Friday, April 20, 2007

Social networking gets down to business

A brief article in the April 7th Economist, "Joined-up thinking" described several of the business-side uses of social networking. 

First, they talked about some dubious marketing uses, which they termed "painful," one in which Pizza Hut set up a bogus delivery guy profile on MySpace to tout the company's promotion. (I bet that one got outed pretty fast.) They also mentioned the much maligned (late, but not lamented) WalMart teen site, The Hub.

If from the consumer side of marketing, social networking hasn't worked out so well when the "suits" are trying to control it, it obviously works from the citizen marketers perspective.

But The Economist was more interested in the more B2business person aspects of social networking.

LinkedIn is the obvious "first up" when it comes to a business use of social networking. Although I am an exceedingly light user of LinkedIn, I do have a profile (which I need to update), but I was still thinking of it as just a networking site in which people could comb around, see who knew who, and make some connections when they were looking for work. But there's more to LinkedIn than just that: 

LinkedIn has over 350 corporate corporate customers which pay up to $250,000 each to advertise jobs to its expanding networking...Reid Hoffman, LinkedIn's founder says corporate use of his service is now spreading beyond recruiters: hedge funds use it to identify and contact experts, for example.

Too bad I'm not a hedge fund expert. Still, I am going to go update my profile and see who among the 10 million other folks on LinkedIn I know and love.

Jobster is a social networking site aimed exclusively at recruiting (My Monster?). Members use tags to identify their skills, and the tags are used to match up with jobs that are posted there.

Unlike on LinkedIn, companies can set up private networks to ensure that the right kinds of people are alerted to openings and that the data they post stays under their control.

Visible Path sounds a little creepy to me.

The firm analyses e-mail traffic calendars and diary entries to identify the strongest relationships that exist inside and outside a company.

That's a little too invasive for my taste, but it's easy to imagine that it will hold appeal to the folks in their twenties who are used to living their lives in the public and MySpace and YouTube, and who will be using Twitter to let everyone they know that they've moved from the couch to the balcony.

IBM has apparently announced a new product, Lotus Connections, that looks interesting.  Employees use it to: detailed profiles of themselves, team up on projects and share bookmarks. One manufacturer testing the software is using it to put inexperienced members of its customer-services team in touch with the right eneingeers.

This sounds like a really interesting application area, especially as company's move from strict hierarchies to fluid teams that come together on an ad hoc basis for specific projects, then go their separate ways onto different projects when they're finished up on one.

The article quotes Paul Jackson, a Forrester analyst, who says that "the business benefits [of social networking] are still unproven."

It sounds like Lotus Connections could be, if not the killer app here, one that can get corporations interested in intra-mural use of social networking. And unlike Web 2.0 upstarts with cool collaborative applications (like 37Signals), IBM has "enterprise" written all over it. (Remember when the saying was 'you couldn't get fired for buying IBM'? - well, in some ways it's still true.)

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