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SharePoint and Social Networking With a Purpose: Next Steps

Two weeks ago, I began a discussion of enterprise social networking and SharePoint. I referred to social networking as a tsunami. Carrying forward the “wave” metaphor, I woke up this morning to learn that there are forecasts for epic waves at Jaws, one of the world’s top tow-in surf breaks, which is walking distance from my home.

Knowing that makes it difficult for me to focus on SharePoint as I write this week’s column—I can hear the waves, the jet skis, and the excited spectators! Coincidentally, focus is a theme of this week’s continuation of the social networking discussion. This week, we raise the question, “Why do you want to implement social networking?” You must know the answer to succeed.

In any project management model, the first phase of a project is to identify the requirements for the design. Don’t just open up SharePoint My Sites because they’re there. Know why you need them. What business strategies can be supported by a tactical implementation of social networking?

There are many reasons that organizations put social networking in place, and we’ll talk about a few below. What’s most important is that you understand the drivers for social networking in your enterprise, and that you have complete buy in about the strategic importance of social networking.

The competition is doing it. Chances are good that if you’re not using social networking, your competition is. And sometimes, that’s enough of a “requirement,” though it’s my least favorite requirement because it often assumes that the competition is doing it correctly, and that the competition actually understands what their requirements are.

It can become a giant game of “everyone else is doing it,” which often adds little value. I see this requirement most often when a non-technical business leader brings the requirement to the IT department. The boss’ claim that “the competition is doing it” becomes your “The boss made us do it.” Not exactly a recipe for success, but quite common.

Increase (two-way!) touch with constituents. Your organization has many constituents: employees, customers, vendors, partners, and perhaps shareholders or the media. Most organizations have one-way communications, with email, newsletters and of course a web site. Social networking adds valuable two-way touch, through which the organization gets feedback from those constituents in order to provide optimal levels of service.

Meet expectations of constituents. Depending on your business, employees, and market, the odds are that at least some of your constituents expect you to have some social marketing in place. Let’s take employees as an example. If you have employees under the age of 30, they almost certainly have a messaging and social networking presence. They expect social networking to be part of the work experience just as email and teleconferences are. If you don’t provide the tools, they’ll find them elsewhere. The same goes for other constituents, most importantly your customers!

Get there first. This requirement dovetails with the previous requirement: you need to get to social networking before your constituents do it on their own. I’ve had numerous organizations tell me about employees sharing business-related information through Facebook or Twitter, and the organization feeling like it is losing control of the conversation.

You need to get there first. My experience is that if you provide the tools, your constituents will use them. They’re not trying to go behind your back when they use Facebook and Twitter and other such channels on their own—they’re just looking for a channel. Once you put one in place, they’ll use it!

Continuity and transition. This requirement relates to capturing what is in your employees heads—valuable corporate knowledge about processes, products, and such. At SharePoint Connections, a participant described a perfect example. The company was being relocated to another state, and a sizeable amount of the workforce was opting not to move. In order to maintain the business’ momentum, the organization needed to capture what was in those employees’ heads—capture their knowledge—so that replacements could get up and running quickly. Luckily, the loyalty of the employees to the company and to its mission is high, so they were more than happy to share that knowledge.

Social networking provided a toolset for that knowledge capture. Many organizations need to consider this use of social networking as they look at downsizing, preparing for upsizing as the economy improves, and replacing an aging workforce as it retires.

Business challenges looking for a solution. Sometimes, you have a business challenge to which social networking is a solution. This will vary, of course, based on your business.

It's super critical that you articulate your business objectives and the benefits of social networking. If you don’t know what problem you’re trying to solve, you won’t be able to create an effective design, estimate ROI, evaluate risk, or produce metrics to demonstrate success. We’ll discuss each of those components of social networking in future columns.

Enjoy riding the wave of social networking—now I’m going to go look at a few monster waves and the nuts who surf them!



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