Indeed, said Phil Robinson, director of relationship marketing for TakeThirdStreet.com, at this point ignoring social is like ignoring online would have been a decade ago.
"It can now be said that a successful enterprise has to be social," said Robinson. "A very real and inexorable shift is occurring, and that change is moving the primary focus of online consumers away from search and toward networking. This shift is not restricted only to online transactions, but online activity of any kind. It's no longer about finding what I want, it's about being able to interact with who I care about. This is how social networking is quickly becoming essential for any business. People now expect a two-way street online, where for so long, it was all one way. ... People expect to be able to say something back, and they are certainly doing so."
That expectation for conversation is one of the chief reasons why companies need to be thinking about developing a social presence if they haven't already, said Stephanie Ciccarelli, chief marketing officer at Voices.com. "Businesses need to have a presence and to engage with their customers online both proactively and responsively," she said. "Being part of the conversation shows that a company is aware of the conversation, is validating the conversation through participation, and that it cares. ... It is actually riskier to not have a presence and to let conversations go on without you."
Companies that have not ventured into social waters, either internally or externally, typically name fears about security and productivity as their main reasons for holding back. And these fears are well-founded, said Nick Arvanitis, principal security consultant at IT services provider Dimension Data Americas.
"While there are numerous benefits to social media, any astute CSO or CIO will be quick to mention that there are serious risks," said Arvanitis. "For instance, social engineering attacks, one of the oldest and most difficult attacks to protect against, rely on trust and personal information. People provide all sorts of personal information on social media and sometimes even connect with a hacker unknowingly, granting them access to their interests, preferences, activities, friends, etc. Social media is a goldmine for hackers. If one is able to exploit one individual in a company, they will likely be able to infiltrate the company itself. Humans have always been the weakest link when it comes to security, and this hasn't changed. Additionally, malware today can be found in posts on Facebook, links on Twitter, or embedded in third-party applications."
Just as with any new computing shift, risk must be measured against reward, and tools for mitigating risk must be considered.
"In the end, each company must look at what is best for their unique situation," said Arvanitis. "Companies must weigh their risk profile against the relevant security policy and risk assessment, as well as the benefits they could realize from social media. Factors that will affect a company's approach to social media include the size of the company, whether it is privately or publicly owned, what industry the business is in, compliance standards, and more."
While the benefits of using external social networking tools such as Facebook, Twitter, and Google+ may be increasingly clear and difficult to ignore, the use of internal social networking platforms and tools can be more difficult to justify. Platforms such as IBM Connections and Salesforce.com Chatter enable companies to achieve more productive collaboration and increased agility, but, depending on the organization, they often require huge cultural shifts and can cause integration and regulatory compliance issues.
With any implementation of social applications, tools or processes, it's important for companies to first determine what they want to achieve and to develop some kind of metrics for success. But to ignore social altogether may be the biggest risk of all, say experts.
"There is no doubt that the online landscape has transitioned into a social world," said TakeThirdStreet.com's Robinson. "And there is no doubt that businesses need to adapt to that social environment or be left behind.
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