Friday, April 4, 2008

Fear of Web 2.0

It's uncommon to go more than a few days without seeing new statistics released detailing corporate adoption of Web 2.0 technologies. Usually the numbers demonstrate that rates of adoption are overwhelmingly underwhelming. Articles generally discuss how most executives don't even consume social media, let alone participate.

Headlines are rife with decision makers - ranging from managers to CIOs to CEOs - banning their employees from using networking sites such as Facebook and Digg, and even those executives' own LinkedIn profiles - more often than not created by tech-savvy assistants and to the ambivalence or outright duress of the executive himself - languish in an unupdated, unleveraged state of being for months at a time - assuming they're not forgotten outright. If you don't read blogs, it stands to reason that you'd probably have a harder time appreciating the value of writing a blog. If you've never been notified of an important event or met someone great through Facebook, you're unlikely to understand its value.

Most recently I read this article which offers more of the same: CIOs are afraid of social media and they shouldn't prohibit employees from utilizing Web 2.0 technologies. I absolutely agree with this. Unfortunately, the vast majority of this vein of literature - this post included - fails to pull the trigger on how that is to happen. The important thing to note from these unimpressive trends of (non)adoption of social media is not the numbers themselves, but on what causes those numbers to be so lackluster. Not the fear itself but the causes of those fears.

People are afraid of things because they don't understand them. Executives don't know what they should be doing with or about Web 2.0 technologies so they do what comes naturally; ignore them and focus on the more traditional tools that they know. While this may be a soothing short-term approach, it will scarcely suffice in today's rapidly evolving marketplace that rewards openness, collaboration and innovation - the very pillars of Web 2.0.

It is far too easy to dismiss these fears as the irrational and unwarranted paranoia of a bygone generation of fuddy-duddies. Rational or not, it is a key barrier to Web 2.0 adoption. The tools are usually simple and intuitive to use, many of them are free but for the temporal opportunity cost and they are proliferating at a more rapid rate than ever before.

That having been said, it is not a difficult barrier to overcome. As social media practitioners and even some savvy vendors have long purported, the solution is education. The more that these decision makers know about Web 2.0 technologies with regards to how they're being used, what they are being used for, who is using them and how the company can employ them to achieve real business goals, the more open to the use of these technologies within their organization they will be. True, it would be ideal for them to drink the cool-aid themselves, but until then it would be an enormous leap forward merely to quell their fear-mongered opposition to social media.

Knowledge is power.

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