Should we build our own social media tools?

Helix Commerce’s Dr. Cindy Gordon and Alex Blom discuss apps, effort and emerging opportunities

We’re deciding whether to allow employees to use tools like Facebook and Twitter for collaborating on projects or simply building tools in our intranet which mimic these services. What’s the better approach?

This is a good question. The better approach is not to focus on the tool but rather on the application (business problem) and to understand the degree of risk of working within different toolkit environments. There is no end of Social Networking tools and you have named only a couple. Desired functionality is the first decision point, along with the type of interaction and audience this interaction will need to be with. In larger, more complex, enterprises (i.e. banks) , collaborating on Facebook to develop a business strategy that is not secured behind the firewall is a high risk and would not be recommended. However in a small business or a start-up that needs to set up a private community to discuss the pros and cons of a new product set of features is not a risk using Facebook or to share perspectives on innovative coffee beans sourced from diverse countries in a more public forum is less of a risk. Again what are your trying to achieve with the experience?

In regards to using Twitter – the same practical orientation needs to be in place. If you want to use Twitter internally, the same functionality is offered by Yammer in a more secure protected environment for the enterprise. This does not mean Twitter could not do the job, but it is important to determine who you want in the conversation, as Twitter is a very open micro-blogging environment.

At the end of the day, the same fundamentals apply using social media technologies as with any new form of technology that is in it’s early adoption lifecycle. What is it you need to do, with who, why, and when? How will this experience be integrated with other environments, or does it need to be? Is this a long term business process experience or a one off experience? What is the risk of the information and content being transmitted in the social media environment and is their any risk with the associated content. How do we deal with the associated risk to protect our brand and also meet regulatory compliance requirements?

One of the reasons business users and even IT professionals are getting confused in answering these questions is they often do not have the practical working experience in using these tools and hence without foundational training on the leading practices and knowledge of when different types of social media toolkits can be applied, it is easy to get confused, When should you use a wiki vs a blog or when is it best to micro-blog or use more formal blogging practices? When should I use crowdsourcing approaches for open source innovation vs traditional marketing insight approaches?

I understand why people in marketing and our CEO might want to use social media, but as a CIO, what’s the value for the time and energy I would put in to updating my status all the time? 

One of the great benefits of updating your status is that people (internal or external) know how to reach you. Many executives are trained to update their voice mail messages so if clients call in they often say the date, if they are in the office or out of the office travelling. There are new unified communication tools that allow multiple status messages to be updated to save productivity if required to populate rapidly diverse toolkits. At the end of the day, a CEO or CIO that is more visible builds a more approachable and open persona and from our experiences in developing customized blogs and social media leadership programs, this also impacts employee satisfaction scores, which in turn impacts customer satisfaction scores. MTS Allstream with the leadership of their Enterprise Business president, Dean Prevost, has had some good success using social media employee engagement approaches to demonstrate that as senior leaders they are listening, are engaged and together working the business challenges in a more open and collaborative dialogue. We often talk about agility and being more open, so updating status indicators that state: I am at a client’s, I am out of office unreachable, I am on a plane, I am at an employee offsite, I am in my office doing performance reviews, etc… helps employees see also that you are a real person. You are approachable – this is only goodness.

If we start using social media to support customers, promote services and so on, we’re dealing with public sites that frequently go down. What’s a good backup plan?

Consider that many of these social media sites focus on uptime as a key metric. Despite growth pains, the track record of uptime is solid. More importantly, early adopters are understanding as to the challenges these websites face.Like with any customer service strategy, think through the risks of the environment that you are selecting to promote your brand. If your company is dealing with financial transactional high security data, downtime is certainly more key than a branding channel for a retail location.

I hear about newer social media services like Foursquare that may or may not last. How do you evaluate whether a social media platform is ready for prime time in the enterprise?

Go where your customers go. Many web properties in general shift as consumer patterns and demands change. Understand that it may not be around forever. Instead, consider how many of your potential customers leverage the channel, the trajectory of this adoption and how the channel fits into your core strategies. You will find refined, active channels are far more beneficial to your company than less active, empty ones.

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