Burton Group release “Social Networking Within the Enterprise” field research study

The Burton Group has today released its much awaited study on “Social Networking Within the Enterprise” and has made an initial project summary document available as a free download:

The media, blogs, and vendors are all abuzz about social networking tools, and some enterprises have started to roll them out. When discussing the topic with Burton Group clients, the rationale behind social networking initiatives often falls into one or more of the following: expertise location, community building, and talent management. In some cases, IT viewed social networking as a technology endeavor. This perspective was especially common when social networking functions were already part of existing collaboration platforms. In those situations, IT organizations felt it was sufficient to just “turn on” those features rather than look at vendor alternatives. However, even in cases where strategists had identified business and IT drivers for social networking projects, many still had a noticeable level of uncertainty regarding the business case and return-on-investment from such tools.

Given this large-scale uncertainty, Burton Group initiated an in-depth field research study to help clients understand the business, organizational, and technical factors to consider when formulating social networking strategies and initiating internal projects

It is certainly an interesting read that contains a few surprises.  I particularly appreciated this paragraph:

Almost universally, organizations participating in the study felt that they were behind their competitors—or the market in general—when it came to their social networking initiatives. Based on the results of this field research study, Burton Group concludes that such perceptions are unfounded. Many organizations have not yet made an enterprise-wide decision on social networking tools. Even in those organizations that have set a direction, many of those projects are in proof-of-concept or early stages of deployment.

So everyone is feeling like they’re still making their way in this new technology area, but interestingly, nobody feels as if they’re an early adopter, instead that others are leading the field…  To me this is an illustration that in social software, it is the consumer-level users that are driving the need and the usage patterns, not the organisations themselves.

Also, the suggestions as to how to drive adoption very much echo Collaboration Matters’ own experience and recommendations:

Establishing thriving social environments within a business workplace where participation and contributions are often voluntary (i.e., outside the prescribed roles and responsibilities of an employee) was one of the most discussed areas in the study. Interestingly, participants with a knowledge management background were not surprised that such employee engagement issues would be a problem. Interviewees identified a wide range of old and new tactics to help gain and sustain adoption of social networking systems:
• Make early adopters feel special, pay attention to their feedback, and enable grass-root champions to have some level of ownership in the effort.
• Assume that a mix of approaches will be necessary—content, community, events, and contests to gain and sustain participation; market efforts internally.
• Recognize active contributors and community leaders.
• Balance viral adoption opportunities with formal deployment schedules.
• Check to make sure that all audiences (e.g., mobile workforce, hourly employees, and certain work environments) have easy access to computers.

All in all, a very interesting read.  Burton are holding a webseminar about the report at 3pm EST (7pm GMT) today where the findings will be discussed in more detail.

Stuart McIntyre is a Senior Strategist at Fostering Community Limited. He curates a number of product-focused news sites, is a lapsed podcaster, founded the Social Connections user group and regularly speaks at conferences and events. This blog represents his own slightly-eccentric and usually-controversial opinions!