In many enterprises today, social networking services and tools -- including Facebook and Twitter -- are used by employees, though often without any oversight from IT. Now networking giant Cisco (NASDAQ: CSCO) is becoming the latest to warn that the lack of IT involvement poses problems that enterprises need to address.
Cisco's analysis comes as part of a new report it commissioned using research from global universities. The study included 105 respondents spread across 20 different countries. Seventy-five percent of respondents reported that their enterprises use social networks while 50 percent noted they used microblogging services like Twitter.
In sharp contrast, the Cisco study found that only 1 percent of respondents reported any direct IT involvement in their social networking activities.
"There is a tremendous amount of opportunity with social media, but the big question that cropped up is what could be achieved if there was kind of formal process in place to use the tools effectively," Neil Hair, assistant professor of marketing at the Rochester Institute of Technology, told InternetNews.com.
Among the social media platforms that the Cisco study considered are blogs and public sites like LinkedIn, Facebook and Twitter. In the future, Cisco sees a demand for a new class of social networking platform that isn't consumer-focused.
That shouldn't come as a surprise: Cisco itself has a series of enterprise products aimed at businesses' social and collaboration needs, including the Cisco Enterprise Collaboration Platform (ECP), Cisco Unified Communications, WebEx Conferencing and the Jabber-based WebEx Connect IM.
"While we think most companies are leveraging consumer social networking tools today, we certainly see the evolution to also include more private clouds and social networking platforms to enable the types of security and interoperability requirements that we expect to see from larger enterprises," Hans Hwang, Cisco's vice president of advanced services, told InternetNews.com.
Hair added that many organizations like using public social networking platforms as a place to begin a conversation and then they migrate to more private mechanisms for further collaboration. He also said that enterprises are beginning to measure the effectiveness of their social networking activities.
As to why IT is not often involved in social media-related activities, Cisco has a few ideas.
"Similar to other emerging technologies, the user base has gotten ahead of the IT department in realizing the benefits," Hwang said. "What happens generally then in technology adoption lifecycles is they become pressure points on IT to drive implementation of a more scalable and secure platform internally."
Yet even without IT involvement today, enterprises are seeing benefits from social media. But their increasing reliance on the technology also could make for a problem in the future. According to Hwang, the potential drawbacks of social media are perhaps not yet being experienced by enterprises as their use of the technology is not yet at a level high enough to raise concerns about scalability and security issues.
"As social networking tools become more integrated into CRM and HR systems, as they become mission-critical themselves, IT will have to look at the same kinds of issues that they do for any other system," Hwang said.
For the present, Hwang added IT already has its work cut out for it in simply understanding and managing social networking tools.
"How do you define a social networking tool, and how does it relate to the infrastructure that an enterprise is already investing in -- whether it's unified communications or collaboration?" Hwang said.
"Due to that confusion, they are hesitant to invest in a niche tool that may or may not be included as a feature in a core platform that they've already invested in."
Also see: IT Managers Guide to Social Networking: While social networking sites can be valuable tools for networking and keeping in touch, they can also expose your users to online malware. Download this free Internet.com eBook for advice on keeping your users safe, helping developing a social networking policy, and tips on how to make the most of social networking tools.