What if you set up an enterprise social network and no one uses it?

A researcher predicts greater adoption of corporate versions of Facebook, but uptake may be an issue. Why it’s worth the investment anyway

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There’s been a lot of talk about the potential of enterprise social networks, but will they actually transform the enterprise? Nope — at least not any time soon, according to Deloitte’s latest tech predictions. But that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t be deploying one.

Earlier this month I attended Deloitte’s annual TMT Predictions in Toronto, where Deloitte Canada’s director of research Duncan Stewart discussed the firm’s top 10 most significant predictions that will impact the Canadian marketplace in 2013.

Among the list, which includes an end to password-only security and a looming spectrum shortage, is the growing deployment of enterprise social networks.

I’ve heard a lot about social business over the past year and watched plenty of demos at conferences, but few companies I’ve talked to have actually deployed one. But that’s changing, according to Deloitte. More than 90 per cent of Fortune 500 companies are expected to selectively or fully implement some sort of social business product by the end of this year — a 70 per cent increase over 2011.

But, Stewart pointed out, although social networking tools will be deployed, they won’t be well utilized. Of enterprise social networks that require registration, 30 to 40 per cent of employees won’t even register. And of those who do, only about a third will actually read content once a week or more, and only 40 per cent will actually post something in the average month.

So is it really worth the time, effort and resources to set up an enterprise social network — perhaps integrating it with other UC tools — if only a small percentage of employees will actually use it?

Well, actually … yes. Those numbers are quite normal, according to Stewart. We’ve had internal collaboration tools for years: intranets. The rates of usage of social business products are similar to those of intranets and even consumer-facing social networks, such as Facebook.

Think about it: If you’re a Facebook user, you can probably name a few dozen “friends” who are constantly popping up in your news feed (some of whom post so frequently you may have blocked them — there is such a thing as too much information). But a larger percentage rarely post or don’t post anything at all.

This will also be the case with enterprise social networks — but that doesn’t mean you should overlook social business and its importance.

An enterprise social network is all about communication, collaboration and knowledge-sharing, said Stewart. And it’s a relatively low-cost tool — many solutions cost only dollars per employee per year and some are free at the base level. So even if only five per cent of employees are using it on a regular basis, it’s still likely to result in a positive ROI.

And there are ways to create interest in and encourage usage of your enterprise social network, such as integrating it into existing business practices. Rather than a space where a few vocal employees can update their status, it should be used as an interactive space where employees can ask questions, share know-how and work on projects.

It’s not a panacea, said Stewart. It doesn’t get rid of every other communication solution you already have. But it’s one more tool that can increase knowledge sharing in your organization.

Dive deeper by downloading ‘How to Transform Your Company into a Social Business: Seven Steps to Success,’ from Frost & Sullivan.

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