Businesses adopt social networking without IT help: Survey

Most companies that use social networking for business purposes have failed to implement formal processes for adopting the tools, and even fewer say their IT departments are directly involved in the social networking initiatives, a Cisco-sponsored survey has found.


“Only one in seven of the companies that participated in the research noted a formal process associated with adopting consumer-based social networking tools for business purposes, indicating that the potential risks associated with these tools in the enterprise are either overlooked or not well understood,” the study found.


Additionally, only one out of 10 survey respondents said their IT departments were directly involved in social networking initiatives, raising concerns about whether social tools are properly integrated with business processes.


The results are concerning, particularly because the survey sample included only businesses that researchers say are “pushing the envelope” in using social networking, and therefore might have been expected to have more formal governance structures in place.


The study consisted of in-depth interviews with about 100 companies worldwide and was conducted for Cisco by the IESE Business School in Spain, E. Philip Saunders College of Business at the Rochester Institute of Technology in the United States and Henley Business School in the United Kingdom.


The early adopter companies are using social media to reach a mix of people from user communities and customers to suppliers and channel partners. About 75% were using social networks, such as Facebook, and 50% said they were making extensive use of microblogging services, such as Twitter. (See related story, 12 CIOs who Tweet.) 


Cisco commissioned the research because it wanted to gauge the level of social networking adoption, concerns and inhibitors, and examine IT’s involvement in ensuring that social networking programs comply with company goals, standards and policies, says Nick Earle, a senior vice president at Cisco.


Historically, the role of the IT department was to provide a menu of applications that users could choose from, but increasingly users are saying “just give us a set of corporate-sponsored social networking tools and get out of the way,” Earle says.


Many social networking initiatives are still in their infancy, but it’s clear the tools are not going away, says Neil Hair, assistant professor of marketing at Rochester Institute of Technology, one of the researchers who conducted the study. When embracing new social tools, businesses often have to overcome cultural issues and make sure employees understand they have to watch what they say in public forums. But business leaders are recognizing that there are tremendous opportunities in social networking and that they need to encourage them, he says.


So far, the majority of business-sponsored social networking initiatives involve marketing and communications, with some activity in human resources and customer service departments, the survey found. While social networking allows more communication with outside audiences, companies are also starting to adopt private social networking tools for communications that need to stay private.


But the business implications of social networking are often overlooked, and organizations have yet to define who “owns” or has control over social initiatives, Cisco and researchers say. Ideally, social networking tools integrate with one another and existing IT infrastructure, but IT’s role in deployment of the technology has been limited.


“Organizations need to understand the relationship between business, process, culture and technology and how each area helps organizations instill effective collaboration to drive optimal performance and business success,” Cisco says.


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