Despite the nagging recession, a new study found that 94 percent of enterprises plan to maintain or increase their investment in enterprise social media tools such as blogs, wikis and microblogging tools.
Deloitte, Beeline Labs and the Society for New Communications Research surveyed 400 companies that have cultivated internal social networks or online communities, finding that only 6 percent plan to decrease their investment in the recession. The communities surveyed ranged from fewer than 100 members to more than one million members.
Ed Moran, director of product innovation for consultancy Deloitte Services LP and one of the report authors, called the results counterintuitive in light of the recession, noting that while IT, marketing and public relations departments are being cut, companies continue to spend on social software for networking and collaboration.
Companies that go against the grain of belt-tightening by spending on social software underscore the importance of these tools, proving that they are not just a hip trend or fad in the enterprise.
"We call it the anti-fad because people have always been social, talking about companies, products and services," Moran said. "They just never had the mechanism for doing it at any kind of scale. This is not going away and it's not just for kids."
Most of the companies Moran surveyed said they are using social media tools to engage with customers, partners and employees for marketing purposes, with word-of-mouth, customer loyalty, brand awareness, idea generation and customer support quality comprising other community objectives. The need to meet these goals presents great opportunities for enterprise social software makers.
Instead of going on Twitter or Facebook to talk trash about competitors, or to endorse products and services they like (although people still do that, to the chagrin of employers), employees are using blogs, wikis and Twitter-like status update services their companies purchased for them from the aforementioned providers.
Moreover, Moran said he is seeing an uptick in the adoption of analytics software that tracks both active and inactive members to derive insights, something that was barely mentioned even a year ago. Socialcast, Jive and Mzinga, among others, offer this software.
"The enterprise is waking up to the fact that it needs to listen and that it needs business intelligence" for the communities, Moran said. However, this is happening in pockets and is not yet widescale, presenting opportunity for analytics tools providers.
Those survey respondents that are using these tools are paying attention to non-active users or "lurkers," people who observe the community, but don't participate in the discussion. Thirty-two percent of respondents are capturing data on how these individuals derive value from the community. This points to a maturation of the enterprise's use of communities and social media.
Moreover, 20 percent of companies Moran surveyed said they have set up "ambassador" programs, which give outsiders preferential treatment in return for being more active in the community.
Despite this maturation in enterprise social media, companies still report having a hard time getting people to join, remain and/or return to the online communities. Few companies are tackling these challenges, paving the way for dedicated online community manager roles.
"New management strategies and practices will be critical, including redefining the scope and role of alliances as well as the overall boundary of corporations," Moran said.