Creating Strategic and Tactical Value with Enterprise (Social) Networks

Leveraging B2C “Social” Networks for Real Enterprise Advantage—Flashbacks to Web 1.0—People in Bars

2007-wrap-ent2Pan in, circa 1998, and enterprises were beginning to doubt the conventional wisdom that had prevailed during the past three years, namely that “the Internet” was a Silicon Valley fad that would blow over with nary a whimper. It was “for kids,” it didn’t merit adult attention—none of these “businesses” were making money anyway. You can’t be serious, how could a money-losing online bookstore affect GM? It looks silly to read these words today, but that’s only because we know what happened. Here I will suggest that we are on the cusp of a similar shift with Web 2.0 and social networks, I’ll outline an approach you can use to consider your adoption strategy, and I will recommend tactical things you can do right now to leverage LinkedIn, Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, and others.

Since 2006, my consulting work has encompassed strategic and tactical sides of Web 2.0 and social networks and, in 2008, I launched a tactically-focused service, the Executive’s Guide to LinkedIn, which helps global enterprises to use LinkedIn for process innovation. This has provided the opportunity to deep dive into applying these tools to enterprise processes.

Social Networks Adoption Strategy: Optimizing Open with Safe

  • As I wrote in Web 2.0 Pureplays vs. Enterprise Vendors: A Real Battle?, CIOs are caught in the middle, and they must adopt carefully. Their instinct to safeguard the enterprise by controlling employees’ access to external tools is misguided in many cases. Remember the corporate bans on the Web during Web 1.0? Restriction will not be any more sustainable this time around. Many companies refuse to let their employees to access YouTube, LinkedIn and Facebook from the office, and this is a huge mistake because very valuable external information and relationships are on these sites.
  • The concept of an “enterprise Facebook” is a big mediocrity trap that will supposedly maintain safety and keep employees happy. However, as I wrote in Private Label Facebooks to Proliferate in 2008, this idea will produce some value but leave too much on the table to be viable long-term. It’s akin to getting the racing suspension package on your minivan. Key to the breakaway value of “social” networks is that they are cross-boundary and emergent. Networks allow people to follow their interests, to connect and to collaborate irrespective of what silo or company they are in.
  • IBM’s 2008 global human capital survey, Unlocking the DNA of the Adaptable Workforce, offers this arresting statement from an SVP from a global services firm:

“Better collaboration would enable us to help global customers more effectively and increase the level of product/service innovation. Yet, only 8 percent of companies interviewed believe they are very effective at fostering collaboration across the enterprise.”

  • Since innovation is imperative to creating value, enterprises must enable their employees to amp up exposure to new ideas and collaboration. That means that employees must be able cross boundaries to “follow the knowledge trail.” Global, cross boundary networks like LinkedIn, Facebook, Orkut and YouTube enable them to locate expertise on demand and engage the expertise, helping enterprises to become far more adaptive. Yes, companies will have to put appropriate governance policies in place to safeguard intellectual property, but this is possible. The sourcing world continues to make major strides in this area.
  • forrester-social-sphereEnterprises’ use of social networks rapidly reduces to a trust issue. Knowledge is portable, and trust is the main defense for not allowing inappropriate sharing. It’s a truism that, if you want to encourage people to act unethically, mistrust them. Of course, it isn’t as easy as saying you trust employees; it has to be part of your culture, and that is a complex proposition.
  • One insight that usually helps: recognize that product/service life cycles are shadows of their former selves, that knowledge ages quickly. In many situations, value comes from the collaboration among people and the process of innovation more than an information “secret” that can be misappropriated.
  • Another quote from a European bank’s HR executive in the IBM study: “We have created a powerful toolbox to understand the skills and capabilities of the workforce… However, which capabilities will I need in the future? Here we have quite a bit of uncertainty – when I started working, the half-life of knowledge was seven years, now it is 18 months!”
  • The bottom line: become as open as you possibly can as quickly as you can, and then stretch past that comfort zone. Companies that are more open will have the edge in collaboration and innovation. They will be more adaptive and viable: they will be the ones that thrive in the face of market volatility.

Tactics: Go Open and Secure

  • Enterprise software vendors will be more than happy to talk to you about enterprise social networks that are in many cases Web 2.0 functionality bolted onto their portals, etc. These solutions will improve every year, but consider the case of Serena Software, a global firm with about 800 employees. As Bill Ives shared in the Fast Forward Blog, Serena front-ended their intranet with a private Facebook group because Facebook enables people to create their own information about each other in an emergent way; they can discover and adapt the information they need collaboratively.

“One of major flaws of existing intranets, even when they work to find stuff, is the lack of social context. It is difficult to find anything about people.. Now Serena provides links through Facebook to documents stored securely behind the firewall, and access is as secure as any other method.”

  • Therefore, think about opening the enterprise by leveraging open tools as front ends to your enterprise collaboration systems. Moreover, Serena has built public Facebook groups to connect with customers and other stakeholders.
  • As I wrote in IBM Promotes Adoption of Enterprise Social Networks, I found IBM’s enterprise offerings robust and far-reaching; however, they are limited to the enterprise and have very limited abilities to cross the enterprise boundary.
  • As enterprise solutions, LinkedIn, Facebook et al may seem quirky and kludgy but, when approached as part of the solution, they can create significant value.

LinkedIn as an Example

linkedinLinkedIn is an emergent global expertise network with subtle yet sophisticated tools and processes for optimizing collaboration with privacy. However, most people do not approach it as an adult activity. They use it as an online address book, and their low expectations and awareness prevent them from producing serious value. LinkedIn can drastically reduce the transaction costs of finding, evaluating and engaging people in many core enterprise processes. Consider:

  • Business development: LinkedIn enables skilled members to use its search tools to source and engage prospective clients and influencers in a very granular way. Moreover, they can pre-qualify targets and prospects by connecting with other LinkedIn users to supplement the information they get on LinkedIn and via other sources. This can change the sales cycle considerably.
  • Client service: stakeholder-facing executives and professionals can add value to existing clients by invoking, vetting and introducing very specific experts to enable clients to reduce their risks or increase their opportunities. Your client service and business development teams are supposed to be adding value to their clients’ businesses. What better way than to introduce relevant people with complementary expertise to clients who can help them with their challenges?
  • Recruiting: LinkedIn can significantly change the metrics of recruiting employees, business partners and professional services providers because skilled users can quickly locate them according to their skills and online reputations.
  • Product development/innovation: locating and engaging people with specific expertise, interests and goals is much easier on LinkedIn. Answers is a forum in which your employees and pose and answer highly specific questions about any topic. The discussions that take place in the forums are magnets for bringing people together around any issue you can imagine. Experienced members use the forums to attract clients, employees, business partners, capital, etc.

Many of these LinkedIn examples and more would be applicable in Facebook and others, although the social context is different. If you’ll pardon the metaphor, think of these Web 2.0 venues as bars, filled with people. Each one has a different context that facilitates connections between people, but you need to understand the context and who is looking for what in each venue at what time. Of course, many people have memberships in multiple networks, but they are not pursuing the same kinds of relationships in each venue. Think about it: people act differently depending on what bar they are in. For example, it’s a stereotype, but Facebook provides a much more seamless work/play experience than LinkedIn, for example, which is designed exclusively for business.

Other Tools in the Executive’s Guide to LinkedIn Blog

Recent article, LinkedIn and Enterprise 2.0: Definitions, Indicators and Case Studies

Executive backgrounders on other Web 2.0 tools:

  • Blogs: the new face of project management and customer service
  • Wikis: cutting administrative and communication costs down to size
  • Social bookmarking and tagging: breakthrough collaboration for documentation and research
  • Twitter: roll-your-own presence

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