When mentioning social networking in a business context, I often get a grin or a smile. Twitter, Facebook and YouTube never added any value to the business I am told. And this last fact may be right, but it does not make social networking irrelevant for the business community. Actually a number of business people have been looking at social networking for quite some time. Blogs, wiki's, forums and others have been used in enterprises since several years. The main reason has been to capture the knowledge of the enterprise.
HP Labs has experimented with the concept of gaining a better understanding of what's hot in the company. Mike Brzozowski created the social networking equivalent of a water cooler. Actually, the site is called HP WaterCooler. It provides a combination of information aggregation, social networking and knowledge management. When looking for experts in the Supply Chain space, I was surprised to find my own name on the list of the people that contribute most in the company.
But that is not the only possible use of social networking in the enterprise. I actually believe that companies should take a harder look at the phenomena and identify how to maximize its use in their own environment. There are two reasons for that:
- First, an economical one, at the moment all possible costs are cut and business travel becomes an exception, finding new tools to collaborate effectively over large distances is a must. Many of us have been told to diminish travel, but we have not been given tools and advice on how to continue doing our job. I believe, increased use of social networking answers a number of the challenges.
- There is however a second, more structural reason and this is the arrival of the Y generation in the workforce. They have a different way to communicate (e.g. WRUD? TAB?, what are you doing, time for a break) and use social networking tools all the time. They expect the same in their working environment. This month's issue of Harvard Business Review has an interesting case study on the subject, titled "Gen Y in the Workforce".
The combination of both makes it adamant for companies to take a hard look at the more transformational aspects of Web 2.0 in the enterprise, writes Dion Hinchcliffe in his blog entry titled "Using Web 2.0 to reinvent your business for the economic downturn." We are all asked to increase our productivity drastically (exponentially?), but there are only so many hours in the day. So, just working harder will not make it any more, we need to work smarter, find the experts quicker, communicate faster, find the right information, cooperate on documents etc. The good news is that, in the internet, tools exist to do most of the above. Unfortunately they are seen by many CIO's as being dangerous, not secure, putting the company at risk etc. And they are right to some extent. However, just closing the ports, automatically removing the software from the PC's and forbidding the use of the tools is not an option. There is a clear need for such tools, but maybe the ones currently available on the internet are not the right ones.
In a recent article, titled "Six ways to make Web 2.0 work", the McKinsey Quarterly describes what is required for success and in particular highlights the organizational impacts. They suggest six critical factors to unlock participation and these are:
- The transformation to a bottom-up culture needs help from the top
- The best uses come from users - but they require help to scale
- What's in the workflow is what gets used
- Appeal to the participant's egos and needs - not just to their wallets
- The right solution comes from the right participants
- Balance the top-down and self-management of risk.
This reminded me of an article about the characteristics of Gen Y. They definitely have a different approach to life and many seem less competitive than older generations. Collaboration has become easier. Organizations should take advantage of them to implement social networking across their organization.
The whole question is how to get it started. Building on the egos, not just the wallets, as pointed out by the article above, is a good way to motivate contributions, particularly at the start. I want to draw your attention to an interesting article from Bernardo Huberman from HP Labs, titled "Crowdsourcing and Attention", where he studies what motivates people to continuously post contributions to YouTube and others. This can be used within the enterprise as well.
So, how are you implementing collaboration within your enterprise? Why not share your stories?
PS. Quick Note, one of my friends passed along the list of the 20 most important inventions of the next 10 years from Business week, and there in position 14, Social Networking Litteracy, and in position 13, Smarter Crowdsourcing. Looks like others are thinking the same...