Last fall, Joe Schueller showed mockups of a new software application to fellow Procter & Gamble employees. In charge of deploying the new program, Schueller wanted to know what P&G’s workers thought of the internal social networking tool, a kind of Facebook behind the firewall.
Some liked it—at first. They thought it was great that they could type in a search term—point-of-sale marketing, for instance—and see a list of related profiles. But when Schueller pointed out that they, too, could create profiles, the enthusiasm faded.
“They’d say, ‘Oh, wait a minute. You mean people can find me?’ It’s like, other people’s knowledge and collaboration is great, but my knowledge and collaboration? That sounds like more work,” says Schueller, P&G’s IT innovation manager.
In the past year, there has been a growing awareness among large businesses that popular consumer Web sites like Facebook and social bookmarking sites such as del.icio.us may hold benefits for corporate information management, according to Nikos Drakos, a research director at Gartner. Adoption of these technologies—alternately called social computing platforms, social software, Web 2.0 or Enterprise 2.0 applications—has been slow but steady. Last July, Gartner predicted that the social software market would triple between 2007 and 2011, from $226 million to more than $707 million.
For a host of organizational reasons, some companies are better suited to adopt and embrace social software tools, but even for those that get an A-plus in culture, universal adoption and the ability to reap business benefits from social computing remains an uncertain proposition.
Most businesses that enter the fray start with small-scale project-specific implementations rather than enterprise-wide deployments of social software, Drakos says. Companies have effective ways of capturing and storing formal processes and transactions, but when it comes to tracking important yet informal information, such as competitive intelligence, and edits to a collectively created document, Drakos says, businesses need “a place between the rigid and the chaotic.”
Web 2.0 applications may be beginning to meet that need. “We already use our most flexible and user-friendly applications like the phone and e-mail to support informal interactions,” Drakos says, “but that information is not organized or reused and it tends to get lost.”
Over the past seven years, P&G employees have used Web logs and wikis, where users can share and create information collectively, and thousands have created profiles to connect professionally on Facebook and LinkedIn. In January, the Cincinnati-based company began a pilot program that gives employees a single Web-based entry to specialized company content, including news feeds and team rooms, browser-based applications that let groups collaborate on documents. The portal might one day lead to the nascent internal social networking platform Schueller demoed, he says. P&G is also building a company “yellow pages” so workers can find one another by topic area. While Schueller has moments of doubt about the effectiveness of these technologies, he is unequivocal about their role at P&G. “I’m confident that some of these tools will have a permanent place here,” Schueller says. “We have 10,000 people in Facebook and 16,000 in LinkedIn. You can’t deny it.”