Five Reasons Companies Are Going Social At Light Speed

Scientists at CERN recently announced they had tracked subatomic particles travelling faster than the speed of light, a discovery that -- if proven correct -- may unravel our understanding of physics. Similarly, the introduction of social media into the corporate world may undo everything we know about IT and business in general.

If this sounds like an exaggeration, consider the effect social media has had on everyday life, particularly for young people, who take for granted that they'll be connected in real-time to everyone they now know, will know, or have known, for the rest of their lives. It's reasonable to assume that, if enterprise technology indeed catches up with consumer technology, it'll have an equally profound effect on the business world.

Since the ascendancy of the social web, consumers have shut down campaigns, moved millions of funds from banks, revolted against policy changes and tarnished brands. But social media is much more than a way for disgruntled customers to bludgeon your brand. It may in fact be the framework upon which a completely new model for running a business is built. We see the ability of leaders, employees and customers to connect in real-time 24/7 enabling a level of visibility and interaction that was unthinkable just a few years ago.

The most common reason for a company's hesitancy to pursue any kind of social media strategy is obvious and understandable: loss of control. However, in a world in which Facebook and Twitter play a key role in political revolutions, the kind of control that companies exerted over their employees and messages in the past may very well be an illusion in 2012.

And, if my firm's recent research into the attitudes of executives toward social media is an indicator, it's an illusion that companies are quickly shedding. We found that 60% of respondents believe that "every business" needs to be social, 61% of respondents list social media strategy as a "high priority" and 52% are extremely confident in their social media strategies.

In a nutshell, it appears that most companies are "going social" in one way or another. Here are five possible reasons why:

  • Reason one: potential to listen and engage in customer and employee conversations. The the most immediate side benefit of this may be the ability to more accurately profile customers and enable sales reps to share this information to more effectively follow up with leads
  • Reason two: innovation. On a related note, the ability to collaborate in all directions in real time fosters innovation, which is more frequently the result of a group effort than the brilliance of a single smart person
  • Reason three: security feature improvements. Security features have progressed to the point where companies that operate in higher risk environments, such as financial services, are feeling more comfortable with collaborative technologies
  • Reason four: easy come, easy go. Collaborative technologies, which are cloud-deployed, are easy to scale up if you find value, and even easier to get rid of if you don't like them
  • Reason five: everyone now expects it. Social media has become so thoroughly woven into the fabric of society that we may shortly cease designating it as "social," because it will just be part of normal life. Customers, employees, and IT staff increasingly expect the enterprise -- that they work with, buy from and engage with -- to be social

For CIOs, this has numerous implications, not the least of which is a blurring of the distinction between IT and non-IT, as everyone in the company becomes thoroughly immersed in technology, and previously "tech" positions become more engaged in the business. For example, consider developers who may have been previously preoccupied with supporting back-end, and now design marketing-related apps. Does this make them marketing professionals, or IT professionals? This conundrum is probably just the tip of the iceberg. It may very well be up to the CIO -- who will manage this transition -- to determine whether companies reap the benefits of collaboration, or the ills of its evil twin: chaos.

So, get ready to re-think everything you know about IT -- the speed of light has been broken.

Eric Berridge is co-founder and principal of agile business consulting firm Bluewolf, which provides lifecycle innovation, cloud implementations, IT staffing, managed services and other services to sync business and IT for efficient, adaptive performance. He also co-authored the book "Iterate or Die" along with Bluewolf co-founder Michael Kirven.

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