Businesses should not be afraid of social networking

Many businesses have already realised the benefits of Web 2.0 technologies such as blogs and wikis and are now looking to strengthen their communications...

Many businesses have already realised the benefits of Web 2.0 technologies such as blogs and wikis and are now looking to strengthen their communications with social networking, but many are confused about how it can be best applied in a business environment and the advantages it will bring to their company, writes Jean Ferré, chief executive at Sinequa.

Yet social networks can offer real advantages for businesses, from making collaboration more efficient to maximising the value of undocumented knowledge and experience held in employees' heads. For these benefits to be realised, social networks must be searchable so that information is visible and related to the rest of the enterprise's content.

The emergence of social networking has equipped many employees with social networking skills, learned from regular use of Web 2.0 sites such as Facebook and LinkedIn. This largely unemployed skill means companies are now well positioned to take advantage of social networking technology and enjoy the benefits it can bring.

Collaboration can be made more efficient as social networking makes it possible for employees to work together on projects in real time, as well as stay up to date with developments and changes made by colleagues in different time zones around the world.

Knowledge is the life-blood of all businesses, and is arguably one of the few business assets that will not depreciate in value during a recession. Social networks can maximise the value of this asset by making it possible for employees to connect to and share knowledge. To harness the most value from this knowledge, the information needs to be relevant and employees must be able to access it.

Enterprise Search software can facilitate this by connecting employees to the knowledge held on a company's network and by their colleagues. By making this information searchable, social networks can become a more professional environment, because employees are likely to communicate professionally when they know that their bosses and other colleagues can easily access the content they have created, and can relate it to content created in a specific application.

Encouraging employees to produce more professional content will ensure that information is more relevant, making a social network more valuable to the company. This can make it easier for staff to access the information they need, because users are able to pinpoint the most relevant people associated with a specific topic, then benefit from their expertise. Using information gained by tracking who has edited wikis, blogs or user profiles held within the social network can further improve the business value of social networking tools.

Social software was recently listed as one of Gartner's top 10 strategic technologies for 2009, which encompasses a wide range of technologies, such as social networking, social collaboration, social media and social validation. Gartner suggests companies should adopt social software to take advantage of the benefits it can bring by improving collaboration and conversation. But to maximise these benefits and generate faster return on investment, social networking must be accompanied by Enterprise Search to make information access and collaboration more efficient.

Businesses should not fear what will happen if they implement a social network, but what will happen if they don't.

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