nce the dawn of the social-technology era, executives have recognized the potential of blogs, wikis, and social networks to strengthen lines of company communication and collaboration, and to invigorate knowledge sharing. Many leaders have understood that by harnessing the creativity and capabilities of internal and external stakeholders, they can boost organizational effectiveness and potentially improve strategic direction setting. But they have also found that spreading the use of these new technologies across the organization requires time to overcome cultural resistance and to absorb the lessons of early successes and failures. Social technologies, after all, raise new sensitivities, seeking to breach organizational walls and instill more collaborative mind-sets.
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McKinsey’s long-running research into enterprise use of social technologies provides a unique vantage point for examining the nature and pace of this evolution. Surveys of more than 2,700 global executives over each of the last ten years have probed technology diffusion within organizations and the patterns of technology adoption.1
Our review of survey data spanning the years 2005 to 2015 suggests three distinct, progressively more sophisticated phases of usage. Companies in our sample began with trial-and-error applications—for example, using social platforms such as YouTube to expand their marketing mix to attract younger consumers. They then switched their focus to fostering collaboration. Most recently, some have deployed social technologies to catalyze the cocreation of strategy. Across this spectrum, we also found that companies shifted the mix of technologies and expanded the terrain of application.