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Social networks as fluff? Get over it.

Social networks as fluff? Get over it.

They are necessary business tools, but be cognisant of risks and prepare for fallouts, says IDC analyst Claus Mortensen.

Claus Mortensen demolishes perceptions of social networks in the enterprise as "fluff". His advice? “Get over it”.

“We are still thinking at the back of our minds this is fluff,” and end up wasting the time of employees if they are allowed to go on to Facebook at work, says Mortensen, principal, digital marketplace and new media for IDC Asia Pacific.

Speaking at an IDC forum on social business, Mortensen likens the discussion around enterprise social networks to over a decade ago regarding internet access for employees. The fear was people will browse at the internet all day.

He goes further back, saying that when spreadsheets appeared in the enterprise, there were talks that people will spend all day "doing finances for their son’s football club, or the kitchen list".

His conclusion? “It is a necessary tool for employees to do their job, and to reach out and deal with clients and customers.”

But this message clearly does not resonate with majority of enterprises in the region.

Mortensen cites the results of an IDC survey in the Asia Pacific where 27 percent of organisations said they do not allow enterprise social network. Nearly a fifth (19 percent) believe it is a waste of company resources, and 15 percent say the employees would not use it.

“This is a very outdated way of looking at things,” he says. It comes down to trusting employees to be able to handle themselves if you empower them more, and they can assimilate and share information to transform the company.

He says companies going the social route, however, must understand the risks and have clear objectives.

“Don’t do social just for the sake of social. Have a plan, what you want to achieve with it.”

He says that in the past there were agencies that offered services for social media campaigns that were focused on getting ‘likes and followers’. While this was not a bad thing, these are not valuable KPIs.

The trend is towards measuring the impact on business outcomes such as actionable feedback, sales and client satisfaction.

Have an ear to the ground, he says, ask yourself, is this a good idea, before you do anything on social media. Have a backup plan for any fallout. When this happens, do you take down an account, and how do you reverse this? “How certain can we be what we do on social media will not backfire in other ways?”

He says the results of a recent survey among New Zealand executives show only 7 percent believe social networks put their organisations at risk for reputational damage.

He says this is a concern, as he cites the experience of McDonalds which set up a Twitter campaign with hashtags #McDStories asking people to tweet their “fantastic experiences” with the food chain. It became #McFail after customers started tweeting their bad experiences.

Prime Minister John Key was also labelled as a ‘champagne socialist’ after a photo of him with a bottle of bubbly on his son’s 18th birthday was posted on Facebook and went public.

Another case involves an Israeli soldier who posted on Facebook the details on a raid in West Bank and the military had to cancel the operation.

Mortensen stresses the importance of modern organisations adapting to the changing demographics in the workplace and the customers.

The younger generation will have different work modes and are used to working in very different ways, using more collaborative tools “that we did not use growing up”.

This generation is not using email, as it is not good for collaborating. “You end up sending the same documents several times. It is not something future employees will be doing in the company.”

“Email is not dead but it is dying as the main communications tool in the business,” he says, because the younger generation coming in will replace it with something that will work much better with them.

He says social networks are also changing the concept of innovation. The term used to refer to something that occurred internally, within the organisation’s research and development team, or it was about huge ideas.

Today, he says, “you can have small innovative breakthroughs, just good ideas”, like streamlining business processes to get services to outlets a lot faster.

He says the trend is towards not only organisational collaboration but also sourcing ideas outside the organisation. He refers to “crowdsourcing” where partners and customers can also be the source for ideas.

A company that does this is Dell with its IdeaStorm. This is a way of crowdsourcing from all customers and consumers interested in Dell’s products, he says. Another is Moven, a bank which allows customers to use their social network IDs to sign up.

Related:

Social business policy: Defining the role of the CIO

Harnessing the benefits of social media.

Divina Paredes (@divinap) is editor of CIO New Zealand.

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