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Social DNA in the enterprise

This article appears in the issue April 2013 [Volume 22, Issue 4]
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In January 2013, Facebook rolled out a beta service called Graph Search. The new service is designed to provide access to the information in the Facebook database. The idea is that a natural language query will return personalized results and recommendations using data not available to some public indexing services.

With many organizations using Facebook to promote their products and services, an enhanced search service can benefit business users of Facebook.

The traditional search systems rely on techniques that have been in use for decades. In the tests I have run over the last 30 years, most search and retrieval systems are more alike than different. The emergence of services like Facebook and, more recently, Google Plus (google.com/+) pivots on the willingness of users to create content and provide information (wittingly or unwittingly) about their friends, business contacts, preferences for everything from entertainment to people, and more.

The "and more" is not well understood. Within a walled garden system like that of Facebook or Google Plus, the users must be registered and voluntarily become what an online poobah calls a "stateful entity," meaning a real person with a public e-mail address. Now companies like Facebook and Google can hook an identity to system usage. When a user logs in, he or she creates a "stateful session," which can be tracked, analyzed and indexed. The resulting index is more than key words; it's a finely detailed record of the user's activities, associations and interests. With budget cuts reducing traditional surveillance methods practicality, services like Facebook and Google are looking more like cheap and easy alternatives to traditional tracking methods. 

Clean air

Marketers who try to profile a consumer audience using hard-copy direct mail, dicey reports from audience monitoring services and consumer interviews in malls are sucking in diesel exhaust fumes. The cleanest air—that is, the high-value, near real-time, individualized data—is available from Facebook-type and Google Plus-style services. User-created content, user-to-user interactions and the metadata generated by automated indexing systems deliver even purer oxygen. Facebook and Google, along with a number of other firms, are in a position to deliver information that provides a different type of value. Keyword searches of journal articles cannot match what Facebook and Google offer.

However, John Dodge, writing in the Enterprise CIO Forum (enterprisecioforum.com/en/blogs/jdodge/wheres-structure-needed-social-media-str), suggested "social is running up against a wall of culture and hierarchy." He maintained, "It's far too soon to write off social media or business, but at its core, it feels too casual to get along well with enterprise hierarchies, processes and managements. CIOs still must continue investigating where social media make sense for them because if they don't, the young upstarts (or chief marketing officer) will."

One group that might be interested in enterprise social media consists of law enforcement officers and lawyers. For example, some social media systems can yield such information as:

  • interests and actions of a single person who is associated with an e-mail address and possibly a profile, pictures and geocodes;
  • interests and actions of a single person's or brand's compatriots, friends and observers;
  • relationships within and among a cluster generated by analyzing the explicit data available to social systems' data and text mining algorithms;
  • supplemental data such as time, date, movement from point A to point B, Web links, and word choice yield information, which can reveal the clockworks inside an individual, a group or a concept that goes viral; and
  • sentiment scores—that is, how positive or negative a person, cluster or relationship group "feels" about a person, place, brand or concept.

Using social media to sell products and services is somewhat benign. Other aspects of social media may be adding friction to the use of some systems. The number of social media options for an enterprise is robust.

According to Google, an organization can make its "business social, across the Web" (see google.com/+/business). Google asserts that more than one million business and brand pages were created in the first six months of Google Plus's existence. The service has more than 400 million users. Anyone who wants to use Google's free services like Gmail must sign up for Google Plus. What I found interesting was this phrase: "five to 10 percent click-through rate uplift for socially enhanced search ads."

In my opinion, the reason why social search is a huge deal for both Facebook and Google is that the service allows precision-targeted advertising that is increasingly successful in achieving higher levels of revenue. 

Other options

What if an organization wants social search for its knowledge workers but does not want to strap on the tracking devices provided by Facebook and Google?

Salesforce offers a "connected enterprise" service to its licensees. Salesforce Social Hub from Radian6 is said to be the first process automation engine for a socially connected enterprise, and enables companies to quickly and efficiently track and react to comments, questions and complaints as they happen on the social Web.

LinkedIn provides another variation on social search. Some organizations use LinkedIn to post information about their key executives. LinkedIn also permits LinkedIn company pages, a service that "showcases your business." The idea is that LinkedIn members can get information about a firm's products and services. Some basic communication functions are permitted without charging a fee; however, the more useful marketing features require that an organization pay to create a "centralized location where millions of LinkedIn members can stay in the loop on your company news, products and services, business opportunities and job openings."

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