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McKinsey's Web 2.0 survey: What do execs know?

A new survey from McKinsey & Co indicates that Web 2.0 technologies are spreading in corporations and producing all kinds of gains, from knowledge sharing to reducing communication costs.

I’m skeptical. It’s not that I don’t believe in the power of these tools. I do. But I don’t trust the answers execs put on the surveys. I think they feel pressure to say that they’re implementing new communications technologies, because to say the opposite looks backward. And of course they insist that they benefit from them, because to confess that they don’t would signal ineptitude.

In my experience, the technologies take root on the lower levels of the org chart (among people who can’t even imagine having a secretary). The efficiencies are real, and can even be transformational. But they’re hard to measure.

Top execs sprinkle in some Web 2.0 spending and, in many companies, receive hyped reports about tremendous gains in branding and efficiency. Everyone in the reporting chain has a stake in this upbeat line. The executives are much more likely to learn about one showcase example than dozens of smaller implementations that might actually produce greater results. (And many of them take place on technology not controlled by the company, from Twitter to Google Docs.)

In summary, execs are under pressure to green-light more of these projects. That’s a good thing. But to understand how these technologies are transforming the work place, talk to the people using them.

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