While some companies are just starting their exploration of enterprise social networking, others plunged in years ago. Here are some dispatches from these pioneers' hard-won experience.
My colleague Tracy Maurer is on the community management team for enterprise social networking at UBM, the parent company of Business Agility. The social community, based on Jive Software, is in its fourth year; Maurer has been helping to manage if for two years. She recently described the social community's lifecycle, so far, for our sister publication The Brainyard.
At the time when UBM began the search for a social enterprise solution, the company had executed scores of acquisitions over half a decade, on several continents. Management wanted to encourage far more synergy across the business units, which were to remain autonomous. The push came from the top. Once Jive SBS was in place, UBM's CEO set an early example by using the social platform to write frequent letters to the global workforce.
The community platform began to gain momentum, in Maurer's description, after some early adopters who had been using it for purely social purposes -- forming groups on topics such as children and movies -- began to see how they could use groups to do their jobs better. They set up groups to organize and sustain conversations devoted to specific functions, such as product development and training delivery. They began asking open-ended questions in these groups and found that answers were forthcoming from their colleagues across the world.
The next milestone in the social network's traction came when air travel was restricted by the eruption of a volcano in Iceland. One UBM employee, who was trapped on the wrong side of an ocean, created a volcano group to share stories and request and offer help. The community manager gave it top billing and invited some specific individuals to contribute. The group went viral, introducing many more people to the power of the social network. Some employees spotted a business opportunity in the disruption caused by the volcano, and three divisions came together to create a paid webinar on the topic and what it meant to business.
The story of the social network's usefulness in the volcano crisis gave added credibility to initiatives set up to spur cross-functional and cross-divisional collaboration. "Teams working around the globe started to share information about product development, SEO, Web analytics, sales practices, and event management," Maurer writes. "Many people came to understand that there were other teams working on the same kinds of projects."
From her experience with enterprise social networking, writer Debra Donston-Miller offers businesses ten things to love and ten things to hate about the trend. The most interesting point may be the one that appears on both lists: the profusion of data generated by social networking can be either a curse or a bonanza to the business trying to extract meaningful intelligence from it.