Wednesday, August 13, 2008

Using social networks to add value within organisations

I worry sometimes that MySpace and Facebook, despite their phenomenal growth over the last few years, may be actually slowing down the adoption of social networks within organisations.

By presenting social networks as largely involving frivolous, time-wasting tools to promote bands, buy and sell people's photos or exchange virtual gifts, these networks position social networks as playthings for young people rather than serious business tools.

Senior managers are not interested in introducing services which appear to be designed to distract staff from their jobs and add no measurable value.

I believe that social networks, applied correctly, are a powerful stimulus for organisational efficiency, information management, collaboration and innovation.

A few organisations already provide social networks for their staff and have realised real business value, as discussed in a ComputerWorld article I discovered via Victoria's fantastic eGovernment Resource Centre.

The article, Social networking behind the firewall, discusses the benefits being realised by Deloitte Consulting, IBM and Best Buys through their internal social networks.

Deloitte's D Street has supported the organisation in,
  • Attracting and retaining talent
  • Developing virtual teams (geographical collaboration)
  • Building expert networks and communities of practice
  • Sharing information horizontally across the organisation
IBM's Beehive has helped,
  • Build stronger relationships between different teams and individual staff
  • Extend internal dialogue and collaboration
  • Foster innovative thinking
And BlueShirt Nation has allowed Best Buy to,
  • Tap into marketing ideas across the organisation
  • Refine organisational policies
  • Shape strategic thinking
  • Close the gap between frontline and corporate staff
In all of these cases substantial business value has been unlocked through a network that allowed staff to connect, self-organise and share.

Perhaps this is the message intranet managers need to communicate to help senior executives understand the business value of social networks, rather than focusing on the joys of Scrabulous.

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