Note to IT: Here Come the Social Networks

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Social networking to date has been, of course, largely the province of teenagers. IM once was as well, remember, and social networking may be on the verge of following it into the enterprise.


This Ziff Davis Enterprise piece reflects the ambivalence surrounding Web 2.0, which is variously portrayed as a technology and as a loose set of applications. The writer says that social networking will be a good tool for enterprises, but that no specific corporate package yet exists. In other words, there is no "Facebook Business Edition." The writer says that three consumer-oriented products on the market today can be pressed into service as corporate platforms. They are Microsoft's Sharepoint Server 2007, Plone and Wordpress.


This bottom line of this Network World story is that social networking in the enterprise is inevitable. One reason, of course, is that it offers features that address corporate needs. Related to this -- and just as importantly -- is that social networking is widely used by IT personnel for both work and pleasure. If this constituency is behind social networking, its quick corporate acceptance becomes far more likely.


The site surveyed 663 professionals from the site's Technology Opinion Panel. Social networking is used by 453 of 663 respondents. Sixty-eight percent use these sites once a week, 16 percent daily, 18 percent monthly, and 13 percent less frequently. The story adds that 42 percent use the sites mostly for work, 30 percent predominantly for personal uses and 28 percent split time evenly between the two endeavors. Sites represented, the story says, include LinkedIn, MySpace, Slashdot, Facebook, Digg, Del.icio.us, Technorati, Stumbleopon, LiveJournal, Reddit, Zanga, Furl, Newsvine and Mixx.


Social networking already is accepted in some corporate circles. Masie Center & Learning Consortium set up a social network for the Learning 2007 conference, which it led. About 70 percent of the 2,040 attendees created profiles, including videos. Much of this B2B magazine story discusses how companies are using social networking to reach their customers and prospects, as opposed to creating internal efficiencies. Most companies, the story says, perceive social networking as a way to way to brand rather than generate new leads. A big challenge is internal resistance caused by fuzzy ROI.


This press release refers to "the emerging business-to-business social networking space" in announcing earlier this week that it has acquired Contact Networks, which offers the ConnectNet enterprise relationship management product. The release says that ConnectNet -- which it calls the first social networking application aimed specifically at businesses -- discovers, aggregates and prioritizes contacts within the organization. The idea is to create a directory of "who knows whom" contacts via a simple search function. The applications pulls data from address books, e-mail logs, customer relationship management applications and other systems, the release says.


The nexus between social networks and corporations will be complex. Organizations will be able to tap into social networks to influence folks who are influential in a particular area. These folks -- dubbed "super advocates" in this Financial Times piece -- can be powerful allies. However, super advocates and other consumers at social networks must be handled with kid gloves. One reason for the popularity of social networks is that they are perceived to be relatively free of advertising and corporate marketing. Organizations must keep this in mind and proceed prudently.


The bottom line is that social networking will have great impact in the corporate world. In one sense, they can be thought of as expanded intranets and extranets. They also will help retailers reach their current and prospective customers. For all these reasons, IT departments must follow developments closely.