The organisational social software paradox

Last week I reported on the shape of the enterprise social networking space with the help of Andrew McAfee’s Berkmann Centre lunchtime presentation on the subject. This week I’ll get a little closer to home and present you with a paradox you’re going to have to resolve if you’re thinking of introducing social networking into your organisation.

A few months ago, Freeform Dynamics and MWD joined forces to carry out research among 201 companies on the subject of collaborative computing. The respondents were roughly equally split between France, Germany and the UK. All organisations were at least 1000 employees and half of them were over 5000. Sixty percent of the respondents were IT-centric and forty percent business-centric. All had some responsibility for workforce communication and collaboration.

The research contained all manner of interesting stuff but, as promised last week, I’m going to take a couple of charts out which relate to risk. One of our questions centred around the unofficial use of collaboration software within the organisation. As you can see from the chart below, social software of the kind we were discussing last week has crept into most of these organisations to some degree. Over fifty percent of respondents report wide adoption while almost every organisation has at least some.


In the officially sanctioned figures (not shown), social media is in third place at a little under 25% but instant messaging remains bottom of the heap.

Now, I don’t know if I’m being dim here, but if something is unsanctioned, it seems that people would need to get it in by stealth. This is easy enough to do with solo desktop software (if organisational desktop control is lax enough) but social media, by its very nature, needs more than one participant and a shared location in which participants can ’meet’, either synchronously or asynchronously.

This being the case, it seems highly likely that at least a percentage of those interviewed must be using public services in order to achieve their social networking objectives. Some, of course, will have an in-house ’skunk works’ server—rather as Euan Semple did when he was at the BBC—but this requires some degree of computer skill and, of course the authorisation of the IT department at least.

So, let’s take a look at the second chart. This relates to the concerns of the respondents towards the use of public services for this sort of thing. Don’t forget it includes the conferencing, communication and screen sharing applications mentioned in the first chart.


Security, compliance, user distraction and support overhead all rank reasonably highly when you aggregate ’major concern’ and ’some concern’.

We clearly have a discrepancy between what people are doing and what their organisations would like them to be doing. No doubt the employees have their reasons for behaving in this contradictory way. I’d hazard a guess that they’ve found the perceived benefits outweigh the perceived risks. Within most organisations, I’d have thought it unlikely that people would adopt social software just so they can chat to their personal friends. (By the way, if you’d like to alarm yourself with a detailed run down of risks, take a look at this new report on Web 2.0 security from the European Network and Information Security Agency.)

I’ll confess to a degree of bafflement and, if you are in one of these contradictory situations, I’d love to hear from you. Perhaps you can tell me whether things are as laissez faire as they appear or whether guidelines and controls have been put in place to minimise, or at least balance, risk. And, maybe, tell us how hard it is for your organisation to take social networking seriously and what efforts you’re making to articulate the commercial benefits to the powers that be.

I look forward to hearing from you.

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