Social Network Adoption Races Ahead

Awareness, Inc., which has been in the social media software market for several years, has just come out with a new research report on enterprise adoption of Web 2.0. There are some interesting findings that I wanted to share with you. You can download the entire report after filling out a short registration form.

My basic take-away is that social media tools are ripping through the enterprise with amazing speed. Whether used internally, externally with open enrollment or externally with invitation-only enrollment, social networks are proliferating as business tools. Some highlights:

  • The number of organizations that allow employees to use social networks for business purposes has increased dramatically to 69% in 2008 from 37% last year;
  • More than six in 10 companies are using social media to build and promote their brands, improve communication and increase consumer engagement;
  • There has been a fivefold increase in the percentage of employees who use popular social networking sites like Facebook and LinkedIn for business purposes, from 15% in 2007 to 75% this year;
  • While only a tiny percentage of organizations are currently using internal communities, one in three plans to use them in the future;
  • A quarter of respondents say their companies are planning to deploy external-facing communities, which is double last year’s total;
  • Some 37% of organizations plan to focus communities on specialty areas where they can provide focused business value;
  • More than 40% of respondents report using one or more of the following tools: user groups, tags, communities, blogs, social networking and videos;
  • The most popular internal tools are social networks, blogs and wikis, with adoption rates of between 50% and 55%;
  • Seven in 10 respondents say their companies plan to deploy external blogs.
One of the most notable trends this research reveals is the rapid acceptance of social networking not only for marketing and customer support, but also for employee communications. When you consider that Facebook was barely known outside of the academic realm just two years ago, the acceptance of this technology for internal knowledge management is remarkable.

I’m also intrigued by the findings that seven in 10 businesses allow employees to use social media during business hours. This is a big change in corporate attitude. In the first couple of years of social media, businesses moved slowly to permit employees to speak outside the company walls. There were fears about people revealing company secrets or saying inappropriate things in public forums. Those fears appear to have largely melted away.

The lack of horror stories combined with the powerful utility of features like LinkedIn’s Answers forum are clearly overwhelming these reservations. It turns out that when you give people the freedom to speak on behalf of the company and combine that freedom with clear guidelines about what’s appropriate to say, the vast majority do the right thing.

This is inspiring and affirming. It may be an unanticipated benefit of social media acceptance, but it is a very welcome one.

Caveats: Any research conducted over the Internet needs to be taken with a grain of salt. The Awareness survey accumulated responses from 160 people, of whom 27.5% were from large companies and 40% were at a management level. Awareness says statistical accuracy is +/- 7%. Awareness also has a vested interest in promoting acceptance of social networks. However, the company used an independent research partner, Equation Research, to conduct the survey and I don’t think it has any incentive to fudge the results.

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