Social Media and Enterprise Communications: Where the Intersection Lies

Published: 3 May 2010

By Melanie Turek, Industry Principal, Frost & Sullivan

Even before most companies have adopted full-fledged unified communications technologies, they are already onto the next big thing: Social media in the enterprise. Many UC vendors are offering integration with consumer sites such as Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn. Others are selling their own versions of social media applications, such as Socialtext and IBM Lotus Connections.

As managers decide how, whether and when to use social media in their organizations, here are some issues they should consider:

  • The use of social media in the enterprise requires clear policies. It is not enough to simply expect people to "do the right thing." This is true whether employees are using social media for outbound marketing and sales, or for internal communication and collaboration, but the policies around each scenario will be different.
  • Simply setting policies is not enough to ensure they are followed. Treat these rules as you would any other important intellectual-property and corporate-behavior practices, and make sure employees know what's expected of them before they use the tools.
  • Use public social networks for marketing, branding and sales, and private enterprise-grade software for internal collaboration. The best way to reach your clients and prospects is where they live in the online social world—and those are public sites. But if you are sharing and working on confidential corporate documents and information, you don't want that out there for all the world to see. Even if you use privacy settings to “secure” who sees your data on public sites, you never know which “friends” will choose to share that information with others—innocently, or not. Also, the privacy settings of public sites are always changing, and you don't want your employees to get caught off guard.
  • Recognize that internal management and corporate culture will need to change as your employees embrace the use of social media. Expectations around information sharing, for example, cannot stay the same. Some people may share knowledge outside the corporate walls in an effort to drive collaboration, build the brand, and ultimately improve the business' bottom line; it's critical to understand when such sharing is acceptable, and when it isn't.
  • As employees spend more time with social media, thinking around intellectual property is also ripe for change. Social networking is a bit like open-source software: sharing information is key to everyone's success, and will ultimately make the final product better. Of course, most companies are hoping to develop and sell proprietary products and services—which makes open collaboration a benefit and a curse.
  • You can't patent ideas, but the question of who owns all the chatter floating around Facebook and Twitter remains an open one. (Indeed, the sites themselves might claim that they do.) Obviously, corporate information remains the property of the corporation. But what about ideas employees express and publicize on social media sites? In the past, what existed in people's heads went with them when they left the company; now, if it's been made available for all to see, does it belong to them—or the company for which they worked at the time of posting?
  • Managing information is an increasingly difficult challenge. Unified communications is designed to make it easier and faster for people to get the information they need when they need it, based on the understanding that much of that information resides with human beings, and not applications or machines. But with everyone posting updates and links to social media sites on a regular basis, the sheer volume of data is overwhelming. Look for search and organizational tools to come down the enterprise communications pipe.

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