Enterprise Social Networking: Some thoughts from the Online Community Unconference 2009

Last week I moderated the Social Networking in the Enterprise session at the Online Community Unconference East 2009 in New York.

The theme for the session was Social Networking in the Enterprise.  We discussed trends in social networking that are both internal and external to the enterprise.  In attendance were over 15 knowledge workers from a variety of organizations including Crowd Fusion, IBM, Leader Networks, Leverage Software, McKinsey, MediaVision, Ramius, SAP, Social Intent, Symphonic Consulting, and Time among others.

Here is what we discussed.

Despite the proliferation of social networking, many organizations remain clueless in this area.  Ultimately most companies want to use social networking to improve collaboration and knowledge sharing but they are not sure as to how to proceed.  In addition, many organizations feel pressured to use public social networks for marketing purposes, but they typically do not have a clearly defined set of goals in mind.

It is also important to recognize that building a social networking presence requires a lot of work behind the scenes.  Just because everyone else has a corporate Facebook page does not mean that it is right for your company.  Clearly, more thought needs to go into the benefits of developing a social networking presence in the context of an organizations identity and its own requirements.

One thing was clear (at least to me), companies that develop social networking tools for the enterprise will need to educate decision makers about the benefits of social networking tools in order to gain traction in the marketplace.

Another interesting topic was that of expertise location, something Basex has reported on extensively.  Many knowledge workers experience difficultly in finding subject matter experts, i.e. a Russian speaker or someone who understands how to deploy a specific software solution, and view social networking tools as a possible solution.  Another interesting trend is that some companies are considering deploying fairly sophisticated social networking tools although they have not yet deployed fairly basic community and collaboration tools (such as instant messaging).  That type of leap may not work very well for their knowledge workers.  Social networking tools add an additional level of complexity that some may not be quite ready for.

In terms of knowledge sharing, we heard that many knowledge workers are still information hoarders and have not learnt that there is tremendous value in sharing information with colleagues.  If an organization can’t get past this obstacle, it will not be able to compete successfully in the knowledge economy, where knowledge sharing is, of course, de rigeur.

The foregoing was just a brief overview.  As with most good discussions, more questions were raised than there was time to answer them, but the quality of both people and ideas that were present was refreshing, and we at Basex look forward to continuing this conversation.

Cody Burke is a senior analyst at Basex.

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