The Business Value of Social Networking

Say “social networking” to many people and they equate it to “time wasting”.Within an organisation, this doesn’t have to be the case. Some clear values can be identified for different aspects of social networking.Before I get on to the elements of “social networking” in its broadest sense and their business value, I ought to issue a few warnings.

Its adoption will enable individuals to make direct contact with each other regardless of the hierarchies, silos or intermediaries that normally shape organisational life.Openness, transparency and trust exists between the people who participate.If this makes you feel uncomfortable, then maybe social tools are not for you. Yet.But, whether fearful or interested, I think these few simple slides will give you a framework for thinking about the subject and for drawing your own conclusions on business value.

So. What do I mean by social networking? It’s an unstructured network where the nodes are people and items of information.Let’s take it down to a personal level. You.Imagine having a placard or a sandwich board containing your profile: it will include contact details, job details, interests, contacts, groups you belong to and so on. Only people you pass can see it. Put it online and anyone can see it, most likely as a result of searching for an attribute or following a link from someone or something.Now imagine having a stack of everything you’ve written or produced – papers, slideshows, reports, whatever. Normally, it would stay in the stack and no-one, not even you will read it. Put it online and parts of it will show up in response to a search or as a result of a link from somewhere.We all like to talk about things we’ve read, people we’ve met. Online you can comment on people or information you encounter, or maybe you’ll attach a few key words (they’re called tags in the social world) so that you can get hold of the stuff again. Or, indeed, so others can.There is as much useful information in the network of links that we create as there are in the raw information we have put online. But, even better, because we can discover each other by interest or recommendation, we can find and tap interesting sources of information and useful knowledge. Now to tackle what I consider to be key elements of social networking and apply values to each one,.

DISCOVER – Discovery enables us to find people, information, work groups, team rooms, communities of interest and even the social networks themselves. A number of mapping tools show the connections between people and the strength of those links. We can do our research more thoroughly, very quickly and without disrupting a soul.(If asked, Atlas [IBM] and TouchGraph are examples)

VALIDATE – We can even check people out by reading their blog posts (and, more importantly, the comments on them), their other published material, their inbound links and recommendation, their tags and the people they hang out with online.Just like Discovery in the first place, validation is faster and more effective.

DIRECT, UNFILTERED, DIALOGUE – As I said early on, conversations are direct and unfiltered. This means less chance of misunderstanding. Depending on your set up, you could extend the participation to suppliers and maybe even customers and prospects.The reach of your social network needs to be carefully considered.But, it most certainly accelerates time to results and potentially improves the quality of those results.

REPUTATION – We’re talking about two here: your own and your organisation’s.If your organisation is engaging effectively with its customers and responding appropriately, its reputation will be enhanced. If you interact but don’t listen and act, the opposite will happen. However, when it comes to a closed network, it’s a chance for you to stand out. You can build your reputation through your profile and your published work. Others will actually do most of the work for you by clothing you and your work with links, comments and recommendations.Of course, if you don’t put up your profile or publish, you will be invisible. Your call.

STAFF MORALE AND RETENTION – People who are part of an organisation with a lively social network are more likely to stay and feel a sense of belonging through giving and receiving. They join the communities which are of most interest to them and, in those, feel valued.Newcomers too can quickly find out who’s who and what’s what by looking around the network, reading and hooking up as appropriate. Without that, it’s a case of waiting until someone has time to ‘show them the ropes’.They get started more quickly and, in general, effectiveness is improved and staff churn reduced.

INNOVATION THROUGH IDEA SHARING – One thing’s certain in a social network, good ideas travel far and fast.Lousy ideas don’t even get off the starting block, no matter how hard they’re pushed by their champions.Instant feedback from customers through blog comments or social entities such as Twitter can be very powerful and the issues raised should be seen as an opportunity to improve products or services.Internally, people with different skills coalescing around an idea could well end up working together to turn it into an innovative new product.The instant availability of so much diverse intelligence can accelerate improvements and innovations.

HARNESS – INFORMATION, KNOWLEDGE AND INSIGHT – Knowledge management and, before that, expert systems failed to fully live up to expectations. They held out the promise of capturing knowledge but people either didn’t want to or couldn’t, surrender it. Social tools collect it almost by accident and, over time, it gets clothed with links, comments, tags and other observations, providing a rich context for those who follow.If knowledge isn’t yet online, its owner is only an instant message, tweet, email or telephone call away. One way or another, expertise is on tap. It can be brought to bear rapidly. And, as we mentioned on an earlier slide, it helps get newcomers up to speed quickly.

So here’s a summary of the punchlines of the last seven slides. In short, it’s about accelerating time to results through rapid access to expertise and information. It also plays a strong role in staff retention.If someone challenges you to state the business value of social networking, I hope you’ll find this presentation helpful.

Thank you

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