Recent research by Frost & Sullivan supports the business need for enterprise social networking and collaboration tools to increase employee engagement, accelerate decision-making, and boost overall productivity, but there remain a few obstacles to overcome.
"Enterprise social networking continues to have mass appeal as it combines the user friendliness and relationship-oriented nature of consumer social media with more powerful features and enterprise-grade control," according to Robert Arnold, industry principal at Frost & Sullivan.
Unlike social media sites such as Facebook and Twitter, which are public, enterprise social networks are closed communities. But when used properly, these communities enable employees to find company information and resources and contribute their expertise across the entire organization, says Arnold, who authored the report "Analysis of the Global Enterprise Social Networking Market."
The research in his report put the total number of full-suite enterprise social platform subscribers at 208 million in 2013. That so many people are already using the technology surprised Arnold. "It's much more widely adopted than we expected," he tells CRM. It's not as nascent a market as we thought."
Still, there is a lot more room for enterprise social networking to grow. Arnold predicts that the number of enterprise social network users will reach 535 million in 2018. But even that is a small representation of the technology's total potential. About 2 billion workers worldwide across numerous industries, organizations, locations, and job roles could benefit from enterprise social networking tools, Arnold asserts.
Of those currently using enterprise social networking, Arnold says most are midlevel employees in jobs that comprise accounting, clerical, administration, sales, marketing, customer service, human resources, and the like.
Though some C-level executives have taken to social networking, they make up a small base of users. Enterprise social networking "needs to become more useful up and down the corporate ladder," Arnold says. "It can definitely be applied to other groups within the organization," such as basic knowledge and office workers as well as shop floor and shipping and receiving departments, he says.
Arnold also adds that enterprise social networking can be useful in multiple industries. So far, the financial services sector is among the leading adopters of social networking solutions. But there are plenty of industries that have been much slower to adopt the technology, especially those that fall outside of the white-collar world, such as manufacturing, retail, hospitality, and even healthcare, Arnold says.
All of this translates into a lot of opportunity for growth, which Arnold says has so far been hindered by many organizations' dependence on email for a number of the same collaboration functions. Email, Arnold says, "is a broken chain, but we all still use it."
Governance, risk, compliance, and security concerns, particularly in regulated industries and lines of business, are also expected to remain key challenges until enterprise social networking solutions mature further and customers become more educated on their value.
In addition, the future of enterprise collaboration requires a smarter combination of tools that can be customized to best fit each organization's and work group's unique needs, according to Arnold. Vendors, he states, have started delivering on these requirements, with some leading platforms offering strong analytics and reporting functionality.
Then, social networking will need to incorporate more real-time communications capabilities, such as click-to-call technologies, conferencing, and video, Arnold says. "Right now, it's still mostly text-based, but it will become multimedia going forward."
Additionally, enterprise social networking will need to bring together internal and external sources of information. "It's used for internal collaboration primarily right now, but it can also bring in outside sources," Arnold states.
The benefits of enhancing business through social channels are resonating with decision-makers, but, because of these obstacles, every organization needs to set realistic expectations and measure performance to make the value proposition meaningful, Arnold concludes.