by December 1, 2008 0 comments



Social Networking has taken the world of Internet by storm. Today, it’s come
a long way from being a hobby or a means to get away from boredome, and not
without good reason. With more than one billion users online worldwide,
organizations are eyeing it as a serious business opportunity. So any software
vendor worth his name today has jumped the bandwagon and started offering
software solutions that leverage the power of social networking. A recent
Forrester study predicts that that corporate social networking market will grow
from $258 million this year to $2 billion by 2013.

The beauty of social networking is that it’s not been shoved down the throats
of employees by the management. Rather it’s something that the employees have
been using for ages to communicate with their friends, peers, partners, etc
across the world. They’re already comfortable with the various social networking
technologies, which makes the case really strong for incorporating it within an
enterprise as an official way of communication. The system has the power to
restructure business processes, information sharing and collaboration which will
add to business productivity. Additionally, such business-oriented networking
can enhance interactions in customer and partner communications. Let’s see how
social networking can be incorporated by businesses.

Social media for businesses
Social software has core functionality to facilitate companies to restructure
internal business processes like collaboration, data capture, data search and
reaching experts, apart from augmenting external communications by providing
more avenues and enhancing the level of interaction with customers, partners and
shareholders.

Businesses can reap the benefits of social networking in multiple ways by
making it easy for users to interact with each other and share information.
Polls, surveys, communities, Wikis, blogs, forums, etc can all be used to help a
user to reach out to others much more efficiently. For instance, an organization
could setup an online forum to interact with its employees and customers. Many
organizations have introduced blogging into their intranets as a means for the
top management to reach out to the most unapproachable of employees. Employees
can also use the opportunity to ensure that their voice at least reaches the top
management. Online forums can bs used to interact with customers and take their
feedback about your products and services.

Likewise, a Wiki could be used to setup an online documentation system on the
Intranet. But unlike an ordinary static Intranet, this would be more dynamic,
because employees can update it directly from the web browser, without knowing
how to write a single line of code.

Thus, a social network can help build a responsive organization by providing
the shortest path to key expertise and information, increase team efficiency by
mapping networks, improve individual productivity exposing users to broad
picture of their network and tapping expertise gaps.

Krista Canfield,
LinkedIn
Tips on getting the most out of
LinkedIn

The biggest piece of advice would be not to forget your manners online.
Before you press send on an invitation or an InMail on LinkedIn, make sure
that you’ve read the person’s profile on the site before you reach out to
them and that they are indeed the right contact for you to be reaching out
to. LinkedIn isn’t a popularity contest. Only reach out to folks you
actually know and when you do reach out to someone, send a personalized
message instead of the generic one. Never feel pressured to accept
invitations from someone you don’t know. Remember, your contacts may
approach you for favors, recommendations or introductions to your other
contacts later so be sure you’re selecting them wisely.

LinkedIn also helps businesses in a number of different ways. For example,
there is a section in LinkedIn called Answers. Here, professionals can ask
or respond to any professional or work-related question that they are trying
to solve. We’ve seen small business owners ask questions like: “Do I need an
Internet policy for my employees?” …but it’s not just SMBs that are getting
advice on the site. We’ve also seen questions from users like, “Is now a
good time to invest in land/property in India?”

A simple search on LinkedIn can help you learn more about a potential
client before a meeting. Viewing their profile can tell you where that
person went to school, how long they’ve been in that current role, what
groups they belong to and even if you have any connections in common. A
person search on LinkedIn could be useful to know about an interview
candidate better before you meet in person. It all just depends on how you
want to utilize that information to help propel you forward in your career.

Different SN Models
Today, social networking technology has become so advanced that it’s a matter of
tailoring free and open-source software or paying a minimal fee for someone to
build one for you, or even going for a ready-made solution that provides all
social networking features out of the box.

There are many white label business networking vendors offering platforms to
be rebranded to suit your business needs. They offer the service through a SaaS
model, based on a subscription fee which is fairly affordable for businesses of
any size.

However, if you don’t have the time or will to build your own internal social
network or go for a hosted model, you can purchase a ready-made solution. IBM
for instance has a social networking solution called Lotus Connections, which is
a social software for businesses, allowing users to build their own connections.
IBM even has a special technical consulting services called IBM Software
Services for Lotus and IBM Center for Social Software” where customers,
partners, community members, and universities can come together to explore
social computing and work side-by-side with IBM’s top researchers and experts to
tackle specific social computing projects, test out new ideas, and help address
the social computing questions and challenges facing their organizations.

Another company, Blogtronix has a solution canned BTX Enterprise that does
the same thing and provides all social networking features like Wikis, blogs,
newsletters, etc under one umbrella.

Chetan Yardi,
Country Manager, IBM Lotus Software
What’s the business value of social
networking for enterprises?
How important is it for an enterprise to
be represented on social networking sites like LinkedIn?

Social Networking has started penetrating enterprises and is making
significant changes in the business world. Employees have begun to use
technologies such as forums, blogs, wikis and personal profiles to help
streamline collaboration and enhance the quality of communication with
customers. We call such an use of Social Networking technology as Enterprise
Social Networking -ESN.

The key benefits of enterprise social networking are that it drives business
growth by enabling vibrant communities of employees and customers to create
innovative products that can exceed customer expectations, empowers
organizations to make bold, successful changes by quickly discovering the
best knowledge and skills available. It also helps people work smarter and
deliver results by connecting to communities of knowledge based on their
needs, roles and preferred ways of working. Finally it improves operational
efficiency by surfacing an organization’s human capital within the context
of a business app or process.

In order to exploit the wisdom of social media which technologies
should enterprises consider?

Social Media should enable organizations to tap the collective intelligence
and knowledge to streamline information sharing, business processes and
collaborative efforts which in turn boost business productivity. It should
act as a natural extension of marketing and customer care and attain higher
level of interaction in customer and partner communications. Enterprises
should look at adopting social networking technologies which help in
enhancing stakes for both the suppliers and end users.

Setting up you own social networking platform isn’t the only option you have
in your hands. There are many business communities already out there which you
can join, and perhaps the most popular one of them all is LinkedIn. Unlike
MySpace, LinkedIn promotes your career and business. Recently it added nine new
applications that are geared to boost collaboration and productivity in an
office setup.

There’s yet another trend that goes beyond LinkedIn and business communities.
That is to create your own online communities and networks for personal and
professional use. This is being offered by players like NIng, Nexo and TamTamy.
All these augur a new office environment for businesses.

The road ahead
A Forrester Research study showed that more than 40% of marketers using social
networks and user-generated content would increase their investments in the
current slowdown.

Given the demand of social networks like MySpace, LinkedIn etc. which are
visited by innumerable people, it is most unlikely that such a trend would fade
away.
However, there is one serious concern. Social networking sites are potential
business tools, as long as you approach them with an adequate amount of caution.
Although there are specific privacy guidelines on such sites, the information
security is still a debated aspect of the tale. Additionally, the lack of
physical contact on such networking site can lower users’ natural defenses;
leading them into divulging information they would never think of revealing to
someone they just met somewhere.

So the future lies with enhancing existing functions, adding new ones, and
improving the security.

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