The success of Facebook and Twitter are poignant examples of how powerful and important social networking has become in our personal worlds.
The world of business is now immersing itself into the social networking phenomena both for external, internal and combined communications.
Yet, the immersion is still a challenge for the majority of organizations as they look to build these technologies into the fabric of their business culture.
And it is here that the differences and challenges need to be explored.
Social Networking in Business is founded upon a different premise and one that is frequently not well understood in comparison to personal Social Networking. That difference is “purpose.” More specifically, personal Social Networking is founded upon the notion that people get together in this virtual world based on strong ties including shared and common interests. In comparison, the inclusion of a Social Networking program within an organization is typically linked to leveraging the power of weak ties - promoting creative collaboration with the intent of having a purposeful outcome and engaging broadly across enterprise boundaries to address opportunities or resolve issues.
Mary Lou Tierney, Project Leader of MITRE’s Innovation Program, an internal R&D initiative, is responsible for incorporating a collection of social media tools to support the program. “One way to achieve improvement in time-to-market processes or earlier identification of strategic initiatives is to leverage the collective intelligence of the organization as whole using a framework for Communities of Purpose – the NEW CoP. The key differentiator between Communities of Interest/Practice and Communities of Purpose is the critical element of target audience interaction with content that has been enabled by social media technologies.
It’s no longer about a repository of content – it’s about action on and manipulation of the content that leads to actionable, targeted output.
The sad and unfortunate truth for many organizations (public and private) is that a culture of trust is frequently absent. In comparison to personal social networking, an inherent level of trust is typically established as participants engage because of a genuine interest in the subject matter.
In the corporate world, a proactive effort is required to build a culture of trust; one that allows participants to dip their toe in the social networking pool and see the benefits that are duly derived. Techniques for building trust with social networking include recognition of contributions, keeping people engaged (when not their primary focus) and the inclusion of gaming theory to foster a friendly sense of competition.
As businesses hop on the social networking bandwagon, there is an inherent need to inject some sense of corporate responsibility and ethics to protect the interests of the business. This manifests itself frequently in the form of “governance” measures; those that ensure that information being shared is not false, slanderous, misleading or malformed. As a result, social networking for business requires more rigor. This could include defined content approval cycles, publishing frameworks and user instruction. In comparison to personal social networks, this type of governance is typically not present.
One key to a successful business social networking program is to find the right balance between too much and too little governance. The content and collaboration must be authentic and purposeful otherwise, it will quickly evolve into one more failed solution.
Keying in on the “network” of social networking, personal social networks are typically on the Web and as such, it is very easy to share and access disparate information. In comparison, business social networking can be more challenging as there is typically a large and unknown collection of secure and hidden repositories of content that aren’t easily accessible.
Jeff Teper, Corporate Vice President for SharePoint at Microsoft and a recognized authority on social networking, sees this as a key to business social networking. He states “Organizations must break down and make accessible, hidden silos of content if social networking in business is to succeed.” He goes on to say “Consolidating and making these repositories accessible is an important catalyst for enabling real business social networking. Employees can then easily access, leverage and link to relevant content as they collaborate with their peers.”
Before you and your organization take the plunge into social networking, ponder some of these differences and incorporate them into your strategy. They can make the difference between a mediocre and great use of social networking technologies.
Russ Edelman is President & CEO of Corridor Consulting and founder of Nice Guy Strategies, LLC (NGS) and the author of “Nice Guys Can Get The Corner Office: Eight Strategies for Winning in Business Without Being a Jerk.”
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