When I raise the topic of social enterprise with clients I will often get FUD (fear, uncertainty and doubt) comments, like "But people can just say what they like!" or "Why do we need social -- we've got [email, instant messaging, team sites, etc.]" or "What if someone posts inappropriate pictures?"
My favorite is the one that goes something like: "Social enterprise? You mean like Facebook for the enterprise? What a time waster!" When someone says this to me I like to tell them about Grace. Grace is my 14 year old niece and she is an absolute Facebook power user!
She "friended" me about a year ago. I was surprised by this as the only teenagers I have regular contact with -- my daughters -- absolutely will not friend me on Facebook.
I must admit that the last year as a FB friend of Grace has been educational and interesting. I have learned about the power of likes, been bemused by a never-ending series of "selfies" and even got to know about onesies (as sported by One Direction to the right)! I have also seen some things which have made it clear to me why my daughters don't want me looking over their virtual shoulders!
Getting back on topic, though, Grace has demonstrated to me the fundamental power of Facebook as a social tool and though it is being used (relentlessly!) by Grace to power her teenage social life, there are many lessons that can be applied to business.
Grace has friended all of her besties and uses the Facebook newsfeed to stay in touch with them on a daily basis. In a business context we use social tools to connect with and follow our colleagues, getting notified when they post a question or idea, or share a document. It's a simple, painless way to stay in touch.
Friends -- It's All About Quantity
Actually, Grace has 1,218 Facebook "friends." Of course, most of these aren't particularly close friends, but they serve an important purpose, which is to give Grace a bigger, more diverse pool of contacts than her much smaller group of BFFs and to give her more opportunity to find people with similar interests.
Grace is intuitively tapping into Metcalf's law, which says: "The value of a network is proportional to the square of the number of connected nodes in the system," which basically means, "the more connections, the better."
In business we have our social networks, that is, the colleagues and peers we work with on a day to day basis. Social enterprise tools let us extend these connections, by creating secondary connections with our colleague's colleagues and beyond. We create a social wirearchy that we can tap into, for example, to locate expertise outside of our immediate peers. It's within these "thin" connections that the real power of the social networks lie.