Here's an interesting quote. Author Paul Gillin states in an article that appeared in the April 6, 2009 edition of eWeek,
"Formerly, people were forced to give up their knowledge, but with social networks, people willingly give up their knowledge. the great business opportunity is behind the firewall because simple tools can be used to replace more complicated collaboration tools."
Wow! The implications in these two sentences are enormous. It represents a paradigm shift for business people. Instead of an individual employee keeping information and knowledge close to the vest, for purposes of leaping over fellow employees in the race to the top, that employee is now rewarded for spreading the knowledge wealth.
What's causing the shift? Social networking has moved from being a public forum to a private business forum, a behind the firewall phenomenon that encourages new business behaviours among employees, between employees and customers, and between employees and suppliers. Behind the firewall social networking is seen as an effective way of improving overall performance. Gartner sees the growth of this market reaching over $1 billion by 2012. Forrester predicts $1.5 billion in the same time period compared to $384 million in 2008. I think they are underestimating the market growth because Microsoft and IBM, with their SharePoint and QuickR platforms are not only building internal social networks to link their employees, they are also selling these solutions to customers around the world. And when these two giants of the industry are involved it is a pretty good indicator of where the market is going.
They are not the only ones playing in this new space. Google has created Open Social, a set of programming standards that lets any developer create applications to run on a wide range of social networking platforms.
Sabre (the travel reservation system that came out of American Airlines) has developed Cubeless, a private business network that connects its telecommuting employees around the world. Pose a question on this site and a relevance engine makes a decision on who should see it within the social network. The right answer usually comes back within an hour. That's knowledge sharing at its best.
Enable Consultants, a small Ontario company, has created 3 flavors of private social networks, a school centred application, called Recess, a not-for-profit application called Communitirooms, and a private business network called Workingrooms. Recess has been deployed in primary and middle schools as a safe social networking site for young people to use as an extension of their "bricks & mortar" classrooms.
Some vendors like Worklight are creating applications that overlay public social networks such as Facebook. WorkBook is the application and it allows an employee to pull other Facebook members behind the firewall for collaboration. Authentication is handled by the existing business security setup.
Think about the impact on sales teams as knowledge sharing and problem solving become paradigms for measuring performance success. Will companies start providing bonuses and compensation to reflect this new behaviour? I remember when I was working for a large software developer some years ago that as part of a widely distributed sales team focused on a telecommunications client, I decided to publish a newsletter. That monthly newsletter shared knowledge internally within my company and also went out to thousands of employees of my client. The knowledge sharing led to sales group collaboration, joint strategies in penetrating the account, and finally to the biggest one time sale in the history of the company. That was before behind the firewall social networking.
Imagine what we can do today. Imagine what we will be able to do tomorrow. In 2009, the year of "Yes we can," expect social networks to be instruments of change in the way business operates.