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Social Networks Sweep the Landscape
How I Learned to Love Blogs and Wikis

"The time is simply right," claimed Dan Kraft. "Five years ago you might not have been able to do this. The latest McKinsey study on 2.0 usage says 70% of the people who regularly contribute content said their reason was ‘fame.’ In a YouTube environment, people are willing to make a fool out of themselves to have that 15 seconds of fame. In a business environment, you can make people corporate heroes," Dan said.

"In the old days you could always find documents about corporate strategy; now you can also read the interpretation of the strategy by experts within the organization. It changes the entire ‘Who Runs The Company’ dynamic. You and I believe we’re in charge of the business, but we’re not. Our people are in charge of the business. And if you empower them, they will take up the challenge and responsibility," said Dan.

Find the Balance
It’s an entirely new way of looking at value creation. The "old-fashioned" organization decided the company line at board meetings and strategic weekend offsites. It was then codified into a policy manual and literally handed down to the workforce. How’d that work out for ya?

"After more than 20 years of super control over information, published and vetted by organizations... it didn’t work out very well," pointed out Jerome Pesenti. "But with user-generated content, it’s the other extreme." The best approach, Jerome advocates, is finding the right spot along the continuum that’s appropriate for the information type. "You will always have very strict document management systems where you store policies and official records," said Jerome. "And you have wikis. There’s no single answer to all problems; there’s no silver bullet."

"You always have a tradeoff between the dynamic in a social network and the control you would like to apply to it," agreed Dan Kraft. "If you want a social network to really grow and to be desirable and have a lot of people participate, you don’t want to be too controlling. If somebody is providing comments you don’t like, you never edit. You can ask the person to re-phrase the comment; or you can exclude that individual; or you can live with the fact that people express themselves in sometimes negative ways. You just need to make sure that everyone is aware that this is not your company opinion," Dan added.

It is without question that social networks will change not only content management, but cost management as well. "Where you might have hired additional customer support personnel to man the calls," said Lance Shaw, "now you’re going to hire additional customer support people to man the forums. Your customers want that, by the way," he insisted. "You start to forge personalities for your company; you know you’re talking to Fred, and Fred becomes the face of the company. He’s very responsive to the customer and it makes them feel you care."

According to this panel, companies are willing to apply the resources, for a number of reasons. "When there’s a mandate from the COO to cut costs, or drive more calls away from the call center, there’s budget associated with that...that’s certainly a valid use case," said Eben Miller. "But I see more investment in external-facing initiatives, because companies have been fixated on growth, growth, growth. With the way the Web is expanding through these new communication tools, there is great interest in getting out there and participating in order to capitalize on new opportunities. The smart money is going into customer-facing, growth-oriented efforts...how do I engage in a dialogue with my customers? How do I keep them coming back?"

"The caution," said Jason Hekl, "is there are a lot of people who are not experienced yet, and so you have to keep testing, and expect failure along the way as well. If companies invest too heavily and don’t get it right the first time, there is the possibility of a negative reaction. But the social network trend is very real, it’s here to stay, and it will continue to grow tremendously, both internally and externally."

As with a lot of information management trends, "social networks for business" has its early adopters and its diehard skeptics. But as most of the members of this panel pointed out repeatedly: it’s here to stay. There are many ways to deal with it, from full embrace to wary experimentation. But, the panel agreed: the worst thing you can do is do nothing! Consider this white paper the first step in the direction toward "doing something." 

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