The hype around social networking continues in 2009, and no better social networking site than Twitter, has been able to demonstrate how social networking and media will revolutionize the way we live, work and play.  It has become a number of different things to a number of different people. Personally, I use Twitter to read the latest news, connect with people in my industry, and other areas of interest, and keep up with the life of friends as well. I implement the 80/20 rule:  80% is professional use, and 20% is personal.  Each individual uses Twitter in a different manner…and that’s OK.  No one has said that Twitter needs to be one thing to everyone.  In fact, I think the beauty of the tool is that it can be anything to anyone. 

Facebook is another phenomenon.  What Facebook has done is revolutionary.  Being able to find old friends, make new friends, join groups with similar interests, stay in touch with family, is what true social networking is. The ability to see your distant loved ones and friends, know what they are up to, see their pictures, understand what they’re thinking, at the click of a button, is a major change in the way we stay connected, and has made the world a smaller place. 

So what do these phenomenons together mean to the enterprise?  Is there a place for enterprise social networking or is it an oxymoron?  Do business and social not go hand in hand?  I would say they do.  In fact, I would say they have for a long time; business lunches and dinners, are bringing social and business together.  What has changed is the way in which we do this, and the way in which we communicate.  It has been brought into the digital age, and changed the way in which we connect.

I believe the next step in this social networking phenomenon is understanding how it can be brought to the vertical industry.  I will use healthcare as an example because I believe that through the power of social networking and crowdsourcing, it can help to accelerate so much of the manual process that hinders innovation in this industry.  The concept of patient communities is something that has opened up opportunities within the healthcare space.  It can bring patients together with similar illnesses and diseases to find one another and compare medicines, treatments, doctors, etc.  It can provide support, both emotional and physical, to patients who have a common illness.  It also provides a soundboard for patients who want to share their experiences, and even participate in clinical trials. 

Another form of social networking that is already being experimented in healthcare is that of physician/patient interaction.  Healthcare combined with Web 2.0 technologies has enabled consumers to securely connect with physicians utilizing real-time collaboration tools such as audio and web conferencing, VoIP, and instant messaging, via a social networking platform.  There is no longer a need to schedule and go to an appointment, as physicians are readily available to chat via instant messaging, or conferencing.  This type of collaboration not only provides flexibility for consumers, but also empowers them to choose based on their specific needs. 

The evolution of social networking and unified communications is occurring and the way in which we interact in our daily lives, not only from a social perspective, is changing.  In order for enterprises to remain competitive it will be necessary to adapt to these changes, in order to meet the needs of customers.  I’d be interested in hearing how you are implementing unified communications and collaboration tools, such as social networking in your business.

Collaboration has been on the tip of many tongues, becoming the buzz word of the year.  There have been many versions of the definition of collaboration, and all have a component of what collaboration is, and what it can do.  I just recently saw a movie, which had to do with a football team, and its ability to work effectively as a team in order to win a championship.  It got me thinking that this is where the true definition of collaboration lies.  The true definition of collaboration really has little to do with products or solutions.  It has to do with several things, including:  culture, process and technology.  I begin with the cultural component.  This is perhaps the most critical component of making collaboration happen.  When we work in teams, it leads to a more productive and fulfilling experience, whether it is a product go-to-market project or a team strategy play.  One person doesn’t make things happen as quickly and effectively as a team of people can.  When 2 or more people come together to make something happen, this is when true collaboration occurs.   . 


Technology today makes this easier to happen.  In the past, an in person meeting or a phone call was necessary to get two or more people to communicate.  Today, tools enable collaboration to happen with a slew of different modes of communications that not only include voice, but video, web conferencing, presence, social networking (i.e microblogging), etc.  I believe that when a combination of these tools is used, it is then that you can reap the many benefits of a collaboration platform, which include cost efficiencies as well as increased employee productivity.  It can empower a group of employees to be efficiently and effectively productive.  Productive employees equal successful contributions/outcomes, which foster innovation, which in turn, help an organization to succeed and maintain a competitive advantage.   And this is just the beginning. Once employees learn how to utilize collaboration tools effectively, and realize just how it easy it is to launch a video chat, or bring together a group of people and utilize document or desktop sharing, the benefits will be many. 


The Holy Grail of Collaboration is when the culture and the process come together, and are enabled by technology.  Organizations that begin to move away from that of a vertical organizational structure and more towards a flatter, horizontal structure will succeed with the ever changing landscape.  However, this mindset is also much different than what most employees are typically used to.  Change is always difficult, but necessary, and must be mandated from the top.  Employees must be motivated to accept this change and sometimes it means changing compensation structures, or teaming two or more unlikely co-workers.  Although now we see many grass roots efforts that begin within pockets of an organization, who utilize collaboration tools such as presence (public or private), video, and/or a social networking platform such as Yammer, management must make it an organizational approach, while still allowing for that grass roots feeling.  This is where the challenge lies.  Empowering your employees while still maintaining leadership is a difficult balance to strike.  Management must be willing to take a risk, foster positive change, teamwork, and innovation.  It’s important to lead by example and have employees behind the initiative.   


I’m interested in hearing about examples of how your organization is utilizing collaboration tools and changing organizational structure to take full advantage of a collaboration platform.  Have you found it to be productive?  Do you feel more empowered as an employee?  Do you have more of a connection with your co-workers?  Are your employees having a hard time with tools?  I welcome your comments and/or feedback and thoughts around how organizations can deal with the changing cultural aspects that collaboration will bring.

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