CIO magazine reported on a research piece done by The Burton Group on why large organisations find it difficult to adopt social networking internally when their employees use it so easily outside of work.

Some of the key issues identified are the same ones that have hamstrung many KM initiatives.

Here’s an excerpt from the article, I especially like the quote in bold towards the end of the final bullet point …

“Some vendors are saying employees will go in and naturally fill these enterprise social networking profiles out, but I don’t think that’s necessarily true,” Gotta says. “If you’re an employee, you have questions. Why should you maintain it? What are you going to do with it? Those questions still need to answered.”

Some of the other challenges organizations face?

  • Creating a business case is difficult for people who don’t understand the technologies or have rigid ways of defining their success. Your CFO might want hard ROI, which social tools have a difficult time showing because they aren’t necessarily replacement tools. So, for instance, if people begin trading information on a wiki, that maintains a document’s changes in real-time. This is generally better than sending around reply-all e-mails with messy attachments. But while you know the wiki has helped your collaboration efforts, it might be hard to figure an exact dollar amount in savings since e-mail isn’t being replaced. “For that person that who wants blood on paper ROI , it’s a hard conversation,” Gotta says.
  • Getting the proper players involved. Gotta says it’s essential to have a presence from HR in getting these technologies off the ground. If, for instance, you want to turn your corporate intranet into a social network with employee profile pages, you need to help people feel comfortable to share and know the ground rules. If people feel awkward about inputting information, it’s as good as dead. In addition, stakeholders (often department heads) must show they believe in the adoption of the technology by using it themselves and encouraging adoption. If they use it, it’s not guaranteed their employees will use it, but it’s more likely.
  • Traditional corporate communications structures and etiquette.More old, conservative organizations communicate in a top-down fashion, which runs counter to social networks, where people collectively weigh in and discuss issues. Burton quoted one participant who noted the following:“We have a classic company — we communicate ‘at’ people rather than ‘with’ them.” On the upside, the proponents of enterprise social networking say that the technologies, if used effectively, can uproot that type of communications model.

I agree with the author that if companies do manage to harness social networking internally it will probably go a long way to solving many of the cultural issues mentioned.