Thanks to the influence of Facebook and Twitter, social network services may usurp e-mail as the main method for communications among 20 percent of all business workers, one of five social software predictions issued by Gartner analysts Feb. 2.
Gartner’s Matt Cain said the rigid distinction between e-mail and social networks will erode by 2014, paving the way for social network services as the main vehicle for communication among colleagues in a fifth of knowledge workers.
College-age users from the digital generation are growing up using Facebook and Twitter, which account for more than 400 million users combined worldwide. Many of those users continue to use these services to communicate with colleagues once they enter the workforce, whether their IT managers know it or not.
Indeed, social networking will prove more effective than e-mail for status updates and expertise location, so companies will be building out internal social networks and/or allowing business use of personal social network accounts. In fact, e-mail itself is getting increasingly social, thanks to free plug-ins such as Xobni, Gist and other technologies that inject connections from Facebook and LinkedIn into Microsoft Outlook and Gmail accounts.
“While e-mail is already almost fully penetrated in the corporate space, we expect to see steep growth rates for sales of premises- and cloud-based social networking services,” Cain said.
This bodes well for the burgeoning segment of enterprise-grade social network platforms from the likes of IBM, Microsoft, Cisco, and startups such as Jive Software, Mindtouch and Socialtext, as well as microblogging tool providers Socialcast and Yammer.
A word of caution for the stand-alone microblogging tool providers: You may want to consider differentiating and building out your services, if not selling them outright to the larger companies who need to fill holes in their portfolios. Gartner predicted that while more than 50 percent of enterprises will use activity streams that include microblogging by 2012, stand-alone enterprise microblogging will have less than 5 percent penetration.
“It will be very difficult for microblogging as a stand-alone function to achieve widespread adoption within the enterprise. Twitter’s scale is one of the reasons for its popularity,” said Gartner’s Jeffrey Mann.
Social Software Predictions on BI, Smartphones, IT
Indeed, companies with broad social networking platforms, such as IBM, Socialtext and Mindtouch, have added their own Twitter pixie dust into their suites. That is to say, these companies long ago realized they needed to make microblogging an intrinsic part of their platforms, providing security the public-facing Twitter can’t.
Gartner provided a sobering thought: Whether companies add microblogging tools or comprehensive social software suites such as IBM’s Lotus Connections, more than 70 percent of social media plans facilitated by IT departments will fail through 2012.
These plans need to be driven by business managers, with enterprises cultivating new skill sets developed around social media software. Until this happens, failure rates will remain high.
In another prediction, Gartner said only 25 percent of enterprises will use social network analysis to improve performance and productivity of their social media solutions. Social network analysis, a sort of business intelligence for social software, is being adopted by some businesses.
Jive Software acquired Filtrbox to gain these insight technologies, while Socialcast, Attensity and others are offering social BI. IBM is integrating business intelligence from its Cognos platform into Lotus Connections, a combination that will form the core of its Project Vulcan effort.
But Gartner believes that users may be reluctant to provide accurate responses to surveys because they may resent knowing that software is analyzing their behavior. “For these reasons, social network analysis will remain an untapped source of insight in most organizations,” Gartner said.
Finally, some good news for people who use smartphones for work: Using newfangled collaboration apps should be second nature. Gartner said 70 percent of collaboration and communications applications designed on PCs will be modeled after user experience lessons from collaboration applications built for smartphones.
With 3 billion phones in the world, some users will grow up using their iPhones or Android devices to communicate or collaborate with friends and colleagues. This means with such devices people will be better equipped to handle conversations within a given amount of time than with their PCs simply because they are easier to use.