Email and Posters Still Outrank Social Media As a Communication Tool. Are You OK With That?

By Ethan Yarbrough posted 09-14-2010 00:46


Here’s a funny comment that showed up in my Twitter stream today. From @devpatnaik:  

25 yrs ago, there was a push to make hospitals work like businesses. Now they work like businesses...from 25 yrs ago.

I think I was struck by that comment because of a convergence of thoughts based on things I’ve been reading. These sources have me wondering whether business will ever catch up with the consumer world when it comes to technology adoption. And has me wondering about the implications if we don’t.

First was this article from the Seattle Times discussing the rise of SharePoint. It gets into how SharePoint integrates with the Office suite and can have a positive impact on the productivity and efficiency of work processes in a business. It discusses some of the social tools of SharePoint 2010. But the article ends with this comment from Goldman Sachs analyst Sara Friar:

"Things like Facebook and LinkedIn are taking over where SharePoint leaves off. I would worry [that] Microsoft gets left behind if they don't move quickly to embrace social media as well," she said.

"They're trusted by enterprises, but upstarts like a with Chatter can quickly come along and usurp them because they're not cool on the bleeding edge. Microsoft is always a bit slower."

My question here is simply this: does “cool” and “bleeding edge” drive the technology decision-making decisions of most businesses? Not in my experience. In fact, just the opposite is true in my experience: “cool” and “bleeding” edge are seen as risky and as potentially expensive money pits. Businesses, in my experience, want the boring, stable, sure-to-be-there-in-5-years technology company. That’s who they buy from.

Next I came across this press release from the International Association of Business Communicators (IABC). In it IABC reports on a survey they’ve recently completed that finds that “email and intranets are the top communication methods used to engage employees.”  The findings are interesting and paint a picture of corporate communications that rings true with my observations. Here is a sampling of what the survey found:


  • Email: 83%
  • Intranet: 75%
  • Face-to-face: 54%
  • Website: 47%
  • Print newsletter: 31%
  • Posters: 28%
  • Social Media: 12%

When the businesses do use social media, Facebook, Twitter and Instant Messaging ranked as the most popular. To me it’s a shock to see posters outrank social media by a factor of more than 2-to-1.

What these figures say to me is that not only is business slow to adopt new tools, but it is also very good at developing ingrained, intractable habits. Email is at the top of the list. That entered business when – 20-25 years ago? Posters – what is that, 1,000 year old technology?

Sure, Intranets are there. That’s Web-based. So that’s slightly newer technology. But that brings me to the final piece I read this week that’s been weighing on my mind. It’s the cover article in the September 2010 issue of Wired magazine. Have you seen it? Bright orange cover, bold black letters emblazoned across it: The Web is Dead.

That was just provocative enough to make me buy it.

Inside the article strikes a slightly less apocalyptic tone. Essentially what the articles authors’, Chris Anderson and Michael Wolff, are saying is that browser based content consumption is quickly becoming a thing of the past as we move now into an app-based content consumption era. The Web will be eclipsed by apps that receive information pushed across the internet and delivered to mobile devices. I can certainly attest to seeing that shift occurring in my own behavior.

Why then, does this Wired article connect in my mind with the findings of the IABC study? Because it shows yet again the gulf – and a widening one at that – between the capabilities and the practices of the consumer world and those of the business world.

Why is that significant? Because consumers go to work in businesses. Outside of work they’re empowering themselves with go-anywhere, compute-anywhere, app-enabled mobile devices for communication and collaboration. Inside the business they get posters.

Businesses don’t want to buy technology that is at the bleeding edge of cool. Because they see that as frivolous? They want technology that will deliver a positive ROI. I can’t fault them for that. But what is the ROI of not having technology in place that allows employees to have a communication experience at work that more closely matches the experience they have outside of work?

And when you compare the IABC study with the point that Wired makes, it's hard not to feel like business just got lapped again.

I’ve written here already about the impact to employee retention of failing to give your workforce the tools they need. And the cost of lost talent factors into my thinking here too. But in my mind this goes beyond the problem of an unsatisfied workforce. It gets to the heart of what we say we’re trying to do in running our businesses – increase efficiencies, reduce costs, improve innovation and customer service to increase revenues. How can we say that on the one hand and carry such primitive tools in the other hand?

#mobile #IABC #evolutionofbusiness #sharepoint2010 #innovation #Collaboration #apps