How SMBs Can Leverage Social Business Tools
Attending the Enterprise 2.0 Conference in Boston last week, I was struck by how heavily speakers and exhibiting IT vendors focused on social business. While at one time “social business” essentially meant duplicating the functionality of a consumer social network such as Facebook or Twitter in a customized intranet format, it is becoming something much more business-specific and powerful.
In addition to providing basic social networking features such as comment posting and chatting, modern social business platforms allow users to do things like directly import content from email applications, document management solutions, databases, and other outside sources to enable genuine “knowledge capture.” In addition, many social business applications allow users to search for coworkers (even ones they have never met) or discussion threads that can help them answer specific questions by performing keyword or tag searches.
Some solutions even have real-time customer service functionality, where a live customer service agent can contact internal subject matter experts to quickly answer complex consumer inquiries without having to transfer them, put them on hold or send them the information later. And in the not-too-distant future, social business applications will likely include machine-to-machine (M2M) communication capabilities, meaning for example alerts from a transactional system could automatically be placed into a social networking workflow or conversation thread.
Social Business = Big Business
To date, most social business implementations that go beyond basic commenting/chatting have been performed by large organizations. For example, during the Enterprise 2.0 conference, executives from large global companies including Nike and car rental conglomerate LeasePlan gave presentations on how their firms are improving organizational collaboration and responsiveness through the use of social business platforms. But where does that leave SMBs, who face many of the same issues regarding internal collaboration and external responsiveness as their larger competitors, but do not have the infrastructure or resources to support an in-house deployment of this type of application?
Social Business Can Also = Small Business
MSPs serving SMBs should look into the potential advanced social business platforms hold for their clients. In particular, SMBs who already have some sort of basic internal social network are ripe for a hosted upgrade. By connecting all employees regardless of location and creating a central real-time data repository, social business solutions can provide SMBs with competitive advantage they would never otherwise have access to. Many social business applications are also now mobile-compatible, making them easy easier for SMBs who may have limited physical infrastructure to use. Consumer social networking has changed from something once reserved for students at elite universities to something used by everyone. There is no reason business social networking cannot evolve from something reserved for large global megafirms to something even a garage-based startup can use to its advantage.