Two recent surveys of leading companies point to the progress and potential – but also the challenges – of engaging in social media. Great context for those wondering  what everybody else is doing.

First up…a new survey of 400 global companies by Deloitte, which focused on the perceived benefits and potential of online communities – or “tribalization of business”. The headline of this study is: good progress and plenty of promise…but it’s tough to find the right formula for maximum success.  As the survey puts it: “While enterprises are effectively using online tools to engage with customers, partners, and employees for brand discussion and idea generation, organizations are continuing to struggle with harnessing social media’s full potential.”

Key takeaways include:

  • There are signs that company use of social media is maturing,  with the notable example of a shift to consider online “lurkers” (or observers) rather than just active users in online communities
  • Companies still struggle with the main obstacles of building online communities – getting users to join, stay engaged and return – and use participation as the main metric for success (the study suggests there are more useful analytics, such as search engine rank and links/citations on other sites)
  • The  top business objectives for online communities are (in order): increasing word-of-mouth, customer loyalty and brand awareness

The Deloitte authors provide an interesting prescription to companies engaged in social media that reflects the need for a new perspective and approach:

  • Think tribe – not market segment
  • Think network – not channel
  • Think customer-centricity – not company-centricity

The folks at McKinsey have also spent a considerable amount of their grey matter studying the implementation and impact of social media. One of their most interesting products is an interactive report on Web 2.0 featuring results from their annual survey of 1,700 business executives. (FYI – You may need to register to access the full report.) The survey provides a great snapshot of where companies are investing, what they’re trying to achieve and what technology they are deploying.

Too many findings to show here, but here are some highlights (I’m sticking to Top 3 for each):

  • Most important technologies and tools: Blogs, social networking, wikis
  • Technology/tools being used internally for developing products & services: wikis, blogs, social networks
  • Technology/tools being used internally for managing knowledge: wikis, blogs, RSS
  • Technology/tools being used internally for enhancing company culture: blogs, social networking, podcasts
  • Technology/tools being used internally for fostering  collaboration: blogs, social networking, wikis
  • Technology/tools being used internally for training: videos, wikis, podcasts
  • Technology/tools being used internally for finding and recruiting  talent: social networks, blogs, videos

Not surprisingly, the mix of tools used to interact with partners and customers differs from the internal recipe…as do the objectives. In fact, it’s interesting to look at what McKinsey has categorized as main objectives for each audience:

  • Partners: achieving better integration, lowering purchase costs, developing  products, solving problems
  • Customers: acquiring new customers, improving customer service, developing products, helping customers interact, marketing
  • (Employee objectives are noted above.)

There were a couple of surprises for me in the findings. One is the relatively low ranking for micro-blogging…which belies the hype for Twitter and similar internal applications (e.g. Yammer). The other is the low profile of “prediction markets” – which I take to include crowd-sourcing platforms popularized by Dell and Starbucks. Perhaps the most disappointing  (though not surprising) finding is that senior executives are the lowest users of Web 2.0 technology. Therein lies one of the biggest challenges for communication and marketing professionals – it’s hard to sell Web 2.0 strategies to executives who don’t use or understand the technology.