2009 Prediction: Enterprises will figure out how to use social networks in the right way

December 22, 2008 Appirio

Prediction #9 in our series of 2009 predictions…covered out of order due to New York Times Blog coverage.

2008 recap: In 2008, social networks exploded in popularity, but remained almost entirely a consumer phenomenon: 2008 was the year where social networking was more popular than online pornography… “In 2008, if you’re not on a social networking site, you’re not on the internet,” wrote the Interactive Advertising Bureau.  But while 96% of Millennials / Gen Y had joined a social network by the end of 2008, only 57% of overall internet users did.  And while there were over 50,000 applications written on the Facebook platformnearly none help people be more effective at work. 

2009 prediction:
In 2009, we predict that companies will finally figure out how to use social networks in the right way: by building up (NOT undercutting) the trust between employees and their friends. Your employees already use social networks to connect and exchange information with others in their personal life… there’s no reason that this trend would stop at the office door.  In 2009, you’ll see HR, marketing, and sales organizations at leading companies capture real business benefits from effective, trust-based use of the social networks of their employees:

  • Find and attract great talent for your company by encouraging viral employee referrals
  • Create a “virtual account team” of friends inside and outside your company as you approach strategic accounts
  • Virally promote activities your employees, customers, and partners are excited about

Implications for customers
The underlying reason that social networks are valuable in the enterprise is simple: people trust their friends.  Messages that come through personal connections will always have a higher impact than corporate messages conveyed through traditional advertising.  This is what gives social networks such potential for viral sales, marketing, and recruiting…. and why maintaining the integrity and trust of the social network is so important.  Companies who want to use the social graph effectively need to understand 3 core principles of social networking in the enterprise:

  • The world doesn’t need “yet another” social network:  Social networks benefit from increasing returns to scale.  The larger the network, the richer and more valuable the connections between its members.  That’s why efforts to create “behind the firewall” social networks have failed.  Even the largest companies are too small to sustain the diversity of social connections required to rival the level of interactivity of a public service like Facebook.  Companies need to acknowledge that the most valuable social networks live outside their firewall, and that making the most of the social graph requires reaching out, not
    replicating within. 
  • Lines are blurring between work and play:  Many of us would like a clear line between our work life and our personal life….including a separation in these two social networks. But this separation isn’t sustainable, and is already starting to break down.  One example: our grad school classmates initially connected on Facebook— even though we are all now doing business together, we still use Facebook to stay in touch.  Functionality wise, there’s no reason not to (Facebook’s interaction is just as effective with work friends).  And in any case, services like FriendFeed and Ping.fm make the notion of a separate, disconnected personal social network quaint.  What does this mean?  Companies need to get used to doing business on Facebook, and seeing personal information on LinkedIn.  Employees need to get better using the capabilities these services offer to show different things to different friends.  But at the end of the day, people are people, whether at work or at play– there’s no such thing as a purely social network.       
  • Employees own their social network, not their employers:  Every marketing organization salivates over the prospect of privileged access to Facebook’s 120 M users. But effective use of social networks requires an understanding that employees own their social networks, and will only allow their employer access if there’s a clear value proposition to them AND their friends. The New York Times wrote up Appirio’s Jobs4myFriends Facebook application, calling out the risks of inappropriately using an employee’s social network. We couldn’t agree more: that’s why recruiting is such a great use case for an enterprise Facebook app— our application puts control in the hands of employees, allowing them to refer friends they’d love to work with. YOU choose whether or not to refer a friend for a job, and your company will never see anything about your friends that isn’t public. Establishing this trust is critical to bringing social networks into the enterprise.

Companies need help applying these principles to their social networking efforts, and we will certainly see a lot of missteps and false starts.  But the trend is clear, and we are confident that 2009 will be the year that companies start to see major business benefits from trust-based use of the social graph. 

What do you think?

Which of 

our predictions do you agree or disagree with? Please let us know by voting in our poll or commenting below.

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