When Facebook filed for its initial public offering early this month, it made news around the world. With 800 million users, Facebook is the world’s largest social networking site. The Wall Street Journal said that the company’s public offering later this spring could be “on track for one of the biggest U.S. stock-market debuts of all time,” with a potential value of between $75 billion and $100 billion.

The success of Facebook has spawned all sorts of similar social media programs directed at the enterprise. Traditional software companies like Microsoft and IBM have introduced their own social collaboration tools — Microsoft SharePoint and IBM Connections. Cloud CRM software giant Salesforce integrated the social collaboration tool Chatter into its service last year. And Jive Software, which provides social software for the enterprise, went public at the end of last year, raising $120 million. The company recently released its first earnings report, which showed sales growth of 53 percent over the last year.

Clearly businesses are keen to jump on the social enterprise bandwagon, even though they may be conflicted about which tools are worthwhile. A recent report from InformationWeek showed that 24 percent of companies block employee access to Facebook and 25 percent block access to Twitter. Yet companies are rolling out internal enterprise-focused social collaboration tools in hopes that they will facilitate a more efficient workforce.

An InformationWeek report released Jan. 30 showed the employees are adopting these enterprise tools begrudgingly, if at all. Only 13 percent of survey respondents called their internal social networks excellent, and 35 percent of respondents cited lackluster employee adoption as the main hindrance to the success of internal social networking initiatives. A Forrester survey last fall of 4,985 U.S. information workers showed just 28 percent use any kind of social networking tool for work each month.

These results mirror my own experience. Two former employers provided social networking tools that were, in my purely subjective observation, used by almost nobody. One company pushed Yammer as a collaboration tool, but with an average of 1-2 posts each week, it hardly fostered collaboration. My employer actually sent out regular emails to remind employees that Yammer was there. The other company had built a dense company intranet, which allowed messaging, blog posts and recommendations from throughout company’s worldwide sites. However, in my time there, the intranet seemed to be used exclusively as a repository for HR documents. When I tried to use the system for collaboration, I found no colleague who could help me navigate it, even in the IT department.

The excitement over social networking, coupled with companies’ desire to lock down the tools that employees already know and love reveals an interesting challenge for businesses that hope to leverage social tools. Facebook and Twitter grew, in part, because users could make them whatever they wanted them to be. When companies try to control the use of social media tools at work, they also stifle their productivity. It’s an inherent challenge of making social media work for work — what makes social media useful is exactly what makes it scary for business.

How has your business approached social media in the workplace? Do you block any consumer-focused tools like Facebook or offer internal options? How are the tools you provide received by employees?

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