The Social Media Garden: A Digital Era Research Study into Social Media at Work


A failure of leaders to adapt to social media is the main barrier organisations face in embracing social media. This is the message of a research project - The Social Media Garden, a digital era research study about social technologies at work.

There is already a mounting body of research on the use of social media in organisations. However, none of these studies have been conducted using social media methodologies. Pioneering collaborative technology was used to create The Social Media Garden. It is, in itself, a demonstration of how social technologies are changing the way we engage in conversations and exchange knowledge about our opinions, experiences and ideas. 

Unilever and Silverman Research conducted the project (which ran Feb - Apr '12 with approx 650 participants) to provide insight to people who are developing, or expanding, the use of social media in organisations.

The study identifies 16 barriers typically faced by organisations, with four identified as particularly important: 

  • failure of leadership to accept new ways of working
  • difficulties in creating a robust business case / showing return on investment
  • lack of knowledge and understanding about social media
  • fear of the unknown

The prominence of the 16 barriers are shown in the chart below alongside the overall community ratings of those barriers, participants’ involvement with social media and the sentiment contained within those comments.

While there were many comments about the lack of knowledge and understanding of social media, these tended to be written by people with relatively lower levels of involvement with social media. People who had the highest levels of involvement with social media were more likely to make comments about the challenges associated with creating a compelling business case - and these were rated much more highly by the community. 

The main message to take away from this study is that 16 barriers is a lot for practitioners to think about and navigate in dealing with social technologies at work. Especially when the all of the barriers seem to have one thing in common: a resistance to change (or put more bluntly, excuses for maintaining the status quo).

With the occasional exception of resources and security issues, perhaps the only genuine barrier to embracing social technologies is leadership inadequacy. The barriers identified in this study exert their influence either as causes or consequences of leadership inaction – it is, therefore, with leadership that opportunity knocks.

A report of the overall findings can be downloaded for free here. The Social Media Garden will remain open for people to explore and can be accessed here

Photo & infographic (c) Silverman Research