“When people engage properly with each other and with technology...trust, self-organization, and good business results emerge” -- Andrew McAfee

Dr. Andrew McAfee, of MIT and “Enterprise 2.0” fame continues to challenge organizations to adopt social business tactics and platforms. Most recently, Professor McAfee led a task force of 18 members of the information management vendor community in conjunction with a non-profit association. The results of this research project were published as a white paper series called “When Social Meets Business, Real Work Gets Done.”

As Enterprise 2.0 matures into “social business”, examples of successful connected enterprises are emerging. Social business IS in fact delivering measurable and tangible benefits to large organizations. Large organizations are challenged to broker global conversations, connect mentors and learners, and to let knowledge and information flow across time zones and geographies. Three such areas that have garnered attention from McAfee in recent months include:

Connecting Sales and Marketing: Is it Time to Stop Confusing Your Customers?

This is a fascinating angle to explore as a use case for social business. Few companies have focused on bridging this internal divide, and it shows. Problems that can directly erode top and bottom line result from poor communication. When customers complain that they had different experiences with different parts of the business, opportunities and service level commitments suffer. Disconnected messaging, duplicated collateral and the clash between sales and marketing cultures all hurt a firm's brand and customer experience.

The opportunities for lead generation and customer engagement that new WCM, social and analytical tools offer digital marketers are skyrocketing, but few organizations have extended this thinking into the sales teams. Sales are wired for individual performance, rather than team objectives, and are identified as least likely to spontaneously participate in digital communities. Yet companies who do invest in collaborative tools and practices for sales and marketing communication are consistently reporting important gains in knowledge sharing and communication.

Fostering Innovation: Tap into Unexpected Sources of Cool Ideas

The benefits of open innovation is in the early stages in many mainstream businesses despite creating rapid technology advancement in open source circles. Open Innovation specifically seeks to include more people -- both inside and outside of a company -- in the brainstorming of new products, ideas and processes. When companies apply “Joy's Law,” i.e. acknowledging that “the smartest people work for somebody else,” significant benefits can be realized. Customers, partners and suppliers often see perspectives on business that are difficult to see when inside the enterprise.

The primary challenge is that organizations need to change their cultures to really embrace open innovation. More companies need be receptive to contributions from diverse sources outside of their own employee base.

Companies who have opened the doors to contribution across lines of business, customers and partners will need to find collaborative tools to bridge the need to share across platforms, geographies and device preferences. Simple web or mobile sharing systems, ideally with integration potential with established enterprise systems, help ensure new and fresh perspectives can be added at various stages of a work process.

There is still reluctance, however, for most organizations to extend open innovation platforms outside the company. Perhaps this is one area where further study of successful open source projects can shed light on how to work transparently in purpose-driven communities. This is an area ripe for further exploration as the concept of community becomes more mainstream -- at least in marketing circles.

Enterprise Q&A: Digitally Capture the Hallway Chat Culture

Enterprise Q&A has been referred to, by McAfee, as a “pure” example of social business because it is the least constrained. There is no advance specification of who will participate, or what they will talk about. Enterprise Q&A seeks to capture that person-to-person knowledge sharing culture that pervades successful companies.

Serendipity, high levels of satisfaction rates, discovery of expertise in unexpected places are all reported findings from organizations with positive experiences by encouraging this collaborative communication culture. Companies who have instituted such a program are reporting high levels of satisfaction with a rewards-based participation model.

When companies expand or need to go virtual, replicating the hallway chat or water cooler culture of close-knit organizations can be very difficult. Building and maintaining a strong internal network for advice, know-how, tips and brainstorming can be difficult if personal trust is not established and reputations are unknown.

The power of collaborative technology to underpin social business, even across global operations or virtual workplaces, is evident when expertise is found unexpectedly. Online Q&A and peer-to-peer help systems reveal experts with simple tools to capture questions and responses, including curation, tagging and rating to ensure findability of content in the future. Enterprise Q&A is recommended as one of the best candidates for a first social business initiative for an organization interested in testing the Enterprise 2.0 waters. Powerful, popular and easy to launch.

Strong, Weak and Potential Ties

A common theme across these potential areas for social business adoption is that they are areas where few things are known in advance: the roles, flow of work, credentials and expertise must emerge as people engage with each other, using technology to share content and information. And when social meets business, as the recent McAfee research reveals, real work does get done.

Disclosure: AIIM is the non-profit association that led the McAfee task force project described in this article.

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