Not all social technologies bring equal benefits. In a new survey, respondents say the most valuable tools make it easier for employees to collaborate—and could even transform the way organizations work.
While social technologies have become ubiquitous in business, not all tools—or the benefits companies see from their use—are created equal. Indeed, results from the latest McKinsey Global Survey on social tools suggest that a new generation of tools is enabling employees to collaborate in improved and innovative ways.1 Respondents say improved internal communication is the feature of social tools that has most benefited their businesses. They also expect that, in the coming years, enabling better communication will be one of the ways these tools could bring about fundamental changes at their organizations.
The results also suggest that social tools play a critical role in how technology overall can encourage organizational change. We asked executives about their companies’ use of social tools, digital technologies, and big data in 18 different business processes; the clear consensus is that using social begets better use of these other technologies. When organizations digitize a process’s work flow (which happens most often with customer-facing processes), respondents say that using social tools in that same process has enabled their companies’ overall digital efforts. What’s more, some executives report greater benefits—decreased costs and increased productivity, for example—if they digitize and use social tools in a given process. Several benefits are greater still if the company uses data collected from social interactions among employees and with customers.
Executives report that the business use of social tools is nearly universal. Ninety-three percent of respondents say their companies use at least one social technology, continuing an upward trend (82 percent said so in the previous two surveys).2 And most respondents say employees at their companies use at least one tool on mobile devices. In addition, 74 percent say social tools are at least somewhat integrated into employees’ work—up from 67 percent in the past two years.
Although social technologies are more and more commonplace, the results suggest that not all tools are created equal. Specifically, those that can enable collaboration among employees are the most valued—increasingly important, since 80 percent of executives, up from 69 percent in 2014, say their companies use these tools for internal purposes.
When asked about the most beneficial features of the social tools their companies use, respondents most often cite real-time interactions, the ability to collaborate with specific groups, and cross-platform availability (Exhibit 1). What’s more, respondents believe the same three features will most improve how people work at their organizations in the future.
Enter a new generation of team-collaboration technologies. These tools are cloud based, designed for real-time interactions, allow users to search conversations, provide a distinctive user experience, and integrate with other enterprise applications (such as file sharing and social media), among several other features.3 Because they create searchable content as a by-product of collaboration, the new-generation tools could even begin to replace email as the default channel of written communication.4
(Sadly,) Few companies are putting these tools to work. But at the ones that are, executives report above-average benefits from social technologies. They are much likelier than average to say that social tools are extremely integrated into employees’ daily work and that at least half of their business activities have been digitized (Exhibit 2). And while most companies tend to use social tools in external-facing processes, such as marketing activities and public relations, adopters of new-generation technologies report broader use of social across the organization. They are much likelier than average to use social in internal processes, such as R&D and IT management.