The New Market for Social Media Consultants

By Neicole Crepeau, Contributing {grow} Columnist

To date, most social media consultants have focused on helping organizations use social networks for marketing and  customer service.  But there’s a new career opportunity for social media consultants — helping your company use social technology for collaboration inside the enterprise, called social collaboration.

What is social collaboration? Think Yammer. Yammer is an enterprise social network used by employees or businesses to share, collaborate, and innovate. Microsoft’s recent purchase of Yammer is a testament to the business opportunity social collaboration offers. Last year, Forrester Research predicted that the enterprise social software market would grow to $6.4 billion in 2016, as companies added tools for internal use.

Big Benefits for Social Businesses

Businesses have good reason to pursue the use of social media tools in the enterprise.  As Mark Schaefer wrote recently, a McKinsey report on social technology published this summer estimated that companies could see a 20-25% improvement in knowledge worker productivity through the use of social technology.  For example, they found that making information available via social media could reduce the time workers spend searching for information by 35%. Those numbers will garner CEO and CIO attention.

The company I work for, Vizit Corporation, just completed a study of 1,100 mangers of SharePoint sites. (SharePoint is the number one social collaboration tool used in the enterprise.) Although the results will not be published until October 22, I wanted to give {grow} readers a preview of the opportunity for social media consultants.

The Enterprise Could Use Some Help

62% of the individuals we surveyed said their organization had or would have an internal social initiative within two years.  57% of those planning to implement are doing so for internal collaboration purposes. Another 35% are planning to use it for both internal collaboration and to communicate with customers/partners (primarily for customer service).   Both of these are areas where an experienced consultant can help.

This momentum comes despite mixed results in their use of internal social technologies thus far. 48% in our study reported that their SharePoint social implementation was successful or very successful. That leaves 52% who could not declare success. Doesn’t that sound like an opportunity for talented social media professionals?


You’ve Got the Tools

In fact, the challenges to implementing social tools inside the enterprise are not that much different from those social media consultants encounter when working with external customers:

  • How best to use the tools—When you work with clients, you probably start with business/marketing goals and then help your client determine how best to use the available social networks and social media tools to accomplish those goals. The task is similar when helping organizations understand how to use social tools internally.
  • Education and training—Most social media consultants have worked with a customer whose employees weren’t familiar with social networking, and weren’t comfortable with it. Education and training are essential in both environments.
  • Building communities—To get knowledge workers to adopt social tools inside the enterprise, organizations will need to proactively identify potential communities and foster them. Businesses typically think of each department as a potential community and roll-out and optimize tools for each department. In fact, though, to get full value from social technology, organizations will need to look at how to build communities across departments. According to McKinsey, part of the value of social technologies is in “lowering barriers between functional silos, and even redrawing the boundaries of the enterprise to bring in additional knowledge and expertise in ‘extended networked enterprises.’ “
  • Incenting knowledge workers—Just as marketers have to find ways to incent potential customers to engage with the company on its Facebook page or LinkedIn group, businesses have to find ways to incent their workers to use the social media tools they are providing.  Social media consultants can leverage all the experience that they have gained about engaging customers and apply similar techniques to engage users within the enterprise. Contests, reward systems, gamification—they are all valid tools that cutting-edge organizations are using to increase adoption of social tools by knowledge workers.

Two Challenges 

There are two big chalenges for consultants wanting to enter this market: 1) Understanding the technology used for social collaboration inside the enterprise (SharePoint being a primary one, often in conjunction with Jive, Yammer, etc.); and 2) consulting with clients about the internal cultural issues that may inhibit effective use of social tools.

The technology hurdle can be addressed by education and by partnering with consulting companies who implement internal social technologies.

The cultural issues are an area that may be new to social media consultants. At issue is whether the organization’s culture is suitable for the kind of open discussion that enables effective collaboration and innovation. Forrester has identified four critical attributes of an innovative culture. Consultant may need to develop skills to help companies that aren’t optimal for social. Or, you could team up with an organizational change specialist.

Let’s face it, there’s a lot of competition in consulting for companies around social media marketing. The potential market opportunity for consulting on internal social collaboration is a big one, and that market is in its infancy. So, if you’re a social media consultant looking to grow your business, you might consider making a shift—soon.  What do you think?

Neicole Crepeau is the Senior Marketing Manager at Vizit Corporation, and blogs at Coherent Social Media. She’s the creator of CurateXpress, a content curation tool. Connect with Neicole on Twitter at @neicolec

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