Should Business Embrace Social Networking?

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Reputation Monitoring

Etlinger from The Horn Group believes this kind of monitoring is useful and necessary: “Customers can hijack you if you are not paying attention. Type in the name of any consumer or technology brand, you will see a criticism that the company should know about.”

Etlinger recommends that firms begin by monitoring social media for 3 to 6 months (or longer) before determining how to enter the conversations that they see. Frank Eliason, who runs a services group and the social media efforts behind customer care for Comcast, says that his company first got into the arena by simply observing. Simply observing came naturally to him anyway, “My background was in financial services, so you would never write on a website.”

Eighteen months ago he took a major step and replied to a customer posting a complaint on a blog. Eliason was able to turn a bad experience for the customer into a pleasant one. Eventually he found his way to Twitter (where he Twitters under the name @comcastcares), earning kudos from tech critic Michael Arrington on the blog TechCrunch. Eliason’s key criteria for sites are “Searchability and timing. So, Facebook is not good for search.”

Despite Eliason’s renown as a pioneer in social media for the corporation, he states on his blog, “I never considered myself to be a ‘social media’ person,
just a simple service guy talking to Customers.” However, according to a February 2009 Abrams Research Survey of 200 social media leaders, Comcast was ranked fourth as a social media presence, only after the Obama Campaign, Zappos, and CNN.

Michael Mitchells, director of communications at Cisco, a social media powerhouse, says that the company is “leveraging social networking to transform the intranet experience.” The
company’s concept is to connect “people, information, and community.” With a laserlike focus on accelerating all human and business transactions, the goal Mitchells holds out is to “remove human latency.” He explains, “If you really analyze a typical sales cycle of about 9 months, most of the time is spent on getting the right product expert for the customer to talk to.” So by deploying an array of tools, including Directory 3.0, an expertise locator, Cisco helps the salesperson to find a new contact that is available to talk sooner, thereby shortening the sales cycle.

Mitchells is quick to point out that creating virtual teams with Cisco's internal expertise locator is a critical capability to have in times of re-organization. “Along with the company’s suite of internal social networking tools that include high-def video meetings, C-Vision, video wikis, and internal blogs,” he says, “We are using Directory 3.0 to help us reassign people to teams without having to move them.” Mitchells adds that for the future, “The goal is to build out richness—very much like Facebook.”

For every tool that is added within the Cisco sphere, Mitchells looks at its impact on the social graph, a framework that measures the nodes and transactions within the community. In addition, because of the subtleties of human relationships and trust, Mitchells says that having high-definition video to support the internal social media system is key to its success. “We are human beings first; sometimes we just need to see each other.”

Definitions Evolve

Like any sector that is growing, social technology is beginning to differentiate into distinct areas. Hence the terms social networking, social media, and social web. Though often used interchangeably, they refer to distinct efforts that belie the purpose behind each one’s use according to aficionados. Social networking refers to networks of individuals who come together to make connections with each other and only grant access to their content for that purpose, whereas social media relates to the production of content by users that is accessible and searchable by all.
The social web refers to the way in which an entity organizes its identity, connections, and content throughout the internet. This concept could give way to an entirely new idea of brand and identity for the enterprise, one that is created almost exclusively in the social web through the connections and conversations that occur there.

A source at Google forecast this for the social web: “Every generation forward will expect a medium to be ‘built for social.’ The notion of a ‘two-way medium’ will seem redundant, as only those which allow the user a voice will accelerate in consumption. New rules for etiquette in engagement will become common as these utilities proliferate and become indispensable to those raised on them.”

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