Business Software

Social Networks Help Serve Customers

Social computing was hailed as a useful tool to gauge customer sentiment last week during a panel session at a Microsoft-sponsored conference.

Panelists from companies such as Dell, Intel Capital, and Sony detailed their experiences with social computing, in which computing is used as a platform for social interaction, at the Microsoft Global High Tech Summit 2009 event in Santa Clara, Calif. Social bookmarking, wikis, blogs, and e-mail constitute some forms of social computing based on the definition utilized by the panel.

(For more on social computing applications, see " Web 2.0 scores successes in the enterprise")

At Dell, company founder Michael Dell in 2006 sought to identify customers dissatisfied online and solve their problem, said Bob Pearson, Dell vice president of communities and conversations.

"What we realized is we first needed to understand the landscape, what was actually being said about us," and put in place a good monitoring system and change company behaviors, he said.

There were 5,000 to 10,000 conversations about Dell happening everyday, and Dell wanted to monitor this. "We actually created a blog resolution team," Pearson said. Dell reaches out to people dissatisfied with the company to try to solve their problems, he said.

Sony also realized that tens of thousands of customers were conversing about Sony, said Rick Clancy, senior vice president of corporate communications at Sony Electronics. "It was a conversation we realized we needed to be a part of," Clancy said. Social computing provided a great opportunity to deal directly with consumers one on one, he said.

"The partnership that has emerged between communications and social networking with our customer service platform has been a tremendous success," said Clancy.

Social computing at enterprises still is in its early stage, said Robert Rueckert, director of Intel Capital.

"I really believe that most enterprises are just starting [down] the pathway," Rueckert said. Corporations would like to communicate not just with customers and employees, but also with partners, he said.

Dell, for its part, wants to expand social computing to business-to-business communications, Pearson said.

Companies without a social computing strategy have their employees already employing the concept on blogs or wikis, Rueckert said. Or, conversations are happening somewhere besides the company Web site, he said

"If you're an enterprise and you don't have a strategy around it, it's already happening," he said.

Panel moderator Brett Bonthron, partner at the TCG Advisors consulting firm, likened social computing to an improved version of knowledge management. "To me, one of the great things about social computing is its knowledge management done right," he said. Unlike knowledge management, social computing lets people contribute to conversations on their own terms, Rueckert said.

Social networking tools can produce expertise in surprising ways, said Rob Howard, CEO and founder of Telligent Systems, which offers social computing solutions.

"One of the most amazing trends that we've found is as companies adopt it, they quickly figure out that the expertise that they're looking for in an organization isn't always defined by organizational boundaries," Howard said. Someone might help with supply chain management who is not on the supply chain management team, he said.

ERP products have lacked social computing capabilities, according to Rueckert, "They're not as far along as the customers would like them to be," Rueckert said.

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