E L S U A ~ A KM Blog by Luis Suarez

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Social Networking Goes Corporate

Earlier on today, and through my RSS newsfeeds, I bumped into an interesting piece of news taken out from BusinessWeek and which was also referenced by one of the weblogs I follow: El Blog de Enrique Dans. Enrique provides a good commentary on it (Article, and weblog, in Spanish) but I just thought that same news article would be worth while reading for those of you here in elsua who are interested in social networking. The BusinessWeek article is titled Social Networking Goes Corporate and it comes to show how different social networking tools are starting to dive into the corporate world. Like the case of Visible Path, which has got quite an impressive demo.

The article itself is a worth while read as it actually provides with you a good overview of what is actually happening in the world of social networking. How in most cases things with pretty popular social networking sites have started with word of mouth (Perhaps the best publicity you can have) and how after a few months they have become what they are today: the hang out place on the web for quite a few people out there. Indeed, in the article you would see how several different social networking sites get named and how they have built up their critical mass and from there how there are a number of emerging businesses, like Visible Path, that are coming along thinking that they could bridge the thin line between social networks for personal use and for business use.

I am sure that over the next few months we will start seeing a proliferation of such initiatives trying to bring social networking tools into the corporate world and I am sure that at this point in time people would have some kind of reservations as to how effective that adoption will be. I am sure most of you have thought about that already. Well, the way I see it I suspect that the adoption will be a gradual process till at about a certain point in time where they will be a huge boom and corporate businesses will never be the same again.

Indeed, what will actually happen is that most of those potential social networking tools mentioned in the article have been always oriented towards a younger population, although there are exceptions, of course. And they all love it (If you care to judge how popular those different offerings are, like MySpace, or FaceBook). So as that younger population starts to grow the adoption would be gradual but as soon as that same population enters the marketplace and becomes the main workforce (Something that is starting to happen now) that is when the big boom will go live. Main reason being that those same younger generations would want to break the barriers of the connections they make and continue to make use of similar tools to what they have been exposed to all along, but in a corporate environment. So what was once a Social Networks offering for personal use could well become the main business tool for that generation. That is why we will be seeing a huge proliferation of initiatives like the one that Visible Path has just launched.

Nobody is going to deny the good value add from social networks. We are way beyond the tipping point in that particular sense, however, up until now lots of people thought that they were a nice-thing-to-have and that is going to change drastically into a must-have for every company. Time will tell, I am sure, but certainly articles like Social Networking Goes Corporate clearly indicates where we are now and where we are heading to. Social Networks are here to stay, for sure, but I believe that it would take a little bit of time before they become just as popular in the corporate world. That would be happening when that younger workforce outnumbers by far the older generations. Something that may have started but that over the next few months will become much more relevant when the baby boomers start retiring and their jobs are taken by younger generations. I know that some of this may already be happening, see The Maturing Workforce weblog for some more details on this, but I am actually wondering if corporations would be ready for such a huge drastic change in the way we get to share knowledge and collaborate through the usage of social networks and forgetting perhaps some of the traditional methods of collaboration we may have been using all along. I think so. I do hope so. More than anything else because I doubt they would have a choice at this point if they would want to survive and if not time will tell.

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  1. Luis – regarding “baby boomers” – one of the things I ran across while doing my Web a podcast from CIO magazine on how companies are using tools such as wikis to document the knowledge of baby boomers before they retire.

    The following is an addendum to one of the interviews I conducted:

    “Also not discussed [during the interview] was whether the wiki system was viewed as another way to assist the transition of the company into future years when trends in “baby boomer” retirements might impact overall company access to critical knowledge and expertise. This was discussed in a recent podcast [http://www.cio.com/podcasts/ciotogo/podcast.html?audio=http://www.cio.com/podcasts/ciotogo/011506/ciotogo_boomer.mp3] by CIO Magazine titled “Beating the Boomer Brain Drain Blues.” Social networks established to match up younger and older engineers in other industries are one way to facilitate business transitions impacted by key staff retirements. This “succession management” function could be an important by product of use of collaborative knowledge management technologies such as wikis.”

  2. Thanks a lot, folks, for the feedback comments and for dropping by. Welcome to elsua!

    RE: Dennis’ comments, what an interesting commentary ! I have gone ahead and subscribe to the podcast and also listened to the podcast link you mentioned above and I just couldn’t have agreed more with it. Indeed, social networks would be able to provide the perfect blend for more experienced knowledge workers to collaborate and share what they know with the younger workforce, the new blood coming into businesses. And from what I can see, there are multiple ways as to how social networks would benefit that key, crucial knowledge gets shared by already skilled and experienced knowledge workers with other workers who may be relatively new at their jobs:

    • By mentoring: indeed, social networks are ideal for establishing mentoring relationships all over where more experienced SMEs (Subject Matter Experts) could liaise and share their best know-how with their mentees.
    • By coaching: those same SMEs would be able to coach, while on the job, the different unexperienced knowledge workers so that would continue to work smarter and learn a whole lot more while at work. Very powerful if crucial skills cannot just leave the job while providing that traditional training.
    • By sharing and collaborating in an environment where there is no hierarchy and information / knowledge just gets shared. No fuss, straight to the point.

    Thus I can certainly see how that close match-up between younger and older knowledge workers could work just as well as detailed on the podcast. Even more we should not forget that it would all be a two way road, both parties learning from one another, which, by the way, happens to be one of the key aspects as well from social networks.

    RE: Lynda‘s comments, I must say that this is not the first, nor the second, and certainly nor the last time we will be hearing some of this. And to that I can only say that we have seen it before. Lots of people were very reluctant to make use of IM (Remember when people thought that IM was just for kids? Look now who gets to use IM on a daily basis in the corporate world), yet it is one of the most powerful real-time collaboration tools inside businesses today. People did not believe in wikis or weblogs or social bookmarking tools yet millions of people are using them every day to get their work done. And the same would actually be happening with social networks. It is expected to have some sort of reluctance towards adopting something people are not really sure about. However, the main critical mass that would eventually get to use all those social networking tools are the ones who would realise about their true value and then ones that would be creating a different type of buzz. And from what I know, those are the ones we should concentrate our efforts on and help get them ready to embrace those same tools in the corporate world. After all, they are going to be the ones going to make good use of them so we might as well support them in the process.

    Thanks again for the great feedback comments, folks! Appreciated.

  3. Thanks a lot, Jeff, for the pingback! What a great post. I thoroughly enjoyed specially one of the last sentences you shared over at your blog on this very same subject and which I think would be the key towards making social media succeed in the corporate world:

    […] in the end you can’t force relationships, just like you can’t create authenticity and you can’t manufacturer conversations. Social media makes connections easier, but it is the people who make them meaningful.

    This is just so accurate ! People need to understand that social networking and social networking tools are not tools made up for managers so that they can get all sorts of data they never thought they would get their hands on. It goes beyond that. Way beyond. Social networking has always been meant for the people, the communities that get to make use of those tools in order to be able to establish and nurture those connections, those relationships. And, whether we like it or not, without the willingness and opt-in attitude from those people belonging to those communities, we would have nothing to work with. It is all done on a voluntary basis. People wanting to connect and make a difference. Everything else is circumstantial and irrelevant, despite what some other folks may think.

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