There has recently been more talk and blog postings about banning public social media tools inside the organisation. This happens on a regular basis when some report is able to highlight some issue or other. I posted about it myself last week when Mashable reported on a Cisco study that showed employees are ignoring social media policies and playing “FarmVille” on company time. A number of comments on my posting and elsewhere have quite rightly pointed out that employees will get distracted by anything – if their work is boring, and others that if they can spend hours on Facebook during the working day and still do their job effectively, then there is also something fundamentally wrong.
However, many managers reading the report, who do not understand the value of social media in the enterprise will take the "easy" way out and ban access to public social media sites. Commercial vendors of enterprise social media tools will be quick to step in and say that use of their private, secure, behind-the-firewall system is the only viable way forward for an enterprise.
Social media has been a real revolution in that it has happened at the grass roots by individuals using these tools for their own purposes – to make friends, build networks and create and share personal content. As they have realised these tools are also valuable for professional use they are using them in the workplace too – to build professional networks and create and share professional content with others both within and outside the organisation. The reason they have done this, is because enterprise systems have lagged so far behind in terms of the functionality and ease of use they require, and as everything is locked down, public tools and services provide an easy answer.
So instead of going to the intranet or the LMS to look for help, individuals go to Google or YouTube – to get immediate access to relevant content – or Facebook and Twitter to ask their networks for help. These sites and professional networks have become so powerful that many could no longer do without them, and simply replacing them with enterprise-only tools will NOT BE ENOUGH..
Although internal social collaboration sytems or platforms might be useful as a core enterprise system, on their own they cannot provide everything many employees now need to do their jobs effectively in the 21st century; individuals and teams also need access to the Social Web both for content as well as interaction with people outside the organisation – whether it be customers, partners or professional colleagues.
I think the way that Yammer is developing is a good model for the future of enterprise social tools. It offers a (core) private, secure micro-updating system to create an in-company network with the ability to create dedicated in-house groups as well Yammer communities, which are spin-off networks to communicate with customers or partners outside the organisation. It integrates with other enterprise tools like Sharepoint and email, as well as public social tools like Google Reader and Twitter, and of course it is accessible via a multitude of desktop and mobile devices.
This type of approach seems to offer the best of both worlds, a secure in-house system but one that supports access to and integration with other existing enterprise and public social media tools. OperatIng on a SaaS basis, it provides a quick, easy and cost-effective way to get started and move forward, and doesn't require a heavy investment in a sophisticated platform which will take time and effort to implement. Organisations need agile and flexible systems as the world is changing under their feet.