But what about social network exhaustion? After all, if one is collaborating on a wiki at work to develop a meeting agenda, updating a profile at LinkedIn to connect with peers within the industry, blogging at ITtoolbox about a software bug, and connecting with other Labradoodle owners via pet network Dogster, how much quality time can one spend at each site? And can new targeted networks find an audience?
ITtoolbox's Krautzel believes that consolidation of social network sites is inevitable. "There's such a volume and time and investment in creating connections; users aren't going to want to do it over and over." His guess is that there will only be a few companies doing this in each market space in a few years and that the advantage will go to first movers whose members have already invested time in building their profiles. Yalamanchi concurs, saying, "If your friends are already in, you'll stay."
Advantage will also accrue to those networks offering enhanced functionality in the form of powerful search capabilities for disparate content types, more avenues for member interactions, and additional features to draw in users older than the 18-35 demographic currently dominating social network usage.
WebCrossing's Lundeen believes that as the amount of more member-generated content is added, tagging capability will become critical. "We have tagging functionality now but very few of our customers expose it to their user base. I expect there to be much more use of our tagging engine going forward." He also expects more diversity in the type of information posted to an enterprise social network, including video, screen shots, and voice-over capabilities. Yalamanchi says, "We recently added a video section. It's just another form of expression" for hi5 members, and another type of content that will need to be made searchable.
Cerado's Carfi says that another key development to look for with enterprise social networking will be "the immediacy of interaction modes. Within a profile, you'll see opportunities to connect through Skype or instant messaging, all tied to the comfort level of the customer." This means that once you find a profile, you'll have a range of communication tools available beyond email to get in touch, connecting that much faster. Going along with that premise, Yalamanchi says hi5 believes accessing the network via mobile devices will be a top user priority, and the company is actively working to understand "what we can do, on and off the web."
Because C2C social networks have traditionally been the bailiwick of younger consumers, industry insiders believe that social networks will gain a foothold more easily as that generation moves into the work force. As Driver from Forrester puts it, "The ‘Millenials' will influence the use of collaborative tools in the enterprise." One way that LinkedIn may broaden its appeal to more experienced workers is the introduction of an Experts feature, according to Luo. "This is for people who have more money than time; you explain your need to us and we deliver back the names of five experts in the LinkedIn network who could address it."
It appears that social networks for business are here to stay, and that they bring with them the chance for improved internal communications and more meaningful customer relationships. But as collaborative capabilities become the norm internally and externally, companies will have to pay close attention to the needs of their online communities so they can offer the content, features, and functionality that make it worthwhile for members to come back for more.