Why Social Networks Don’t Work for Business

Web 2.0 seems to get all the press these days. I kinda feel sorry for its less popularTrust stepchild known as Enterprise 2.0. It smacks of some suit trying so hard to be cool and hip, but alas, we all know that enterprise software will never be the coolest thing around. I have yet to see the GL entry that can top the pictures of my daughters on Flickr. Of course, FreshBooks may come along and do something revolutionary and completely change my perspective, but man, that will be one hell of an invoice.

So for now, we’ll have to agree that comparatively speaking, the consumer software world is just more fun. The interesting question however, is if all these cool 2.0 concepts such as social networking, wisdom of the crowds or even the cool features like Digging apply in the business world at all?

As I reflected on this, I came to the rather startling conclusion that for me, 2.0 is actually more useful behind the firewall than in the consumer world. Let’s look at a few examples:

: This is an absolutely brilliant concept. Have people vote on the news they like and essentially turn the old school publishing model on its ear. The core of that idea is a belief in the crowd and a simple tool to enable their voice. To their credit, they have turned media on its ear. If you don’t believe me, take a look at this compete snapshot comparing them to some more traditional media. Given the usage by the public at large, I wondered why I didn’t use Digg personally? I certainly have an account, but I never go read anything. The more I talk to people, the more I hear the same story. The knee jerk response as to why people I know don’t use the site is information overload. There is just have too much to read between email and rss, so they don’t get around to it.

Example 2:
MySpace, Facebook, LinkedIN: Social networking is probably the biggest change in how people use the web. With nearly 100M visitors there is something going on here, yet it hasn’t taken off behind the firewall. Obviously, there are many people who work at companies who have profiles on social sites, but the utility for work is just not there. Even for businesspeople who are into the “new web”, most treat these sites as a curiosity more than a tool to do business. I personally have a Facebook profile, but I never do any business on Facebook.

Same goes for LinkedIn. On the occasion that I go to LinkedIn, it is to approve a friend request from a colleague who is clearly job hunting. The last time I had any real traffic on my LinkedIn account was during the acquisition of PeopleSoft by Oracle. The great diaspora of PeopleSofters was a boon for the network volume but did little for its actual value. I’d venture to say that most people working at companies feel the same (if they even know what social networks are all about). From a business perspective, these sites are glorified contact managers in the cloud. That’s about it.

So what about Digg and Social Networks make them unworkable for business? Or stated differently, what do they need to become relevant to the business world.

As usual, in the world of 2.0 it all comes down to people. Social sites cannot be all that useful for business until everyone is on them. It’s the law of network effects all over again (remember the fax machine example). The nuance today, is that the people on these sites have to be the ones I care about.

There are lots of people using Digg, MySpace, and more, but from a work perspective, that has very little use to me. I want my trusted group. In simple terms that can be thought of as ALL the employees of Oracle. Sure it would be nice to have people I trust outside Oracle in there, but all my co-workers would be a grand start.

Once you have the people you trust, all you need is content.

Take Digg for example, I don’t use it because I am not all that interested in the news the anonymous crowd read that day. However, I will read every link emailed to me by a friend or co-worker I trust. If I could see all the articles that people in Oracle Strategy thought were good, then I am game.

I don’t go to Facebook to find the phone number or a recent ppt created by a co-worker, but what if my entire company was on that system? What if I could segment those people and call out those that I trust, not just those that share an “@oracle.com” domain on their email? Or what if I could see the most recent bookmarks created by my trusted network in product development? Now that is a social tool I would use. Day in, day out.

When we inject trust into the equation. It’s altogether different. I have an implied social network I live and breath within at Oracle. They are not only important to me, but I to them. It’s an inseparable part of getting things done, and the power of social networks is that the relationships become explicit and the content is relevant.

Until we enable a richer, trusted experience behind the firewall, all these social tools will be relegated to novelty acts to business people.




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