What’s Next: Enterprise Social Media Is Where "Social Finally Meets Business"

By Robin Daniels, Salesforce.com

Two years ago my list of things to do in one morning would seem impossible:

  • Lock down a project plan with a new colleague
  • Get feedback for a website design from my team of 10
  • Ask my coworkers for their input on a 30MB presentation
  • Find a product expert to answer a technical customer question

To get through my list, I would have a few dozen awkward phone calls with an unknown coworker, spend too much time scheduling a meeting to discuss a design that should be finalized ASAP, and finally resort to passing around a flash drive with the presentation after hitting my email size limit. And forget about getting a quick answer back to my customer; I probably wouldn’t have found this elusive “product expert” for a few days after emailing everyone I knew.

Today, I can get those four things done in less than an hour with enough time left over to mozy on downstairs for some coffee. Why? I’m using a social network … at work. And no, I’m not browsing Facebook at my desk; I’m using an enterprise social network. It’s a way that everyone in my company, from San Francisco to Sydney, can work directly with each other to do our jobs better.

“Internal collaboration” is something that every company in the world from 5 to 500,000 employees constantly struggles with. The way that we share information in our personal lives has drastically changed and is transforming the way we communicate at work. Enterprise social networks, like Salesforce Chatter, allow us to communicate with our colleagues in a new way by applying social fundamentals, such as profiles, groups, feeds and sharing, to the context of business. Employees are already using Facebook and Twitter to connect with friends and family, so the mechanics behind enterprise social networks come naturally.

The profile has replaced the email address.

Corporate directories can give you a name, address, and phone number, but who are you actually communicating with? Profiles are the standard way we represent ourselves in the online community so why not provide the same level of context at work? While your Facebook profile contains information about your favorite books or music, your work profile may showcase other positions you’ve held or your product expertise. You’re not just sending a generic email to coworker@yourcompany.com but you’re actually working and communicating with another person. Putting a face and personality to the name can drastically change the way you work together.

Groups are our virtual conference rooms.

Think about how you would approach discussing a project idea with your team. Are you thinking of emailing a distribution list? If you send an email to your 10-person team, it can easily lead to 10-15 reply-all emails. And then you have the grand task of filtering feedback from a disorganized email chain.

Or maybe you decide to bypass email altogether and you schedule a meeting instead. Now you have to find a time where all 10 people are free and then book a conference room. And don’t forget to set up a web meeting for colleagues who are remote! That’s a lot of “busy work” just to get feedback or share an idea. Meetings are great for important discussions or planning but too many meetings can mean less time to actually get work done. Collaborating with your team shouldn’t be this difficult.

Instead, create a private group where your colleagues can post ideas or questions and get feedback from the rest of the team in one spot. In a recent study, companies reported having 28% fewer meetings and 32% less email by using Chatter. Group collaboration in a social application can save you and your team from hours of pointless meetings and confusing, never-ending email threads.

Feeds allow anyone to join the conversation.

The heart of enterprise social networks is the feed. The feed shows you updates for people you are following, groups you are a member of, and other types of information that you have chosen to track. The beauty of the feed is its ability to act as a forum for company discussions. Here, silos of information and corporate hierarchy are eliminated. Suddenly members of marketing, finance, and HR can all chime in on the same conversation. A support rep, VP of IT, and CMO can have a discussion with each other. A social network, like Chatter, can essentially flatten the organization giving a voice to any employee and an ear to every executive.

So when you have that “aha” moment when you crave the social tools you see other companies using, what’s next? How does a company embrace this new way of working? First you need the right application. There are lots of social tools in the market, but like any big change you’ve got to have a strategy to bring social to your company. A great way to learn about the perfect application for you can be through social media itself! Check out what others are saying about these apps on Facebook and Twitter. Find best practices and new perspectives on forums like the Chatter Blog or Radian6’s blog on social strategy.

The foundation of an enterprise social network is based on people in a company sharing and interacting. Enterprise social networks transform the way you work and make that impossible list of things you have to do, finally possible.

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Robin Daniels is a product manager at salesforce.com where for the past 3 years he has focused on enterprise collaboration, social technologies, and the mobile web. He is currently part of the Salesforce Chatter and chatter.com product marketing teams.

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