Social networking will radically change the way businesses work as sites such as Twitter and Facebook take over in the workplace, analyst group Gartner predicts.
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Within three to five years, social media will have a greater impact on organisations than the move to e-business, according to Gartner analyst Carol Rozwell.
CIOs will have the opportunity to drive their company's social media strategy, but will need to act now if they don't want their business to be left behind, she said in an interview with Computer Weekly.
"Our belief is that the social business wave will not only be a large wave, but will be more disruptive than the e-business wave. And it will take longer to play out," she said.
- Why you need an enterprise strategy for social business. Click here to download this report from Gartner (requires registration).
Rozwell predicts that social media will become a critical tool, not only for communicating with customers, but for influencing the way the public views organisations.
Organisations will increasingly need to use social media to portray themselves in a more human way to their customers, she argued.
"Today, it is almost optional for companies in certain industries to ignore Twitter," she said. "Within three to five years, it will be part of your enterprise communications strategy."
Consumers are increasingly expecting businesses to be able to respond to queries through social media, she said. "We know that many people prefer to communicate with companies through Twitter. You can't tell customers how you want them to talk to you. You have to communicate with them the way they want to talk with you," Rozwell said.
The rise of social business
Big businesses are pioneering the use of social media tools to supplement their research and development operations.
"You can now open up R&D to everyone in the world. You get a more diverse set of inputs and a richer source of innovation," said Carol Rozwell, vice-president and distinguished analyst at Gartner.
Nokia is using crowdsourcing to canvass public opinion on its phone interfaces. IBM is inviting people to take part in "ideajams" to improve the design of its products.
Social networking tools are now commonly used in the HR department for recruitment, says Rozwell.
"It is normal for someone looking for a potential hire to look at Linked-In to find extra information about the candidate. You can tell a lot by how active they are on Linked-In and how many contacts they have," she said.
As social media becomes embedded, businesses will need to put company-wide social media policies in place if they want to benefit from the technology.
Many organisations say they want a Facebook page, but don't know why they want it, or what they want to do with it, she said. "If you don't have some sort of strategy there is no guidance how the business can use social media. That can lose customers, send out the wrong messages, and lead to brand dilution," Rozwell said.
CIOs are in an ideal position to drive the social media strategy, she argued. They have an overview of the entire business, and they understand the technology.
"CIOs, we suggest, should be highly engaged with the team creating the social media strategy. They have an excellent business perspective, because they see how all the parts fit together. They can make sure that usage polices work, and they know from experience what works and what doesn't, and they can drive business as well as technology change. Wise organisations will be preparing now," Rozwell said.
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