After a post by Ann All in her Visible Enterprise blog created an unexpected stir, the IT Business Edge editorial staff sat down for a discussion of what we and our marketing folks are learning about using social networking tools for business purposes and to try to see if we could answer the question, "if people are so adamant that they need Facebook for business, what exactly are they doing with it?" We've seen plenty of references about how it's useful in the workplace. We've seen a huge comment string about how not being able to access it from work would be devastating to some. We've seen conference sessions advertised as being all about the business benefits of Facebook.
I'm not saying I cannot see that it would be useful. In fact, at the end of our marathon discussion, Facebook was the one social networking site that we hadn't completely trashed. We've gone through several collaboration tools and sites already, and have a couple going. Another one was recently proposed by another team. They've found an open source wiki that will suit their needs, and are opening it up to the rest of the teams in the company. But that's what worries me. I don't want to ask my team to remember to log onto yet another collaboration tool that may or may not last more than a couple of months. And that's even if I decide that its capabilities suit our needs. They may not. I'd love to have that wiki capability, and the setup appears to be quick, if not intuitive. But my outside contributors can't use it because it'll be locked down behind the firewall. Big problem.
The end of our discussion led us back to Facebook, which in-house folks and contributors could use, plus it's so easy to use. But could it really bring together all, or even most, of our demands? Could we get rid of our team collaboration site, where it's easy to add information, but very hard to retrieve it? Our Google tools, our various IM and e-mail accounts? Our shared files in various network folders?
These are the answers we thought we might find in the discussion of the necessity of Facebook on Ann's blog, but we didn't. We've got more digging and investigating to do. The current list of "business" tools on Facebook definitely doesn't meet our needs. But we're intrigued by a new initiative inside Microsoft, where employees are logging onto a so-called Facebook for enterprise version called TownSquare. The focus at this relatively early point in the project (it began in January) seems to be pulling from Sharepoint information on employees and their activities into profiles that include photos and update feeds, as in Facebook. Network World says that, yes, plans are to develop it into an Office and/or Sharepoint add-on. Now we are talking. I want that. That is what I want. And I want my team on it, interacting and sharing and finding that business value in social networking.
While we're at it, it seems relevant to mention that the rumors today of Microsoft's next acquisition moves include the possiblity of Microsoft increasing its $240 million stake in Facebook to the whole shebang, although most seem to think that the asking price will be too high and that, even with that fanatical user base, Microsoft wouldn't be able to justify the cost with a viable monetization strategy. I'm not so sure.