Most Social Email Substitutes will Disappoint

In their search for an email alternative, detractors of the technology have turned to social media models. According to the research firm Gartner, for many organizations that turn will be down a dead end street.

Over the next two years, Gartner is forecasting that 80 percent of the businesses trying to incorporate social networks into their enterprises will not garner the benefits the networks were created for because of inadequate leadership and an overemphasis on technology.

That could be bad news for outfits like Atos and the U.S. National Nuclear Security Administration (NNSA), two prominent advocates of social substitutions for email.

You may recall that the CEO of Atos, Thierry Breton, shocked the email world a little over a year ago when he vowed to scrap his global company’s internal email system and replace it with a social alternative.

The NNSA, too, is taking beligerant attitude toward email, too. It’s expected to launch a pilot program this spring called One Voice that will incorporate components found in popular social networking sites like Facebook to create what the agency hopes will be a productive alternative to email and one that will scale throughout the federal government.

The traditional IT mindset toward technology can undermine an organization’s social efforts, according to Gartner.

“Businesses need to realize that social initiatives are different from previous technology deployments,” Gartner Vice President Carol Rozwell said in a statement.

She explained that traditional technology rollouts — ERP and CRM, for instance — were ‘pushed’ on workers. They were trained in an app and then told to use it.

“In contrast,” she coninued, “social initiatives require a ‘pull’ approach, one that engages workers and offers them a significantly better way to work. In most cases, they can’t be forced to use social apps, they must opt-in.”

According to Gartner, organizations that focus on the technology underlying their social initiatives are missing the point of going social. Workers won’t opt-in to social unless they understand how it will improve their work practices. For that to happen, the leaders of the initiatives need to know how people do their jobs, who they do them with and what they need to them.

“There is too much focus on content and technology, and not enough focus on leadership and relationships,” Rozwell asserted.

“Leaders need to develop a social business strategy that makes sense for the organization and tackle the tough organizational change work head on and early on,” she continued.

“Successful social business initiatives require leadership and behavioral changes,” she added. “Just sponsoring a social project is not enough — managers need to demonstrate their commitment to a more open, transparent work style by their actions.”

Plugging in a social networking softare package is easy. Finding the kind of leadership and commitment Gartner contends a successful social initiative needs to succeed will be hard.

To the chagrin of email bashers, Gartner doesn’t see social initiatives supplanting email. It acknowledges that Facebook-like enterprise social networking software has avantages over email, especially in terms of information capture and reuse, group organization and social filtering.

However, it sees the Facebook-like software acting as a general-purpose communication channel where information and events that originate in external systems — such as email, office applications and business applications — can be injected into conversations, and vice versa.

Written by John P Mello Jr

John Mello is a freelance writer who has written about business and technical subjects for more than 25 years. He is frequent contributor to the ECT News Network and his work has appeared in a number of periodicals, including Byte magazine, PC World, Computerworld, CIO magazine and the Boston Globe


  1. Joanna · February 21, 2013

    I should file this under “What were they thinking?” Seriously, what? I don’t understand. Just when things are getting better with e-mail, they decide to build a platform from scratch. Did they think that social media design is much easier to manage? Did they think they couldn’t build relationships with e-mails? We have to agree that anti-spam filters are getting more excellent by the day, so why should we let go of the system now? I have to admit that the social media platform may enhance collaboration, among other things, but as long as they know how to use e-mail, the same thing can be achieved over time.

  2. Peter · February 22, 2013

    I don’t see anything wrong with e-mail. Even the biggest companies out there are using them for extensive communication, and they don’t have any issues at all. If they need to create a more intimate online community, they tap on available resources such as Facebook. They also create a message board, which is far cheaper and easier to manage or maintain than an elaborate system such as a social networking website. This plan definitely needs more careful consideration. They may realize that it’s such a futile idea to begin with.

  3. Pilar · June 2, 2013

    In my humble opinion, totally focusing on social email substitutes is not a wise move. This is not to undermine the popularity of social networks like Facebook, but it is a fact that these sites are not meant to serve the same purposes as emails. Therefore, totally migrating to them for communication purposes is completely out of the question. If a company wants to incorporate social media into its system, it can do so. But the email should not be snubbed and taken for granted. Work with both the email and social networks to enjoy the best of both worlds.

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