The use of social networks such as Facebook and Twitter in enterprises require much greater governance and oversight than is currently practiced, according to a new study sponsored by Cisco's services group.
Cisco commissioned three business schools, the IESE Business School in Spain, E. Philip Saunders College of Business at the Rochester Institute of Technology in the U.S., and Henley Business School in the United Kingdom, to assess how companies use consumer-facing social networking tools to share information.
Researchers from the schools conducted interviews with 105 participants from 97 organizations in 20 countries between April and September 2009. Participating companies included tape maker 3M UK & Ireland, photo giant Kodak Company, healthcare IT concern Cerner Corporation and new media marketer Carrot Creative.
Of the companies interviewed, 75 percent admitted to using Facebook and other consumer-facing social networks, while 50 percent of respondents admitted to using Twitter extensively in the workplace, Neil Hair, assistant professor of marketing at Rochester Institute of Technology, told eWEEK.
Use of these tools is spread across diverse business departments, from marketing and public relations, to human resources and sales and customer service groups.
The use of these tools in businesses ranges from regular to rampant, yet Hair said only one in seven of the companies that participated in the research admitted to having a formal process associated with using consumer-facing social networking tools for business purposes.
Moreover, only one in 10 respondents reported direct involvement from their IT staffs in corporate social networking initiatives.
Leaving IT staffs out of the mix seems counterintuitive for companies who rely on these experts to secure their proprietary data, which can be compromised by the social networks employees use.
The results come two months after Cisco began its first official foray into enterprise social networking with Cisco Enterprise Collaboration Platform, Show and Share video application and Pulse network tagging software.
Ideally, Cisco will use the info from the study to lure more enterprises to its social software, supported by Cisco services, Nick Earle, senior vice president for Cisco Services in Europe, told eWEEK in a recent interview.
Earle said that with no standard practice for governing use of Facebook, Twitter and other consumer services, IT departments heads find themselves clashing with employees who are using these tools because they prefer they not use them. "These are two ends of the same problem," Earle said.
"It's almost as if the IT department has been bypassed entirely with the use of these sorts of tools," Hair added.
The unstructured nature of social networking, Earle and Hair noted, makes it harder for companies to struggle with policy creation and adoption. Borrowing governance processes from IT won't work for social networking.
Earle added that social networking in businesses is here to stay and will continue to evolve in shape and complexity. Companies need to embrace the change, rather than fight it. "People are using this stuff on PCs or mobile devices inside the firewall," he said.
That's why Cisco is working hard to prepare customers for the social networking snowball, noting that there is great opportunity in selling businesses "corporate versions of social networking tools."
That would include IBM Lotus Connections, Jive Software and Cisco's Enterprise Collaboration Platform, among hundreds of other solutions.
Of course, financial institution such as Barclays Capital, block these consumer-facing sites with prejudice, so it's not out of the realm of possibility that some companies could go that route if creating a governance policy for social software is more trouble than it is worth.
And that's a great question to conclude with for readers: Is creating a corporate policy for public social software use worth the trouble, or should businesses simply ban the tools outright?