One of the interesting but (so far) often unnoticed aspects of the social media boom is the rapid growth of proprietary social networks established by businesses to facilitate online collaboration. While still a relatively small subset of the social universe, "enterprise" social media is expanding at a double-digit pace according to Gartner, which sees worldwide spending on enterprise social media software jumping 14.9% from $578.2 million in 2009 to $664 million in 2010. Looking ahead, Gartner sees spending on enterprise social media software increasing another 15.7% to $769.2 million in 2011.
Tom Eid, research vice president at Gartner, noted "the demand for flexible environments in which participants can connect, create, share and find people and information relevant to their work," as well as the obvious benefits of maintaining a customer-facing social media presence. At the same time, proprietary social networks offer businesses more security, management and compliance features than consumer-oriented sites like Facebook and Twitter, according to InternetNews.com, which cited the example of Salesforce.com using a Twitter analogue called Chatter.
Enterprise social media is also growing to include proprietary blogs, bookmarks, discussion forums, presence, profiles, rating engines, tagging and wikis, enabling product reviews and testing, brand marketing, community development.
Meanwhile cloud computing and software as a service (SAAS) are also lowering costs for smaller businesses which might not otherwise set up proprietary social networks, InternetNews.com reports. Of the 80 vendors tracked by Gartner, 50 offer enterprise social media solutions based on cloud computing or SAAS.
Returning to the security issue, there's no question that bosses are worried about potential security breaches resulting from workers accessing consumer-oriented social networks from the workplace. But I doubt that establishing proprietary social networks will do anything to resolve these issues, since employees won't be able to communicate with non-work friends (or play Farmville) on company networks.
Indeed, according to the Cisco 2010 Midyear Security Report (based on a global survey) 50% of the employees surveyed said they ignored corporate policies which ban social media in the workplace, and over one quarter of the employees surveyed said they had changed the security settings on their work computers so they can carry on their social media activities unhindered. Meanwhile Clearswift, a software security company, found that 57% of workers ages 25-34 do personal tasks like checking social networks, emailing, and online shopping while in the workplace.