Social media vendors have faced an uphill task selling their wares to established enterprises. But I wonder whether their ease of use, cloud-native integration and user familiarity may yet combine to give them an advantage over existing enterprise collaboration platforms.
I recently met with Ambrosia Vertesi, VP of talent at Hootsuite, the application designed to help people — and more recently teams — manage their social media postings. The tool has encountered much resistance on the journey to enterprise acceptance. She recalled how early conversations about social media management were often centered on reputational damage.
I would go and talk to HR folks and they responded with a lot of, 'I'm not letting it in my company, so give me the policy and when do I fire somebody?'
Then it became, 'Okay wait, so somebody sent out something unfortunate, what do we do when that happens?' So it became much more of a PR, corporate comms kind of conversation.
Now Hootsuite has more answers for enterprise buyers, with offerings that help managers co-ordinate social media messaging and a free-of-charge online education program. Meanwhile, enterprise use of social media for various forms of outreach and engagement has continued to proliferate, forcing a more co-ordinated response.
Marketing and IT and HR have always been at the forefront of the conversation. If it comes in through marketing or it comes in through recruiting, then HR is eventually going to have to catch it — because their employees are utilizing it for getting closer to the customer, they are utilizing for recruitment. It's starting to permeate and they don't have a plan.
Social media also provides a platform for internal collaboration that works well for the fast-moving, distributed team working that's becoming more prevalent in enterprises. For managers, it's the virtual equivalent of keeping an eye on team members as they go about their work.
If I want to empower people to do things but I want to also know, do they know what success looks like, are they enabled, is this going in the right direction or do we want to course correct? I can see that on those internal collaboration tools and I can follow along without having to be in an hour-long weekly meeting. I'm watching but I'm not lurking.
It's important as we get these flexible work environments and these decentralized, globalized work forces. If I can see us all working out loud then I don't worry about the fifty-thread email chain that I just missed and I'm trying to read through the whole thing.
I think that those tools allow us to onboard faster, they allow us to activate faster, they allow departments like HR — that does have a reputation for working in a cloak of darkness — it brings us forward to share.
Enter Facebook at Work
But surely there are plenty enough enterprise collaboration tools already in the market, from Microsoft's Yammer and Office 365 to Jive, Salesforce Chatter and SAP Jam? Why would organizations start turning to consumer social media networks like Twitter and Facebook? What I found interesting was that Vertesi said Hootsuite has been building integrations to connect the likes of Yammer into its dashboard, but that many of these established tools don't offer that kind of API access. They don't want some other vendor to become the go-to application — they want to be the collaboration dashboard themselves.
Being difficult to work with could be an effective defensive strategy if the enterprise collaboration market were to remain separate from the broader consumer social media space. But that's no longer the case now that Facebook has started to offer a version of its platform designed for corporate use. I found Vertesi's enthusiasm telling:
We are one of the first companies to sign on with Facebook at Work to beta-test their internal collaboration tool. What was amazing about it for us was, we were able to take on an internal collaboration tool that required no onboarding. If you know how to use Facebook you know how to use Facebook at Work.
Internal collaboration tools can be extremely cumbersome on the organization to adopt the behavior and to feel safe and to understand why do I have to do this and build an intuitive environment. A lot more people use Facebook than they do Yammer or Chatter or those things.
So I think the social networks themselves, who used to focus on external facing, are moving to internal collaboration as a social space. We found Facebook at Work to be an incredible experience so far.
Governance and training
That potential for almost viral adoption could allow Facebook to rapidly overwhelm the enterprise market, with providers like Hootsuite adding governance, integrations and best practice training.
A recent addition to Hootsuite's toolset is Amplify, which provides a notification process and a delegation of authority for social messaging emanating from an organisation. If for example a department head wants to get social messaging out about a key vacancy or a new hire, they can put a message into Amplify and an authorised user can then post it as a message that individual employees can then post from their Hootsuite accounts. Vertesi told me:
A lot of our customers are in highly regulated industries — some of our biggest customers are government and banking. Of course it makes perfect sense that they need to have huge control measures in place and security alerts and workflows that allow them to have checks and balances along the way. Real-time communication is the hardest thing to regulate.
The vendor has also introduced an app directory with integrations to third-party providers of enterprise functionality such as internal collaboration, applicant tracking systems and other HR tools. Meanwhile its Podium online education resource helps build competency in the use of social media — an important enabler for adoption, as Vertesi explained:
The bet we are making is that there won't be one winner in social. We believe that social is a competency of the future. Collaboration and social will be huge competencies that drive businesses forward, and that the workforce has to be ready, at the rate at which we are exponentially changing.
If social is going to be a competency within the organizations then education is the first place to start. We can try and pick off one adopter here, one person who has an idea within an organization and try and work that through.
Substitute the word 'collaboration' for 'social' and I'd have no argument with the notion this is going to be a crucial competency in our digitally connected enterprises. Will that function be delivered on today's enterprise collaboration leaders, or will the enterprise gradually yield to Facebook for internal collaboration in the same way that it has often embraced the platform for external engagement? I have reservations about this prospect, but I wouldn't bet against it.
Image credits: Businessman using modern social networking interface on virtual screen - © Arpad Nagy-Bagoly - Fotolia.com; headshot courtesy of Hootsuite.
Disclosure: Salesforce and SAP are diginomica premier partners. This interview took place at HR Tech World Congress in Paris, an event with which diginomica has a co-marketing agreement.