Some companies have moved past the pilot stage and are enjoying serious benefits from social technologies used inside the business. For example, at IBM, social networking isn't just for spreading the word to customers. Employees use an internal Facebook-like network to find colleagues with the skills they need to solve pesky customer problems. Business travel site Egencia uses an internal social media platform to host Know Your Enemy feeds that give salespeople the competitive intelligence to win deals. And software giants such as Microsoft and Google use crowdsourcing (large numbers of relatively low-paid users recruited over the Web) to test applications more quickly and less expensively than they could in-house.
A recent Forrester survey shows only 28% of U.S. workers use social networking, and most of them are early adopters who are only testing the waters for its internal purposes. For example, Dell is regarded as a leading user of social media. It maintains several internal blogs for employees and uses the Chatter add-on to Salesforce.com to share information among its sales staff. But chief blogger Lionel Menchaca says that most of the users are early adopters, and only about 5,000 of Dell's more than 100,000 employees have taken company-offered courses on social technology.
Gartner's research shows that, in 2007 and 2008, about 80% of companies were using social technology for marketing and 20% internally, but analyst Bradley recently wrote that "the mix has since shifted closer to 50/50." A fall 2011 Frost & Sullivan survey showed 56% of surveyed organizations using social technology for professional purposes; of those, nearly 6 in 10 used it for internal purposes such as internal communication, training, and (for 4 out of 10) to "foster team spirit" or to "increase job satisfaction."
Collaboration: Social tech's low-hanging fruit
One enthusiastic user is grocery giant Supervalu, which operates or supplies 4,200 grocery stores under about a dozen brand names. It now has 8,000 users of the social networking platform Yammer, a number expected to nearly double this year in a move to increase collaboration, says CIO Wayne Shurts. One example: Managers of stores operating under different brands used Yammer to coordinate a campaign offering college students small refrigerators stuffed with discount coupons to generate repeat visits.
IBM's internally developed Connections platform includes capabilities such as text chat, video, blogging, and document sharing, and it's searched about 1 million times a week, says Luis Benitez, a social software product manager at IBM. He himself used it to find an IBM expert who, unbeknownst to Benitez, was working at the same floor of the same building. Connections is also helpful for gathering answers to RFPs in a single place rather than creating a string of unwieldy emails, he says.