In preparation of my talk at the Portal and Social Collaboration Days 2014 in Berlin, I’d like to share my main talking points in advance.

It is roughly 8 years ago that Andrew McAfee coined the term Enterprise 2.0. Since then a lot has happened and many practitioners have years of experience under their belt. So where are we in the world of Enterprise 2.0 and what is ahead?

I believe it is fair to say that we are quite a bit away from the hype around social technology that we experienced several years ago. Knowing that Google Trend statistics are not the most scientific source of information, it is still interesting to see that after a lot of activity between 2006 and 2010 less and less people have been feeling the need to search for the term Enterprise 2.0.

Google Trends on Enterprise 2.0

In parallel, I’ve noticed that over the last one or two years the mood of conferences, consultants and bloggers has evolved to something much more careful and considerate. The recent Digital Workplace Trends report also paints a mixed picture of some successes but also a lot of work ahead for those who would like to implement social software at work.

Apart from many other things, I believe it is worth considering three things when assessing the status of Enterprise 2.0:

First, it is not only us as experts, implementers or consultants who have experienced the journey of social deployments throughout the last eight years. Employees and managers went through the same process but on the receiving end - making some good but also less positive experiences on the way. We should therefore not be surprised to face a more challenging deployment process than in the past. Rightly so, there is a much higher interest from the business to clearly understand the benefits, objectives and risks before any deployment.

Second, social media is ubiquitous outside work. Almost everyone, including C-level executives, are using social software at home. Be it as simple as browsing online boards for tips and tricks, maintaining a LinkedIn profile or going as far as tweeting about work or hobbies. The average age of those who are using social media has been growing steadily and some solutions such as LinkedIn are coming very close to the age distribution of even the most conservative companies. These people have a certain expectation when thinking of social technology. They have experienced the great parts of the internet such as the Wikipedia but have also seen behaviour where they might struggle to see the connection to the workplace. Being confronted with statements from employees that they fear enterprise social networks might turn into an “internal Facebook” is hence less a result of unknowingness but of real experiences made outside work. Again, this is not as much a hurdle as it is an opportunity to shift the discussion away from the underlying technology (which by now most people know about) and to talk instead about the impacts onto employees’ working live.

Third, thanks to the NSA disclosures and recent hacks, employees and managers alike are much more careful about the security impact of Enterprise 2.0 solutions. Also data privacy concerns are much more likely to come up as a concern than in the past. It is interesting to observe the backlash some companies experience when talking about Bring Your Own Device (BYOD) with a reported 70% of employees expressing privacy concerns.

I see all of that as very positive signs. As Gartner puts it: For many of the typical Enterprise 2.0 solutions we went through the phase of inflated expectations, dropped into a period of disappointment and are now slowly ascending towards the plateau of productivity.

This positive trend is in my opinion supported by three evolutions which are core to the process.

Let me digress for a second. Do you remember the time when everyone was concerned about Foursquare being squeezed out of business by an adapting Facebook? The conversation has suddenly shifted drastically with Facebook being suddenly confronted with highly specialised competitors such as Snapchat, WhatsApp and Instagram (bought by Facebook). And even though Facebook has reacted in some ways to all of them, it is interesting to see that users seem to care much less about unifying their whole social experience into one tool. Is it about privacy concerns? Or about ease of use? It doesn’t really matter what it is but it should challenge our believe that we do have to necessarily offer a highly integrated toolset to our employees.

I would even claim the opposite: There is a much higher chance of success by adapting the strategy of the above mentioned start-ups and focussing on one use case per time instead of rolling out a full social media suite (as for example SharePoint) which might easily end up confusing employees more than brining real benefits to the business. Even more, who really has the resources to accompany such a technical rollout with the massive change, training and communication campaign that would be needed to support such a breadth of features? I am almost certain we will see more and more specialised deployments in large enterprises instead of bulldozer rollouts. Social media suites can clearly be underpinning those use cases as foundation and most of them offer the flexibility to do so. However full out-of-the-box deployments will make way for smaller but more adapted use cases.

On a different note, I believe we have reached a level of maturity where it becomes the norm to integrate social software deployments deeply into offline processes and where the business will also actively ask for such integration when being approached by Enterprise 2.0 evangelists. Such integrations can range from as simple as linking online Communities of Practice with offline events, to making sure that crowdsourcing campaigns are accompanied by a process that ensures real-world implementations, to real business process reengineering efforts.

Lastly, with such a level of experience on all sides, we can slowly question one of the pinnacles of Enterprise 2.0 deployments: starting with the needs. Social software enables entirely new business models and it is worth asking the question what we could do differently with the means that are available to us today. Companies such as GitHub are going as far as basically designing their governance around the way social software works. I believe we can do the same also in more traditional companies by fundamentally reconsidering the way we are doing business knowing that we can today, for example, easily engage a whole company on a certain topic. Easy starting points would be project management processes: Why do we have to keep early prototypes restricted to a handful of users in times where it could be a matter of seconds to open up a space to involve a broader set of future users?

So overall I am very hopeful for Enterprise 2.0. Not because we have already fulfilled its promise, but because we have managed to cross the difficult passage of the early hype and experimentation and can now finally focus on applying the learnt best practices.