Clearly not all social networking applications are equal. Some are free, some seem free but cost you, and others have an explicit cost.  Their benefits are not proportional to their costs. Equally their reasons for existence is different.

The concern is that there is a blurring between our work lives and social lives.  I thought Facebook was my personal life, but that is changing with work associates requesting to be friends.  Twitter was for work, but people on there I now count as friends.  Confused and confusing?  So let me give you a perspective which might help.

For many of the 750 million users Facebook is a way of connecting with friends and family. Increasingly it is a way that companies are projecting their brand thought fan pages and advertising. And enterprising software companies are devising ways of driving new revenue streams through Facebook apps. But for most it is a way of continuing the face to face conversation online – with people they already know.  It is driven by a form of ‘voyerism’. Connecting with someone you have never met seems strange, and is probably best explained by Some Grey Bloke

Twitter is a chance to hear what other people are thinking and reading. People you have never met before. Rather like wandering around a restaurant and earwigging the conversations at tables. Some are mundane and boring, but others are fascinating. The boring conversations about what time they got up or which flight they boarded you ignore and move on. Others are fascinating and you hang around to hear more (“follow”)” Over time you may get to know the diners and be invited to the table (they “follow you” and “retweet” your tweets).  So it is driven by curiosity and the desire for knowledge or insight.  And it is a way of starting to meet people online you have never met before. Following someone you don’t know seems normal, but actually meeting them face to face is a far bigger step – but fascinating. Does their online persona match up with them in real life? Better or worse?

Social networking for enterprises

There are a number of software vendors fighting over this space. As a long term Salesforce customer we have had tremendous success using Chatter. This is what might have been called collaboration before or the natural discussions required to ‘get the job done’. Now those conversations are being taken online and leaping geographical and time zone boundaries. Interestingly these conversations are between people who already know each other, or who are brought together by a common problem, aim or organisational grouping.  It is quite natural to follow or connect with someone you don’t know. What is interesting is that it can start to breakdown organizational silos and make the goal of virtual multi-disciplinary teams possible.

But let us not get too carried away with the hype. Social Networking software will not replace all enterprise systems. But it will reduce the friction of collaboration in the workplace.  But like any application it needs to be integrated. A recent article on Harvard Business Review “Want Value From Social? Add Structure” http://bit.ly/cBUXAC echoes the point.

Social media, when combined with the proliferation of mobile devices and cloud computing is changing our work and personal lives. For the better? Who knows. It is still a confused and confusing market. And the confused mind typically says “No”.  That is the wrong answer. Social Networking is not a spectator sport. It is best examined and experienced from the inside. Only then can you see how you should respond as an individual, an employee, a manager and a leader.

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