Thoughts from a social software practitioner

For a project I was asked what I thought about the impact of social software and employee communications. I quite enjoyed jotting down my ideas in less than 400 words and so I’d like to share them with you.

For over 15 years I have been working with social technologies, back in the days when they were called ‘computer mediated communications’. Whilst I am one of those people who think that they are having a strong transformative effect on the way we do business, collaborate and communicate, we need to be mindful that these are just technologies. It is after all people who make businesses happen and the computer that can actually communicate, has yet to be invented.

Nonetheless, I think we can see businesses being transformed by social technologies. I have both seen and been actively engaged in this process in EU sponsored pan-European projects and in high-tech blue chip and in a mainstream British company. In these roles, I have successfully used the full raft of social technologies, Wikis, Forums, Blogs, Polls, RSS, Tagging, Video, Mobile (and more) to communicate with staff.

On a broader perspective are now starting to see case studies coming though showing the social/business impact and in small but growing measures, hard ROI. The key areas I think we are seeing business change taking place in are in the ability to collaborate more effectively across organisational boundaries, timezones and geographies. This collaboration is both innovative of itself, but also fosters and encourages innovation in the enterprise. One of the reasons for this is that social software can connect people and their ideas both quickly and across the boundaries, but also in new and unexpected ways. Experts can be located, ideas and information surfaced new synergies and alliances created.

One of the most interesting aspects of these technologies is that they are both productive and fun. BT for example are talking about a 20:1 ROI on their social intranet and UBM talk of big savings in their procurement teams. Vendors such as Jive and Microsoft (I used both) also talk about the fun element and how work is made more social by these technologies. This is a key aspect and is also a major factor in an E.20 project’s success.

In sum, the transformation is one that makes businesses more productive and better places to work in, increasing profits but also employee engagement and satisfaction. There is a potential here for something quite different to emerge from the process. Quite what that will be is uncertain, but I enjoy being one of the people making it happen.

Russell Pearson, June 2010

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