Social Media Tools on a Budget

by Michael Marchionda - Before inexpensive social media tools emerged on the market a few years ago, organizations looking to improve internal communications were hard-pressed to find tools that suited not only their business requirements, but their budget too. These tools were expensive to buy and implement, and many organizations’ business requirements went unmet due to budgetary constraints.

For organizations looking to implement social media tools, there’s good news: the price of these tools has come down over the last few years. According to the preliminary results of Prescient’s 2010 Intranet 2.0 Global Study, 47% of organizations spend $10,000 or less on social media tools.

The good news is that budgets are no longer the main issue preventing companies from getting the social media tools they need. The bad news is that projects are getting off the ground, but are still failing, mostly due to a lack of planning in the early stages of the project. The reduction of costs offers a valuable opportunity for organizations to shift their focus from purchasing these tools to planning for them.

For the purpose of comparison, it may be useful to first look at how organizations are using social media tools for external purposes, as they are better known and more obvious than the uses of social media internally. According to the 2010 Social Media Marketing Report, most uses of external social media (by marketers mostly) are related to SEO (search engine optimization). Some of the top uses include:

  • Generating exposure for an organization
  • Increasing traffic/subscribers/opt-in list
  • Forming new business partnerships with customers.

The Big 3 (Twitter, Facebook and LinkedIn) are still the top three social media sites used by marketers (at 88%, 87% and 78% respectively). Besides their widespread popularity, the advantage that these applications all have in common is that they’re all free. But it’s easy to be successful (and tell people about it) when the adoption of social media tools comes with no risk to your budget. So how are similar tools being used internally, and for what purpose?

Organizations that have delved into cheap social media tools are applying them in various ways, and a few use them with great success. According to a recent study by Forrester Research, the use cases for internal social media are (not surprisingly) very different than those for external social media. Some organizations are beginning to take advantage of cheap social media tools and are able to achieve high levels of employee engagement and are beginning to break down the silos of information contained in employees’ email boxes, as one example states below. The surveyed organizations reported their top three business uses for social media from an internal or workplace perspective, and the following statistics emerged:

  • 52% use social media to capture and share knowledge, probably as an attempt to thwart the rampant overuse of email in organizations, which is already too high and wastes time (the Center for Media Research estimates that 30% of a knowledge worker’s time is already spent looking for information).
  • 51% use social media for corporate communications purposes (an alternative to an enterprise-wide email blast, for example).
  • 48% use social media to modernize the intranet portal, and for good reason. According to the Social Intranet Whitepaper, 39% of 18 to 24 year-old employees would consider leaving their employer if they were not allowed to access sites like Facebook and YouTube. Regardless of whether or not an organization decides to allow these tools, it should at least incorporate the principles behind them into their intranet to utilize the proven effects they have on engaging employees. Some of the more popular applications on today’s intranets include staff/corporate directory, profile pages including skills sets and details of their jobs, expertise, and calendars (both shared and individual) to coordinate internal meetings and events. In other words, information about people is popular right now and should be supported by tools that encourage relationship-building.

Despite the low cost of social media tools, many organizations aren’t happy with them. A staggering 30% of executives rate their satisfaction levels with their organization’s intranet 2.0 tools as poor or very poor. So the fact that satisfaction levels are low even though technology is cheap is somewhat of a conundrum.

Part of the reason satisfaction levels are low is that organizations fail to plan. Buying and implementing these tools is one thing; planning for them and choosing the right ones is an entirely different but equally important process. Therefore, you need to develop a strategy during the crucial assessment and planning phases that should be a part of any intranet redevelopment project. Amongst others, the important stages in this process include:

  • Calculating current satisfaction levels with different aspects of an intranet and comparing this information to their perceived importance (i.e. identifying gaps and determining the best ways to fill them).
  • Determining business requirements with stakeholders (through focus groups, user surveys, interviews).
  • Developing strategic goals and objectives with executives (vision and mission statements).

What we can expect to see, once the low cost of social media tools becomes even cheaper, and more people learn that a small technology budget can take you a long way, is more organizations satisfying their business requirements without budget being a factor. That’s not to say that implementing these tools is risk-free, but that the focus needs to shift from spending money on technology to the strategy behind its implementation.

Want to receive new Prescient articles automatically? Subscribe to our mailing list.

Related articles

Intranet strategy - planning a successful intranet

Social media tools: the best for your intranet 2.0

Technology, the intranet, and employee productivity

The Business Value of Intranet 2.0

Applying the KISS principle to your social intranet case

Winning Support for your Intranet/Intranet 2.0 Initiatives