Few social phenomena of the past decade have rivaled social networking and Web 2.0. web sites such as LinkedIn, MySpace, Facebook, Wikipedia, and in India, Orkut has attracted millions of users of all ages and backgrounds. For “social” networking and public information sharing, these tools have been spectacularly successful. It only stands to reason then, that the technology might be used for professional or corporate use; for networking and knowledge sharing — behind the firewall, so to speak.
Corporate Social Networking (CSN) is the most common term being applied to the rising use of professional networks inside organizations. Blogs, Wikis, threaded discussion boards and other Web 2.0 tools have made their way onto Intranets for corporate use in knowledge sharing. Best practice in CSN and Web 2.0 technology does not exist yet. However, neither is there a generally accepted model for its implementation, nor who should own it in the organization.
In an attempt to uncover emerging practices and early indications of the value of corporate Web 2.0 and CSN tools, the Human Capital Institute (HCI) and Cornerstone OnDemand, a talent-management suite provider, conducted a survey of HCI’s senior HR membership on leveraging social networking and Web 2.0 collaboration tools in various enterprises. The main objective of the survey and subsequent interviews was to understand the role and impact of Web 2.0 collaboration tools in organizational social networking and knowledge sharing.
At this stage, in the development and implementation of corporate Web 2.0 collaborative tools, users can still be labeled early adopters. And, just as early adopters of online job boards reaped benefits and competitive advantage a dozen years ago or so, organizations that implement and master Web 2.0 tools today, including CSN, can expect to gain similar, if not even greater advantages. In most cases, however, it is safe to say that the Web 2.0 tools being used remain outside the corporate firewall. Nevertheless they are being put to business purposes also. Facebook, for example, allows for the creation of private networks and LinkedIn has proven to be a powerful recruiting tool. In neither case, is it necessary to license and install any application.
|"We have been able to eliminate physical office space through the use of online collaboration technology. Smart use of collaboration technology has enabled us to produce and deliver training programs that have a 20 X + ROI in terms of the impact on business performance."
— Survey Respondent
From our results, it would appear that corporate Web 2.0 and CSN tools are still experimental in most of the organizations that report their use. As above, most of that use falls outside formal practice and certainly outside “the firewall”. The three greatest barriers to using Web 2.0 tools, according to our respondents, are user adoption, other priorities taking precedence and the difficulty in building a compelling business case for their use. Time will address the first barrier as more young people who have grown up using the tools enter the workforce and this, in turn, should move Web 2.0 tool adoption up on the priority list. The third main barrier — making the business case — was the focus of our research. To do that, proponents of the technologies need to demonstrate Return on Investment (ROI).
There, clearly remains much work to be done in identifying the ways and methods to determine ROI and the tangible value from corporate Web 2.0 and CSN investments. And very little research has been done to quantify the ROI in CSN and corporate Web 2.0 — that which does exist is compelling — as in the statements of value in Web 2.0 made by so many of our survey respondents. Our respondents believe that Web 2.0 tools will finally allow them to access the rich content and corporate memory that proves so elusive in most companies. Respondents believe that this information, including tacit knowledge, can benefit the organization significantly.
Our survey results show that the decision to use social networking and/or other Web 2.0 tools now or in future is greatly influenced (84 percent) by the demographics of the workforce. As the typical workforce is spread more and more around the globe, organizations are looking for tools to keep teams together “virtually.” Their goal is that performance and learning should not suffer because of physical distances between the various members of the team.
|"The main challenge is time ... our users will need to have a bit of a culture shift and be educated on what the tools are and how to use them. People are already so overwhelmed, they’re not sure they have the time to engage in this type of activity."
— Survey Respondent
Not surprisingly, our research reveals a gap between the promise of corporate Web 2.0 and CSN tools and the current reality. But organizations can’t expect overnight revolutions. The new technologies and processes can confer advantage only when they are given sufficient thought and the necessary support prior to and following implementation.
Despite some skepticism, Web 2.0 tools are likely to be among the high demand applications of the next generation of employees. Our research showed a significant difference in Web 2.0 adoption and perceived benefit — personal and for business — between younger and older workers.
But organizations are already reporting the benefits from corporate Web 2.0 and CSN applications. Better internal as well as external communication, connecting and engaging employees and faster and more effective knowledge transfer are the most articulated benefits at this early stage in the adoption of the tools.
Clearly, the tools will play a critical future role in HR and talent management. They can provide a common communications platform for employees, allowing them to share information, knowledge, ideas and collaborate online. Moreover, the tools are likely to become essential in attracting, onboarding, developing and keeping the next generation of talent.
Many organizations are already moving from an experimental use of corporate Web 2.0 tools to more formal uses, and this is largely being driven by the HR department. The majority of organizations that are not yet using the tools are impressed with their potential and are planning to implement them in the near future; only a small minority appears to have looked at the tools, assessed their potential and rejected them for corporate use.
Allan is President and Executive Director, Human Capital Institute.