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On the cutting edge of social networking

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IDC estimates that by 2016 the worldwide market for enterprise social networking (ESN) will exceed $4.5 billion. The social business market is complex and fragmented, but is a strong and growing force in business. ESNs make up only one part of the several functional areas that constitute the estimated $10.5 billion social business market.

Like a number of other technologies that are being incorporated into businesses (including cloud storage and mobile technology), social networking was initially user-driven, but is now being supported at the corporate level. Enterprises have used social networking both internally to establish better connections among their employees and externally to analyze customer sentiment and build relationships.

Increasingly, organizations are integrating social networking into specific business processes. Sales departments were early adopters. As a people-oriented department, HR is a natural match for social networking. "Initially, HR tended to be somewhat reluctant to use social networks because of privacy and compliance issues," says Michael Fauscette, group VP software business solutions at IDC. "Now, they are beginning to embrace it not only for recruiting but for talent and performance management, and for learning."

Attracting talent

At Regeneron Pharmaceuticals, HR professionals use social media such as Facebook for recruiting purposes. The company carries out research in a wide range of areas from oncology to cardiovascular disease. Regeneron's HR department began looking into alternative approaches because the company has been experiencing very rapid growth.

"We grew from a staff of 600 in 2007 to over 2,000 at present," says Ross Grossman, VP of HR at Regeneron. "We are using social media to get the message out about our company, and are using the knowledge of our culture to help us recruit and retain employees who are likely to perform well in our environment."

Kenexa, a cloud-based talent management company acquired by IBM in 2012, assisted Regeneron in analyzing its culture and using social channels to attract the talent the company needed. "Knowing what makes our company ticks helps us make good matches with prospective candidates," says Grossman. "Eventually we would like to be able to correlate our applicant data and performance data to discover the common characteristics of our best employees."

Increasing options

The acquisition of Kenexa is part of IBM's plan to integrate talent management with IBM Connections, its social business platform. "Kenexa and IBM Connections can be integrated now on a custom level," says Kevin Cavanaugh, VP of business and technical strategy at IBM. "The integration will be made easier in the future."

Social networking plays a different but equally important role once an employee is hired. "As employees are onboarded," says Cavanaugh, "they can be linked immediately into a company's internal social network to find technical experts, answers to the questions they may have about policies and other information that helps them become acclimated." Recommendations can be made about people the employee should contact, based on common interests or related projects.

As companies become more sophisticated about using social media in the HR process, they can begin using them in other ways "Companies can go beyond recruiting to fill an open position," says Cavanaugh. "They can use social media to build a relationship so that candidates are available when needed." One of Kenexa's tools provides an assessment for prospective candidates to take to see whether they are a fit for the job.

Another HR-related use of social media is to analyze the sentiment of employees, much as customer sentiment is analyzed to understand attitudes toward a brand. "Companies can detect problem areas or positive attitudes toward different topical areas," notes Cavanaugh. "Rather than limiting assessments to an annual survey of employee satisfaction, companies can take a snapshot at any time using text analytics."

An ongoing trend is for organizations to begin integrating social into other applications and functions. IBM Connection 4.5 includes an add-on that incorporates Content Manager, which has check-in and check-out, version control, metadata and other features of content management available within the IBM Connection interface.

Microsoft integrates Yammer

Microsoft has made a major commitment to social media with its recent acquisitions and with its roadmap for integrating Yammer with its business applications. Yammer, which was launched in 2008 and bought by Microsoft in 2012, was designed as a private social network for use in enterprises. Following on the heels of Microsoft's 2011 acquisition of Skype, the purchase of Yammer reflected a desire to be a strong player in social media and make it a part of all its business applications.

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