Social networking isn

I attended a news conference this morning during which Ernst & Young LLP senior vice-president John Graham touched on Gartner’s top ten strategic technologies for 2009. Going through the list that included virtualization and cloud computing, he came across social networking, at which point he said, “I’m not exactly sure how that contributes entirely to the overall enterprise productivity initiative. But we all need a little distraction from time to time.” The audience then laughed in agreement.

Social networking is more than just Facebook, Twitter and Friendster. Certainly, in the consumer realm, those are the best-known applications. But in the business world, social networking can take on a different form and might be labeled as something else, but it is definitely a tool that drives productivity.

Team members collaborating on a project, for instance, may set up a corporate wiki where they can log tasks outstanding and completed, post their work for others to view, share tidbits and ideas, post links to relevant whitepapers and articles, etc. It’s basically an online community of individuals who share something in common – in this case, the project – and is a platform that enables them to connect with their team mates and stay abreast on where things are at, or, if you like, form a social network.

Instant messaging, too, is a popular tool in the consumer world with which users connect and chat in real-time. In a business setting, instant messaging functions in the same manner except the topic of discussion would be work. Employees in transit or who work remotely find it particularly useful for keeping real-time contact with colleagues back at the office, and vice versa. The telephone, in fact, functions in the same way … are telephones detrimental to employee productivity?

Besides sharing updates and work, wikis and instant messaging tools are good for maintaining worker cohesiveness, which can only contribute positively to productivity.

Graham may not realize it, but Ernst & Young employees are probably right now driving productivity using social networking in some form or another, like a collaboration tool, a blog, intranet with a wiki, etc. The audience that laughed along with Graham’s comment was, I estimate, of the average age of 45. Perhaps the definition of social networking among that age group is Facebook and Friendster. But instead of equating the concept of social networking to a couple of sites, people should maybe look at the features that define a social networking platform, and the benefits those features render to users.

Broadening the definition of a business tool will be good for business agility, and companies that realize productivity tools are no longer what they used to be, will surely emerge stronger.

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