Facebook, MySpace and Twitter, along with blogs, wikis, RSS feeds and other messaging and collaboration tools, are finding their way into the workplace as enterprise applications. Analysts from Nielsen Norman, IDC and Gilbane say front-line workers are leading the charge, forcing senior management to go with the flow or stem the tide. The Facebook Generation wants to network with colleagues to communicate and collaborate.
Despite hype surrounding the use of wikis, blogs, social
networks and other tools in the workplace, social software in businesses is
still more of a grassroots effort led by frontline users than it is a
company-wide collaboration practice, according to a new Nielsen Norman Group
The user experience research firm cased 14 companies in
six countries for the 168-page report, "Enterprise 2.0: Social Software
Intranets: A Report From the Front Lines of Enterprise Social Software
Projects," co-authored by Patty Caya and Jakob Nielsen. Participants
include IBM, BT, Intel, Sun Microsystems and Sprint Nextel; other
companies preferred anonymity.
"Underground adoption of off-the-shelf Web 2.0 tools
might seem out of character in the enterprise, but users see the value of these
tools and are more often than executives able to translate that value to an
internal use," said Jakob Nielsen, principal of Nielsen Norman Group.
The front-line workers, a kind of
Facebook Generation, are leading this adoption. Members of this
group are typically 20-somethings just out of college, or even those who
have been using social tools for four or five years. Such workers have been groomed
on social networks such as MySpace and Facebook, or even hosted their own blogs
through Blogger, Movable Type, WordPress or some other platform.
"As social tools begin to shape workers' expectations for
how they get things done, it raises expectations for how they collaborate and
communicate and participate in content development," said Nielsen Norman
Group user-experience specialist Patty Caya. "The social Web has turned
consumers into producers and this will impact how they work."
Accordingly, these workers expect blogs, wikis, RSS feeds
and other outlets in the workplace. Nielsen found that many senior managers
still consider social tools something their teenagers use, highlighting a
disconnect between management and their subordinates.
Managers risk losing workers who expect innovation in the
outside world to reflect directly on how they communicate at work. Herein lies
the Catch-22: Adopting such tools too quickly can trigger a culture clash that
leads to unintended consequences, such as information leaks.
These managers "are turning a blind eye to
underground social software efforts until they prove their worth, after which
they integrate them more thoroughly," Nielsen said, noting that the tools
are a means to an end for solving business problems.