Tools & Technologies

Social Networking at Work: A Business Revolution, or a Ruse? Knowledge@Wharton

The Knowledge@Wharton web site recently asked whether business-centric social networking is a revolution, or a ruse?

Programs like Twitter, Facebook and LinkedIn have become a popular way for families and groups of friends (or groups of strangers) to share information and organize their lives. Now corporations are hoping they can tap into those capabilities as a way to improve employee productivity, collaboration and communication on the job — and a long line of software vendors, such as Cisco, SAP, Oracle, Microsoft, IBM and Salesforce.com, along with upstarts like Yammer, are hoping to position themselves as the platform to integrate social networking and business processes.

But will it work? And is it worth it? Research firm IDC projects that the global market for social platforms will jump from $630 million in 2011 to $1.86 billion by 2014. But while proponents tout the push for a more “social” business sector as a new era that will alter the way companies manage employees, skeptics say it could amount to nothing more than a ploy to help software companies sell more products.

The article discusses:
– Various Wharton professors weigh in on the subject, talking about impact and measuring value.
– The rules of engagement on Internet social networking sites don’t translate well into organizations, where hierarchy and politics are facts of life.
– The author asserts that many of the trials of social networking in business are being undertaken by technology companies.
– The argument that use of particular tools in one’s private life means that businesses must offer them too. The research and recommendation on that is equivocal however.
– For large companies, social networking services can help with breaking down silos. I agree there is an opportunity for this to happen – in my words, to help with overcoming the ceiling of opportunity and value.
– Another Wharton professor warns about the danger of having social networking tools on all the time, as they can interfere with focused attention. Such observations are not limited to professors.
– There’s too much buzz and hype around the area. Expectations far outtrack the reality.

My Comments
1. I believe there is a role for social networking at work – depending on the type of organization, its scale, its locations, and its complexity. My Four Foundations framework talks about what is needed, and yes, I have more work to do in this area.

2. I disagree with the author that it’s “traditional business-focused technology companies” who are undertaking “many” of the experiments. They make up a portion of them, for sure, but there are “many” organizations that don’t fit into that bucket.

3. I heard it from Martin White first, and have repeated it frequently in meetings and seminars since then. “The problem with collaboration tools is they show work in progress. They show there is no work, and there is no progress.” As the author points about, this can be a problem with social networking services too – they become another way to procrastinate and not get the real work done.

4. There’s some “interesting” perspectives shared in the comments, including Mark (comment #2) who says (among other things), “This article clearly supports the status quo. How’s that working-and for whom?

Categories: Tools & Technologies