Social Media “at Work”

On March 15, 2010, Hitwise reported that Facebook surpassed Google in the US to become the most visited website of the week. Edison Research recently concluded that 87% of all Americans are now aware of Twitter – up from 5 % in 2008. A video put together by Erik Qualman, author of Socialnomics, reveals another 30 interesting stats concerning social media.

Instead of questioning whether Social Media is a fad, this blog entry attempts to address how Social Media can be utilized at work to enhance employee collaboration and productivity. And, perhaps, by raising some thought-provoking questions, the blog attempts to support that Social Media is in fact more than just an intense and widely shared enthusiasm.

Let’s start by breaking down Social Media into specific elements and identifying leading businesses that provide services catering to these elements. It can be argued that some of the basic elements of Social Media include blogging, micro-blogging (such as quick status updates, link sharing, and following/followed), in-network and out-of-network communication, wikis, and videos. Some of the leading online businesses that provide such services include Facebook (micro-blogging), Myspace (micro-blogging), LinkedIn (in-network and out-of-network communication), Wikipedia (wikis), YouTube (video), WordPress (blogging), Twitter & Digg (micro-blogging), and Google Wave / Buzz (micro-blogging). Effectively, these services allow their users to reach a much larger audience compared to if the users were not using the services. These services extend and fatten, what I call, “the collaboration long tail”.

Traditionally, only a few people could connect with a large number of people (narrow end of the tail) while the majority were restricted to few connections (thin and long end of the tail). Social media has changed this paradigm by allowing both a large number of individuals to connect with a large number of people (fattening the vertical narrow end of the tail) and a bigger majority to connect with a moderate number of people (fattening and extending the horizontal long end of the long tail).

What if these services were to be replicated in an enterprise environment? What if an employee had an internal website with a LinkedIn-style profile page that showed not only her name and contact information but also what she has been working on? What if anyone in the company could access her profile and leave her a quick message (like as if it were her Facebook page), initiate a video chat, find out her current projects, find out her professional affiliation (Marketing/Engineering) and interest group (New Product Ideas/Opera-goers) affiliations (like on LinkedIn profiles)? What if her project team had a secured virtual workplace on this website, where she could post updates on a wiki, send messages to entire group (or a specific individual), or just share interesting news? What if she could collaborate to crowdsource a product idea from anyone across the company or leave a blog entry or a short message about her issues or her findings? What if she could access this website through a browser or a mobile device? What if all this seamlessly integrated with her desk or IP phone and email system? (In fact, companies such as Socialtext and Box.net are striving to provide the very services)

In summary, will creating awareness about her professional activities, about her interests, about her affiliations, about ways to reach her, about who she is as a person, enhance her collaboration in an enterprise? You know my vote. Feel free to express your perspective.

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