It’s the tipping point, folks

The evolution of the social network within organisations has been patchy to say the least but 2016 could be the year that the Enterprise Social Network actually established itself as a serious organisational tool.  According to McKinsey, In 2006 10% of organisations had social tools and it is predicted that will rise to 70% in 2017. Although no one product has dominated the market share yet, the launch of Facebook Workplace may be the tipping point where senior managers favour the ESN value gains, productivity gains and employee engagement against the perceived distraction tool.

The resistance of a ‘Facebook at work’ has been a difficult process to overcome across organisations and is in line with what happened with the telephone, fax, email and instant messaging. The actual Facebook Workplace – whether successful or not – has finally put that argument to rest. So how might it evolve in relation to the all-conquering public version?

Happy birthday

Facebook and Twitter both marked their 10th birthday in 2016. The growth of Facebook has been unstoppable to date showing up to 1.7 billion users worldwide. Twitter saw similar early growth which is now levelling off.

facebook-users-worldwide-2008-16 twitter_monthly-active-users-2010-16

 

 

 

 

 

Although in 2016 Facebook are facing a 21.6% decline in the number of users posting, Its advertising revenue growth has been meteoric, with a reported $6.24b in ad revenue, up 63 percent year-on-year. $5.24b of that is from mobile ads – chiefly from owned products Facebook Messenger, Facebook Live, WhatsApp and Instagram.

Twitter, in contrast, has struggled with its public share price which is currently half of what is was in 2013. As of March 2016 though, Twitter had more than 310 million monthly active users and on the day of the 2016 U.S. presidential election was the largest source of breaking news, with 40 million tweets sent by 10pm that evening.

However.

Alarm bells are ringing for multiple reasons.

Fickle Followers of Friending and Fashion

There are many social tools we have known and loved that have fallen by the wayside, whether through changing consumer trends or corporate missteps. Friendsreunited – a pivotal tool in the UK which finally closed in 2016, MySpace, Bebo and others drifted off. Some such as poor old Google+ never really took off at all.  The biggest demographic growth for Facebook is now the over 55s, with younger people preferring mobile apps like Snapchat and WhatsApp. If you are young and your parents are on Facebook it’s understandable that you would want to be somewhere else.

It is not an easy inroad into the teen market for new products either. US college campus network YIK YAK launched in 2013, securing $61m of funding rolling out to 100 campuses. But mainly due to user anonymity it was unable to stem online bullying and abuse and monthly downloads dropped so low that it is reportedly laying off most staff.

Privacy, censorship and trust

Data acquisition is potentially of more even value than advertising space. Just how much of your personal information you choose to share is your call but social media companies would like lots of it, and so would your government, primarily under the remit of prevention of terrorism. In August, an incident where a woman was shot and killed by police highlighted the existence of a Facebook emergency request system where police can quickly have content or a profile taken down. A coalition of human and civil rights rights groups have also expressed alarm about censorship and demanded that Facebook be more transparent about its processes.

Many users are open with their content and feel they have not much to hide, and conversely many make full use of the privacy controls. However it is fair to question the wisdom of putting personal data in the trust of any company especially since 2014 when hackers stole data from at least 500 million Yahoo! user accounts. It’s not a great leap to think that If a company like Yahoo can get hacked, anyone can.

People being dicks

Across the SM landscape levels of public discourse appear to have plummeted in line with current events and political division. Major voting events within the past 2 years, namely the:

  • Scottish Independence Referendum
  • UK General Election
  • UK Labour Party Leadership Election (twice)
  • London Mayoral Election
  • EU Referendum and
  • US Presidential Election

have all seen associated online abuse, bullying, death threats, misogyny, racism, anti-semitism, hate speech and just plain old trolling rise across social platforms. The situation becoming such that Facebook, Twitter, Google and Microsoft agreed to an EU ruling pledging to remove ‘hate speech’ within 24 hours. Even TripAdvisor has fallen foul of blackmail posts.

Fake newsfake-news

Outright lies peddled as news moved into gonzo territory in 2016, the year that ‘Post-truth’ became a normalised term.  Analysis has shown that ‘fake news’ stories outperformed real news stories on Facebook in the last 3 months of the US election campaign, specifically with stories negative to Hillary Clinton. This was disputed by COO Sheryl Sandberg, but the risk of reputational damage taken seriously enough for Mark Zuckerberg to promise to work with third parties to label false news stories, and to develop a ‘stronger detection’ system using ‘artificial intelligence’ (huh?) to identify and remove questionable posts.

Please tell me some good news

It’s clear that public social media has big existential challenges. The upshot is, if the platform you post on becomes poisoned by its own discourse then users are likely to drift off and leave it to the trolls. . What began as a way to talk to anyone in the world about anything has become rather like the Babelfish in The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy which

“…has started more and bloodier wars than anything else in the history of creation, because it has removed all barriers to communication”.

Public social media has big existential problems that should not occur on a similar platform in the workplace. Organisations have their own culture, rules of engagement and sense of shared purpose to keep discourse on a more civil level and the ESN works (usually) as a more rational, kind and accessible space. Even though adoption and engagement levels still have to be addressed across businesses, when an organisational culture is ready the tech should be there to support it, and an ESN can provide a more trustworthy, positive and authentic space for collaboration and sharing. Perhaps it could even make social media fun again.