Vast majority of Canadian firms dig social media but corporate adoption still very shallow

A majority of Canadian companies believe failure to incorporate social networking technology into their business practices would mean a significant loss of market share.

However, uncertainty over new technology and security concerns, according to a recent survey, is keeping IT and business decision makers from adopting social net tools.

More than 68 per cent of Canadian companies view social networking as the next step in collaborative activities and technology for business, according a survey by Coleman Parkes Research Ltd., a U.K.-based market research firm.

Approximately 40 per cent of the Canadian firms said they fear losing customers to competitors who are already embracing social networking technologies, the survey reported.

The survey, titled: CRM and Social Media: Creating Deeper Customer Relations, was commissioned by Avanade Inc., a global IT consultancy firm. Researchers interviewed 541 top executives including managers, lines-of-business managers, IT managers and sales and marketing executives from North America, Europe and the Asia Pacific Region. The respondents were queried about the perceptions about social media as well as current and planned corporate social networking programs and policies.

“There appears to be a greater apathy towards social media among executives in other countries as compared to those in Canada,” said Mike Pazak, vice president for business solutions at Avanade. The IT consultancy and technology integrator is currently rolling out a service aimed to help organizations of various sizes to incorporate customizable social networking tools into their operations.

As a whole, more than 60 per cent of the respondents say integrating social media technologies into their business processes is not on their agenda. Of that number, close to 67 per cent of American firms said they had no immediate social networking plans. But, only 50 per cent of Canadian respondents indicated the shared the same sentiment.

In excess of 87 per cent of Canadian companies agree that they will be forced increase the use of social networking media and technologies to meet the expectations of younger employees.

A large majority of the Canadian firms also perceived key benefits in the use of social net tools would include: improved customer and employee feedback (78 per cent); reduction in support issue resolution time (78 per cent); and creation of a forward looking image (89 per cent).

Most of the Canadian respondents (83 per cent) believe social networking will come into their business “by stealth” if they do not proactively manage the technology’s adoption. This means employees could use social networking tools without management approval.

But despite these seemingly enlightened views only 16 per cent of the Canadian firms have fully integrated social networking tools into their corporate environments.

These views are echoed by earlier remarks from various government and private sector executives currently employing social networking tools in their organizations.

“There’s a general sense that if we don’t move in this direction the public will force us there anyway,” says Karl Cunningham, head of Ontario’s e-Government Branch.

The province is employing a variety of Web 2.0 tools such as wikis, RSS and blogs to enable government employees to share information and collaborate on various projects.

Dalton McGuinty, Ontario’s premier has a personal video blog on YouTube and the Ontario Ministry of Agriculture Food and Rural Affairs hosts a podcast that is popular with the province’s farming community, Cunningham said.

However, Cunningham said, the Ontario government is slow in adopting these technologies because privacy and security concerns weigh heavy on its agenda.

Pazak of Avanade said fear of using new technology and security concerns are universal concerns among organizations worldwide.

The survey showed that key barriers to the adoption of social media were: security concerns (76 per cent); senior management apathy (57 per cent);and fear of using new technology (58 per cent).

The survey indicated that more than half of the respondents worried about negative impact on productivity of allowing social networking media use in the work environment. “Many were apparently afraid that employees would just waste their time of Facebook,” said Pazak.

Tellingly, three out of five respondents agreed that their senior managers do not understand the potential benefits that social networking tools offer employees and customers.

“When implemented properly and accompanied with the appropriate policies, social media can vastly improve employee productivity, business process and customer contact,” said Pazak.

For example, chats, blogs and wikis can streamline communication and information sharing within the company.

The same tools, Pazak said, can improve customer contact if the technology were incorporated to existing customer relations management (CRM) systems.

For instance, he said, companies could make wikis that provide product information and technical support solutions to customers to ease the burden on contact centre and tech support agents and shorten problem resolution times.

“If you can provide the customer more information that could help in diagnosing a product issue, they could have a better idea of what problem is and routing their call would be easier.”

He said one international bank that has sought help from Avanade is also using collaborative tools to connect customers that might need each others help.

The bank, which Pazak did not identity hosts a Website which enables clients to contact other bank customers that might have a service or product that is useful to the client.

“These bank knows that any deal that arises between their clients has the potential of bringing in new business their way,” said Pazak.

Here are 10 Canadian firms making waves and money with Web 2.0.

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Jim Love, Chief Content Officer, IT World Canada

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