Social nets will 'transform corporate strategy'

Social networking website tools increasingly act as interfaces between organisations and their markets, as consumers use them as primary tools for discovering options and informing decisions.

Cisco Systems has found that such tools are bypassing conventional strategies for sales and marketing, product and corporate branding, and staff recruitment. Unless organisations now proactively devise policies that define their use of social network tools, the study claims, they face greater competitive disadvantage.

The research, ‘Social Networks and Collaboration Tools for Enterprises’, is based on interviews conducted by three business schools with 105 subjects in 97 organisations in 20 countries worldwide. Only 20 per cent of its participants said that they had specific policies in place concerning the use of consumer-based social networking technologies in the enterprise. Many organisations remain at an early stage of understanding the implications and challenges of such tools, including the ‘need for increased governance and IT involvement, which may impact the integration and adoption of these new platforms and technologies’ the report suggests.

The study highlights that social networking governance often pulls in a wider range of stakeholders than more conventional corporate initiatives do, because organisations have not defined who should manage externally-facing social media strategies. Only 10 per cent of respondents confirmed the direct involvement of their IT departments in such initiatives.

The influence of social networking tools opens the way to successive generations of applications that will have an even greater impact on the way enterprises function, says Cisco Europe’s head of collaboration solutions Tim Stone. “Organisations aren’t just using social networking for marketing and communications activities, but are also using them to improve the efficiency of their business internally – and their ability to collaborate with stakeholders, partners, and customers externally, ” he says. “The proliferation of consumer-based social networking throughout the enterprise will drive further development.”

Stone believes that the rise of social networking’s importance to enterprise strategy will cause a radical overhaul of IT usage rules – such as web and email Acceptable Usage Policies – and even change how employment contracts are scoped.

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