Enterprise social software may end up as shelfware - software that never gets used or falls into disuse - unless customers make the right efforts to change corporate culture and employee habits, speakers said during the Enterprise 2.0 conference in Boston.
"You can't force collaboration unless you have a culture that aspires to it," said Dan Pontefract, head of learning and collaboration at Canadian telecom Telus, during a panel discussion. "If you just dump a bunch of tools on people, it's not going to work. You might get that 9 or 10 percent [of people engaged], but the other 90 percent is what you want."
For Colliers International, a real estate services company with 12,000 employees and operations in 62 countries, the key seemed to be finding a tool that truly fit the company's mold.
"Real estate is nothing if not a people business," said Rob Gubas, vice president of global marketing, during another session on Wednesday. Colliers built what amounts to "LinkedIn for real estate," an employee profile network that connects workers by category, geographic location and other areas.
"We have a specific goal of more internally driven business referrals," Gubas said. "The only way we can do that is to help people find others who can help them." For example, if Gubas needed someone who could translate marketing copy into Mandarin, the profile system could help him find that person fast, he said.
Colliers has an employee adoption rate for the profiles of more than 80 percent, and expects 100 percent adoption later this year, according to Gubas.
While Colliers' social software implementation has apparently been friction-free so far, it's easy for other companies undergoing projects to make critical mistakes, said Erin Grotts, director of internal communications and collaboration for grocer Supervalu, which has rolled out Yammer to its employees.
"You have to learn how to embrace a lack of control," Grotts said during a panel. "If you try to control [an enterprise social] network too much, you end up killing it."
Also, deleting content from a network, short of clearly inappropriate material, tends to be "the grim reaper," Grotts said. "It will kill your network faster than anything else."
Companies don't have to conduct major rollouts of social software to get real results, either, said Mary Woolf, director of learning technologies at the restaurant company Yum Brands, which has Pizza Hut, KFC and other brands under its umbrella.
Woolf described the concept of a "tweet storm," where employees can submit bite-sized pieces of feedback to company managers via Twitter.
For example, in the next year Yum Brands is updating its learning management system and Twitter would provide employees an easy way to send ongoing tips that could be used to adjust the implementation strategy, Woolf said.
Past Enterprise 2.0 conferences have suffered from a lack of end-user case studies, but that didn't seem to be the case this year. Many presentations were akin to business management seminars rather than technology discussions, with the technical nuts and bolts of the software selection and implementation process kept in the background or not mentioned at all.
Meanwhile, new data released this week by IDC shows that the market for social software is growing quickly.
Nearly every vendor in the category experienced double-digit growth between 2010 and 2011, according to IDC. IBM and Jive grew more than 70 percent, while Yammer jumped 132 percent, taking the top spot in IDC's survey.
This gold rush may have staying power, as customers seem to be embracing the tools they buy, at least for now.
That wasn't the case with older generations of collaboration software, where shelfware can tip toward 80 percent, according to analyst Ray Wang, CEO of Constellation Research. 'If you include only the new stuff over the enterprise 2.0 era, I think that number is closer to 25 to 27 percent," Wang said.
Chris Kanaracus covers enterprise software and general technology breaking news for The IDG News Service. Chris's e-mail address is Chris_Kanaracus@idg.com