For several years I’ve wondered why most of the buzz and activity around social media focused on the external aspects – like marketing and customer service. I suppose it makes sense that attention would initially gravitate to critical activities like selling and listening  to customers – and the endless treadmill of appealing new technology and Web applications designed to engage consumers. But I was befuddled at the more hesitant adoption of social media inside the enterprise, where social media can provide immeasurable benefits to communication, collaboration and productivity. As this recent article suggests, that imbalance may finally be changing.

As noted, the emergence of big technology players like Microsoft (via Sharepoint 2010) and IBM (via Lotus Connections)  in this space is likely to turbo-charge momentum for social media in office cubicles. Smaller players ranging from Socialtext to Yammer and Jive already provide a rich menu of online social applications – like personal profile pages, staff networks, wikis, collaboration tools and micro-blogs. But more, bigger players are now offering comprehensive social platforms that more easily integrate into the organization’s technology ecosystem. I have seen some of the trends first-hand, with clients introducing social media tools using a “trojan horse” strategy through an intranet rebuild using  Sharepoint – complete with internal blog, profile pages and wikis – and others using IBM’s own social media experiments (and success stories) as blueprints for change.

This technology shift seems to reinforce the change in perception from the social enterprise being something fun and optional to something productive and strategic. That said, I would argue there are several reasons for this momentum shift beyond the increased involvement of the technology giants:

  • Staff are asking for it – as younger, tech-savvy workers enter the workforce the demand for social media tools inside organizations has become an unstoppable tide and price-of-entry for top talent;
  • IT is more comfortable – now that known partners like IBM, Microsoft and are becoming  more involved in this space, IT departments (not typically known for their risk-taking mentality) are becoming more supportive and open to experimentation;
  • Piggy-backing on the intranet – earlier enterprise applications were often introduced outside the intranet (or even outside firewalls using cloud software), but more options are now available that fully integrate with corporate intranets – which typically benefit from IT and executive support and robust budgets;
  • Stronger business case – CEO’s focused on ROI and proof-of-concept can be comforted by growing anecdotal and empirical evidence that suggests social media in the enterprise has a positive impact on a range of business goals (notably employee productivity);
  • Eroding firewalls – organizations with ambitious social media outreach programs are finding out it’s difficult – if not illogical – to foster external conversations with consumers and/or pundits while limiting how much their  employees can participate in the same digital platforms, or even talk with each other. Many are now seeing  the wisdom of a fully integrated, multi-audience social media strategy that leverages employees as a key audience, as well as potential messengers and advocates.