Social networking has been one of the most profound innovations to sweep the world. Today, it accounts for around 20% of all Internet traffic, a huge increase considering it was virtually zero five years ago, according to ComScore, says Frank Reinelt, senior director for Northern Europe & Emerging Markets at Mindjet.
Outside of work, users mix and match dozens of different tools, from Facebook and Twitter to social file-sharing tools such as Dropbox and Google Docs.

So, have the widely deployed enterprise social networks ridden this wave of popularity, redefining how we do business? Not quite – yet.

According to the InformationWeek 2013 Social Networking in the Enterprise survey, its third such report since 2010, the landscape is more or less the same as in prior years; with only 18% of the IT pro respondents saying their internal programmes are a “great success”, and non-IT respondents tending to be even less enthusiastic about their internal social networks.

Given that McKinsey & Co. has forecast potential productivity gains from this of 20 to 30%, this is surprising.

Technology researcher, Gartner has found that, although social technologies are employed by 70% of organisations, currently only 10% of social collaboration initiatives succeed. According to its studies, most of these are failing because they follow a worst practice approach of “provide and pray”, with employees being offered little education or incentive to use the tools to their full capabilities.

“Without a well-crafted and compelling purpose, most social media initiatives will fail to deliver business value,” comments Anthony Bradley, group VP at Gartner.
“This provide and pray approach provides access to a social collaboration technology and prays something comes good of it, like a community forming and participants’ interactions naturally delivering business value.

“As a result, this approach sees a 10% success rate, and the underlying reason is usually that the organisation did not provide a compelling cause around which a community could form and be motivated to provide their time and knowledge. In other words, purpose was lacking.”

Most of us are used to more traditional methods of communication in the office, such as e-mails, meetings and conference calls, and it is easier to stick with the familiar rather than invest time in learning something new – even though we are comfortable communicating via Facebook and Twitter on our own time.

But then social tools are only really useful if everybody is using them, otherwise people can be at risk of missing messages and subsequently their productivity decreasing. To get everyone on board, there has to be a compelling cause, or purpose as Gartner calls it. This incentive will vary from business to business, but the payoff of having everybody on the same page is worth the time and effort.

However, Gartner also warn that if you have to create interest among users, especially through costly incentives, you’ve chosen the wrong purpose.

With this in mind, here are some ways you can innovate the way you communicate, as you transition into a social enterprise.

Enterprise social networking
Many employers limit access to, or outright ban, the use of personal social networks in the office, with employees acquiring and sharing information and communicating through the traditional channels previously mentioned. While these mediums are an essential part of running a business, the phenomenon of the social network cannot be ignored, hence the emergence of enterprise social networks.

Enterprise social platforms work just like traditional social networks, but are designed with the business in mind. Yammer and Chatter, for example, both have a home feed similar to Facebook, allowing employees to follow each other’s updates and post messages to the whole company at once.

Social collaboration
Social collaboration tools allow employees to work on projects together remotely; allowing them to exchange knowledge, share ideas and files and record progress, whether your company spans seven cubicles or seven continents.

One good example is Mindjet’s own mind-mapping software. This platform allows multiple users to edit in real-time in the cloud and is ideal for getting an overview of a project, seeing what needs to be done and tracking when it needs to be done by.

Similarly, Mindjet’s task management interface allows users to designate tasks to themselves and others, follow status updates of tasks or the project as a whole, while on the go.

A social enterprise
McKinsey & Co. forecasts that $900-billion to $1,3-trillion in annual economic value is created through the use of social technologies, two-thirds of that coming from social collaboration between and within companies.

Will that potential be realised? No, not if companies continue to approach enterprise social networking the way they are today, by not connecting business needs and technology capabilities, and not driving usage.

So, how do you get people to get behind these new tools? Firstly, you need to pick your purpose, spell out the benefits and keep repeating them – eventually the message will get through. The purpose should naturally motivate people to participate.

This is the “what’s in it for me” characteristic. Users should easily grasp its importance and the value and potential of participating. The purpose must have meaning to the participants. If you have to create interest among users, especially through costly incentives, you have chosen the wrong purpose. The purpose should also have a clear business outcome.

This is the “what’s in it for the organisation” characteristic. Choose purposes where organisational value can be clearly measured and shared with the community as feedback and motivation to continue participating.

Secondly, designate a “super group” of users from different areas of the business whose job it is to champion your new tool and encourage people to fully utilise it.

Finally, remember that persistence pays off. People will not change their habits overnight, but if you keep the momentum up, people will come around.

By combining social networking tools with enterprise collaboration, businesses can dramatically change the way they work. Social networking means saving megabytes of crucial inbox room, while social collaboration saves the time-consuming task of sending documents back and forth. When using both of these together, a business really can turn in to a truly social enterprise.