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Consumerization of IT: The social networking problem

Tom Kaneshige | March 13, 2012
Social tools debuting at the enterprise level face many pitfalls that can derail even the best laid plans. A few IT leaders speaking at the Consumerization of IT in the Enterprise Conference and Expo in San Francisco last week revealed some of these social danger zones.

Now Jones says the way to get people to use collaboration technologies is to force them. This means shutting down or restricting existing ways they collaborate. Companies that try to do both-- new social collaboration and old email--won't be successful, Jones says. That is, people will naturally default to what they already know.

While employees might whine at first, they'll want to collaborate and eventually use the new tools. "It's like shutting down all the dance clubs except one," Jones says. "If they want to dance, they've got to go there."

Look Who's Talking

Once people start using social tools, you're still not out of the woods.

IT leaders warn that some older workers might view the new social tools with a skeptical eye. Social networking in the enterprise has been billed as a way to recruit and retain the younger generation. Older workers may feel social networking keeps them out of the conversation and undermines their careers.

Though this is a common fear, Pontefract denies that social networking has generational gap consequences. "That's absolutely balderdash," he says.

Another problem is workers who will try to take over the conversation.

Enterprise social networking experts need to be wary of these potential pitfalls, but this doesn't mean that they should stop people from making critical comments about the company. At Eli Lilly, Williams worried that management would take a tough stance against an employee who posted critical comments.

As it happened, the critical comment received 88 replies. The issue quickly rose up the command chain to the vice president of human resources. Within four weeks, Eli Lilly responded positively to the issue. "It's the value of working out loud," Williams says.

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The flip side, of course, is the handful of employees who constantly complain, vent and bicker, usually on micro-blogging platforms. IT leaders advice: Let them do it. If you staunch their voice, then you destroy trust.

How do you avoid social networking problems? The trick is knowing how people interact, not necessarily the intricacies of the technology. For instance, social networking is self-regulating and self-outing so that peer pressure will often correct behavior without corporate intervention.

"You have a social reputation," Jones says. "When you have more eyes, there will be less complaining because [nobody] wants to appear as a whiner."


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