As social media continues to evolve, expand, and refocus, it triggers the obvious questions of where to next, and why? A number of “traditional” social networks such as Facebook and MySpace have started seeping into the corporate domain, and more business oriented social networks such as LinkedIn are going in at full speed. Most social network companies that are expanding their focus to the corporate market are doing so from a perspective that maps to their comfort zone. The result is a service that has a very similar look and feel to the non-corporate social network, just not as entertaining. This is probably a good idea, since most of what I’ve seen posted on MySpace pages is not something I would want associated with me on an enterprise network (friends are friends, colleagues are colleagues). I’m friendly with my colleagues, but it’s not the same dynamic as with my friends.
The real issue, however, is what is the proper operating context for a corporate social network? You can create extended interest groups around new hires, corporate alumni, customers, etc. but to a certain extent this demarcation is arbitrary. The real value develops when a group finds it’s collaborative efforts have accelerated because of a more effective communications framework (which is really the primary deliverable for a social network). I’ve been responsible for driving cross-functional integration efforts in the past, and the closest analogy I can find is herding rabid cats. This is particularly the case when people are forced to operate outside their comfort zone. A tool that allows professionals with disparate views (for example, marketing, engineering, and operations) to truly understand each other’s needs in aggregate, and in real-time, would be a huge step forward in collaborative thinking. Batting e-mails back and forth won’t do it; there are people who should be in the loop that aren’t, and some who are that should not be. The whole point of a social network is to share more of yourself with others, and in so doing, create a stronger connection. Focusing the objective of a stronger group connection towards a complex project (such as a global product launch) is an ideal venue for a corporate social network. Once this type of deployment gets traction, I think the whole collaborative/social space will really take off.