While many organizations are seeking to ban popular social networking tools (Facebook, Twitter) from the workplace, others are busy building a case for them. Let's take a look at the pros of using social networking tools as part of your enterprise collaboration strategy.

Facebook

Three years ago, Dennis Howlett said the following:

I am convinced now more than ever that the MySpace and Facebook generations are going to obliterate a lot of what we understand about business today.

Could anything have turned out more true? Today there are countless enterprise solutions modeled after the infamous social network (Facebook, not MySpace, obviously), but why not use the original?

In the past we've talked a lot about how the word "social" draws up a lot of bad vibes in the enterprise community, mainly because of the fear that people will spend too much time socializing and not enough time working. But now that things are shifting, and enterprise solutions are being built to look, feel and operate just like Facebook (See: Salesforce.com's Chatter, FMYI) why not sprinkle in some of the game changer itself?

The bottom line: Facebook is both popular and free. Handled correctly and stuck into a collaboration context, this could translate to an extremely cost-effective means of providing a workgroup solution, especially for groups who are in different organizations, locations etc. 

Twitter

Here's another free solution that tons of people are already using, meaning the barrier for adoption is fairly low. Further, Twitter's ability to pull in important information from the outside world remains unchallenged. Having a team of people on the platform would mean being able to track what's being said about your organization, as well as see how your colleagues are responding to consumers. 
 
Even if reputation isn't something that matters to you, an increase in awareness of ongoing work is always beneficial. The wealth of information that can be found and shared on the platform has lots of potential for inspiring or informing projects. 

Skype  

Why waste time traveling to a meeting when you can participate in one right from the comfort of your own desk? Skype is currently testing group video calling, which allows up to 5 people to video chat with each other simultaneously. For now, the feature comes at no cost with the download of Skype 5.0 beta, but there's a possibility that will change once the official version is released. Either way, using Skype within an organization would still bring other beneficial features -- namely convenient calling and instant messaging -- to the table. 

LinkedIn

While we've often talked about LinkedIn and Facebook as competing networks for enterprise collaboration, they can also be seen as complementary. If Facebook is the place where work groups keep tabs on each other as they mingle with the rest of the Internet and its endless sea of information, LinkedIn is where they are born.

Connecting the right people with the right expertise or information is what LinkedIn is designed to do, but, for many, the platform still lacks the social chops expected in today's online environment. As more of a handy starting point, company newcomers are likely to feel more comfortable in discovering their productivity niches within a space primarily designed for that purpose. 

Socialtext 

We know that branching out to commercial solutions is a difficult thing for organizations, and, for good reason, completely unacceptable for others. Thankfully, solutions from companies like Socialtext lie somewhere in the middle of internal and external, providing a convenient little stairway for those that can't jump directly into the pool. 

Socialtext's enterprise-level solutions cover a range of collaborative/social features, such as social networking, blog, wikis, microblogging and groups. Most recently, the company also upgraded SocialPoint, the offering that allows information to flow directly from SharePoint into the Socialtext activity stream.

It's About Connecting--with Everyone 

While these solutions aren't a good fit for every facet of the enterprise, their handiness can't be denied when it comes to collaboration. There's just so much information out there these days that being connected with the outside world in addition to colleagues can prove to be very beneficial. Plus, using solutions that are familiar can open doors for adoptions down the road. As we pointed out last week, "You can't force the tools on employees. What you can do is make them available, demonstrate their value and incrementally foster a culture of using them."

Moreover, when it's communication you're promoting, what kind of message does it send to put a cap on it? In the words of TUC general secretary Brendan Barber, "It's unreasonable for employers to try to stop their staff from having a life outside work, just because they can't get their heads around the technology."