangible aspects of design, ubiquity, and shared experience that are associated with collaboration that must be answered. Social media has done this through the simple text entries of Twitter and WhatsApp, the ease of "friending" in Facebook and LinkedIn, and the photographic sharing of Pinterest, Instagram, and tumblr. But what is the true gap?

Identity. In every social media platform that has taken off, people can set up either their real identities or assumed identities as the basis of their outreach. In contrast, the enterprise phone system typically uses a phone number, an extension, or a corporate ID as a starting point rather than a name, a face, or a profile. This fundamental difference leads to a very different collaborative experience. Instead of working with people, UC all too often forces connections determined by locations and telephony-based logic. This final piece of the puzzle explains why people lack trust in and fail to achieve true community from traditional UC environments.

The good news? UC is starting to embrace human-centered design and social-media inspired apps. In doing so, vendors need to remember that the ultimate goal is to connect employees to peers and business partners rather than constrain employees within an artificially-created telephony system. Whether this is through a vendor-specified theme such as Unify's "New Way to Work" or a more abstracted focus of analyzing the graph datasets associated with collaborative interaction, the end goal is simple: Learn from the lessons of social media to create a more engaging and employee-centric mode of unified collaboration.

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