Most IT providers consider "social media" to consist of personal applications that allow for sharing of family vacation photos and workout updates. But I believe that IT professionals should start to think of social media solutions as part of the larger unified communications services they offer, and to look at them as business collaboration tools within their customers' walls.
Overcoming enterprise communication issues with social media solutions
Business owners who struggle to communicate with their teams can open the door to employee communications by using social media solutions. Businesses' communications challenges can be as complicated as the need to discuss new marketing or sales strategies, or as mundane as coming to an agreement on which tools are needed in the new conference room. Fact is, most businesses don't communicate well and even the most basic internal conversation can involve either email chains that are dozens of messages long or uninspiring PowerPoint presentations.
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But what if a company had a private Facebook page (or other social media platform) where it could create a forum for posting questions, running employee surveys, creating contests that reward engagement or offering snippets of professional development? Would social media then become a social business-collaboration tool like email and video conferencing?
Within a company, the trick to turning social media into a business application is to involve the right set of users. These users would be responsible for posting useful content and overseeing the forum. Human resources could set policy on the usage of the tool, and then monitor and promote it so it matures into a business process accelerator. The goal is to use social media as a business collaboration tool to draw in the entire community, eliminate communication siloes, and empower productivity and innovation.
The best element of such a social media platform is that it requires little to no investment in infrastructure or even software. Businesses that start incorporating additional technologies such as rich-media applications could require more infrastructure considerations and investment.
Resellers drive business collaboration tools to boost company communication
For resellers and managed service providers, the opportunity is in driving an examination of social media solutions as part of a customer's overall communications strategy. IT providers can look at where customers might use a social media platform as part of their overall communications solution, and determine if there is any value in investing in social media as a business collaboration tool. Social media platforms can help clients empower internal collaboration and communications; after all, social media is a grassroots solution for delivering information quickly to a great number of people.
For technology providers that have already invested in a collaboration practice, the progression is from voice to unified communications to social collaboration. In reality, these providers are helping clients bring the power of real-time communications and social networking into a business framework, as well as cementing themselves as part of their business processes -- not just as someone who resells technology. Their challenge is to understand how to help customers harness social collaboration and turn it into a competitive tool.
If deployed properly, social media could evolve to be one of the most helpful tools in the business world. Eventually, it will be considered a business application that connects employees to each other, to customers and to other partners in a way that extends information sharing in a positive way.
Ultimately, we will learn to integrate social media solutions with other communication tools powered by technology -- instant messaging, persistent chat, video, telepresence -- and we will see companies investing in those business collaboration tools due to the increased efficiencies and productivity that collaboration can fuel.
Mike O'Brien is a technology solutions engineer focused on Cisco borderless networks architecture for technology distributor Ingram Micro Inc. Write to him at Michael.OBrien@IngramMicro.com.