The very last panel I attended at the Gilbane Conference in San Francisco was also one that I had the privilege of moderating. Our topic was the big hot topic of the conference: how to integrate social networking features into the enterprise and whether or not they can co-exist happily with a content management system. Specifically in our panel's case, we talked about Facebook's utility. The net takeaway from our panel was -- it's all about the platform; Facebook matters because of its ability to integrate outside applications.
The panelists for this talk were Antony Awaida
, who does double time as CEO of consulting firm Startleap
and is also the VP of Sales and Marketing at Web CMS company, Ephox
. We were joined by E van Gerber
, principal consultant at marketing firm Molecular
While it was obvious that our panel attendees were a bit fatigued by the constant references that this conference had to social networking and web 2.0
and having to sit through yet another discussion of a product who's major business relevance has yet to be really proven, there was still a keen interest in the topic and a casual, interesting discussion was had that Friday morning.
The first question the audience had for our panel was why the focus on a product like Facebook
, which is primarily a social tool vs. a site like networking and job site, LinkedIn
, which is far more business-oriented. Mr. Awaida fielded this question and pointed out that LinkedIn has no API (and thus, no applications) and lacks the workflow of Facebook.
Facebook has also recently made some pretty useful changes which allows for easy creation of groups, ways to separate your work and home life -- another question that was brought up was whether or not people even wanted to associate Facebook with their professional life -- and has a clean, easy to use interface which allows for information to be shared effectively. Another major difference is that LinkedIn is a tool people use as a means to an end; it lacks the consistent use of Facebook
. Once a person has gotten what they need from it, they are unlikely to go back there again.
Next was the typical question of what to do about older workers, who may see Facebook and sites of its ilk as a kids game, similar to a question that came up in an earlier panel on Social Computing
: The generation gap -- were older people likely to be resistant to using social networking? With this, once again the answer was that older workers simply needed to get used to interacting in this way. Evan Gerber made the point that younger employees, who are growing up using MySpace and Facebook, are used to sharing as the default mode of communication. They're used to sending messages on Facebook instead of email or using web based email and IM instead of voice calls and Outlook.
The bigger problem, as the panel pointed out is simply user adoption, and not just old people, but everyone in the organization. How do we get them off of internal document hell and into more collaborative workspaces? This was another overall theme of the conference: a company can spend as much money as they want on finding a CMS, testing and training, but if you can't get people to use it, then you may as well throw your money down the drain.
As for the question of how can we fit social networking into the enterprise, Mr. Awaida stated that what needs to happen is that applications need to be developed that have actual business use. Until then, Facebook can be a nice way of socializing and using it as a makeshift company directory, but it won't have much business value until developers get serious about appealing to the enterprise (that is, if they even want to).