Connectbeam’s founder and CEO, Puneet Gupta, provides an example of how Connectbeam facilitates those internal connections. "Say Cisco needs an engineer with a specific skill set to address a problem that’s come up in a European office. In the old days, the project manager would have to email firstname.lastname@example.org or try to navigate the reporting hierarchy to make an inquiry." With Connectbeam, the manager can simply search on the specific skill set and region across the internal social network of employees to quickly locate candidates.
"The whole point of the social network functionality within Connectbeam is context and quality," says Gupta. "By looking at a co-worker’s profile, who is in their network, what information they’re tagging and who they’re sharing it with," it becomes much easier to determine if someone is the right person for a specific project or role.
Generate uses the "social graph," or interconnections of personal relationships, to solve a common problem in decentralized sales organizations: who do you know? "We help unlock relationships within a company," says Rob White, Generate’s EVP of product management. Generate’s solution pairs a private social network with real-time company intelligence. By encouraging a corporate sales team to input their key contacts into a network that sits securely behind the corporate firewall, says White, "we develop relationship maps that show peer affiliations," like a company executive who sits on a board with someone who can influence a deal at the target company and can make the personal push necessary to close the contract.
For Generate’s customers in the technology, professional service, and financial services world, "our platform makes the ‘who do you know at Company X?’ emails disappear," observes Darr Aley, Generate’s EVP and chief marketing officer.
White points out that as corporations begin to understand the value of their employee’s social networks, they’re getting sensitive to privacy issues and leery of external social networks. "We’ve seen situations where the head of sales for larger companies are not allowing their employees to publish their relationships into [third-party networks.] They prefer a closed system that is not accessible by the larger community."
Social Networks Mean Business
The larger business community, however, is flocking to external peer-to-peer networks such as LinkedIn, ITToolbox, and Spoke in droves; ITToolbox announced in November 2007 that more than 250,000 profiles had been created in the 12 months since it launched, and LinkedIn now has more than 14 million members. Tom Pick, a B2B marketing consultant, says that "Every B2B executive and salesperson should have an updated profile on LinkedIn; if it’s not up to date, it’s like giving out a business card with the wrong phone number." He has observed that the traditionally consumer-oriented Facebook is quickly gaining ground on the more business-focused LinkedIn, with influential users preferring the interactive and customizable features of the Facebook profile.
Innovation abounds for third-party social networks as they realize that corporate adoption depends on the ability to offer more than just a virtual meeting place for members. Many of these third-party social networks are now evolving into platforms with open APIs that customers can use to build customized applications.
In September 2007, Salesforce.com announced the launch of Faceforce, a mashup to enable Salesforce.com customers to pull in Facebook profiles to the Salesforce product, providing sales people more detailed information about their prospects. Similarly, in December 2007 LinkedIn announced its Intelligent Applications Platform, which will enable users’ business partners, such as BusinessWeek Online, to use LinkedIn’s APIs to build professional applications. "Our LinkedIn application will strengthen our connection to professionals by enabling them to easily tap into their professional networks while reading BusinessWeek content," says Roger Neal, SVP of Business Week Digital.
The LinkedIn application takes advantage of the OpenSocial project spearheaded by Google. OpenSocial is a set of open APIs that Google is releasing to web application developers to facilitate portability for social network web applications. It stands to address a major stumbling block for new peer-to-peer or even corporate social networks: the transportability of a user’s social graph from network to network. Forrester analyst Ramos predicts that as the social network market reaches maturity, "people will want one profile that can be read and accepted by all social networks" rather than taking the time to build one for each site.