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Why social tech's real value is inside the business

Why social tech's real value is inside the business

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Published by: Crowdsourcing.org on Dec 19, 2011
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10/04/2013

 
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InfoWorld 
(http://www.infoworld.com)Home > Applications > Social Networking > Why social tech's real value is inside the... > Whysocial tech's real value is inside the business
By Robert L. ScheierCreated
2011-12-19 03:00AM 
Although companies have been urged to adopt"Web 2.0" and social technologies for years
[1]
now, the truth is that relatively few have done sointernally in any serious way -- and use insidethe business is where the most value can begained. Instead, the corporate focus on socialtechnologies has been in marketingorganizations that use it to monitor whatcustomers are saying about the company and totry to influence customer views -- what's calledreputation management -- by adding Twitter,Facebook, and so on to the traditionaladvertising and marketing channels. (Andindividual employees use social networkingtechnology to build business relationships fortheir own benefit, of course.)Despite the slow actual adoption for internal business benefit, the allure of social technologyremains strong
[2]
because of its potential to be a key value generator in a workplace thatdepends on collaboration, communication, and insights. Gartner analysts Anthony Bradley andMark McDonald say that serious use of social tech in business is thwarted by several reasons:executive fear, a misplaced focus on using social media solely for marketing, and a lack of"purposeful reasons" for building communities. That's too bad, they say, because the potential ofsocial tech used within the business dwarfs the marketing benefit that so many focus on today.
[ Explore the current trends and solutions in BI with InfoWorld's interactive BusinessIntelligence iGuide
[3]
. | Discover what's new in business applications with InfoWorld'sTechnology: Applications newsletter
[4]
. ]
Some companies have moved past the pilot stage and are enjoying serious benefits from socialtechnologies used inside the business. For example, at IBM, social networking isn't just forspreading the word to customers. Employees use an internal Facebook-like network to findcolleagues with the skills they need to solve pesky customer problems. Business travel siteEgencia uses an internal social media platform to host Know Your Enemy feeds that givesalespeople the competitive intelligence to win deals. And software giants such as Microsoft andGoogle use crowdsourcing (large numbers of relatively low-paid users recruited over the Web) to
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test applications more quickly and less expensively than they could in-house.A recent Forrester survey shows only 28 percent of U.S. workers use social networking, andmost of them are early adopters who are only testing the waters for its internal purposes. Forexample, Dell is regarded as a leading user of social media. It maintains several internal blogsfor employees and uses the Chatter add-on to Salesforce.com to share information among itssales staff. But chief blogger Lionel Menchaca says that most of the users are early adopters,and only about 5,000 of Dell's more than 100,000 employees have taken company-offeredcourses on social technology.Gartner's research shows that, in 2007 and 2008, about 80 percent of companies were usingsocial technology for marketing and 20 percent internally, but analyst Bradley recently wrote that"the mix has since shifted closer to 50/50." A fall 2011 Frost & Sullivan survey showed 56 percentof surveyed organizations using social technology for professional purposes; of those, nearly 6 in10 used it for internal purposes such as internal communication, training, and (for 4 out of 10) to"foster team spirit" or to "increase job satisfaction."
Collaboration: Social tech's low-hanging fruit
One enthusiastic user is grocery giant Supervalu, which operates or supplies 4,200 grocerystores under about a dozen brand names. It now has 8,000 users of the social networkingplatform Yammer, a number expected to nearly double this year in a move to increasecollaboration, says CIO Wayne Shurts. One example: Managers of stores operating underdifferent brands used Yammer to coordinate a campaign offering college students smallrefrigerators stuffed with discount coupons to generate repeat visits.IBM's internally developed Connections platform includes capabilities such as text chat, video,blogging, and document sharing, and it's searched about 1 million times a week, says LuisBenitez, a social software product manager at IBM. He himself used it to find an IBM expert who,unbeknownst to Benitez, was working at the same floor of the same building. Connections is alsohelpful for gathering answers to RFPs in a single place rather than creating a string of unwieldyemails, he says.Connections also saved $4 million in one year by making it easier for employees to findinformation, and another $100 million by allowing customers and other outsiders to getinformation online rather than calling IBM, Benitez says.Software vendor SAS says its use of the SocialCast platform helps employees quickly find bothanswers and skilled colleagues. Some 63 percent of its 12,370 worldwide employees havebegun using SocialCast since it was rolled out in January 2011, helping to "build on a culture oftransparency and trust," as well as "dynamic working relationships" that led to the highestemployee and customer satisfaction rates in the company's history, a spokesman says.Egencia, the business travel arm of consumer travel site Expedia, uses Chatter to sharecompetitive information such as pricing among its sales force, says Courtney House, the unit'ssenior director of sales operations. She estimates about 40 percent of its sales force is activelyusing Chatter, with another 30 percent "lurking" (reading but not contributing often); theremaining 30 percent is uninvolved.Email marketing vendor StrongMail used Jive Software's social media platform to create onecollaboration community for customers and a second internally to help sales reps with such tasksas finding and sharing customized sales material, says Kristin Hersant, vice president of
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corporate marketing.In an online world, collaboration tends to be through text-oriented venues. But that method ofcommunication doesn't always fit the reality of complex tasks, understanding complicatedinformation, and working together based on a shared corporate culture. One approach to makecollaboration more humanly social is through the use of virtual interaction, such as via avatars.That's the idea behind ProtonMedia's 3D virtual environment for learning and collaboration.It isn't cheap to develop the virtual SaaS environments; pilots typically cost $30,000 to 50,000,and full production systems typically cost $200,000 to $300,000. But compare that to contractclinical researcher Pharmaceutical Product Development, which usually spends $2 million a yearsending field staff to central locations for training. The $650,000 it paid for ProtonMedia's servicewas still a bargain, says CIO Mike Wilkinson. Even better, he notes, the levels of engagementand knowledge retention in virtual training were as good as face-to-face sessions -- and in someways better.Unlike traditional classroom training, the virtual classes allow a student to "monitor data, andhave their instructor in another part of the world or even their line manager in their region,monitor what they're doing" and provide real-time feedback, Wilkinson says. And although manypeople are "pretty shy" in a real classroom, they're more likely to speak up in the virtualenvironment because "it's kind of not you doing it, it's your avatar. It's a safer environment."
Crowdsourcing: Getting tasks done heaper, faster, and more flexibly
Another area where social technology has proven value is in crowdsourcing, a technology oftenassociated with social media and gathering content for use in blogs, videos, and podcasts. Butthose are hardly the only areas where crowdsourcing can be applied.CrowdFlower's "enterprise crowdsourcing platform," for example, taps 1.5 million online"contributors" for work such as trolling social media sites for information about sales prospects orensuring eBay offerings are listed are in the right category. This can save as much as 40 percentcompared to using a traditional outsourcer, the company claims. The contributors, who arerecruited from gaming sites and other online venues, are paid as little as 5 cents for simple tasksand as much as $10 for more involved work such as taking a picture of a physical location.uTest crowdsources testing to "contributors" whom it categorizes based on their technical skills,geography, and demographic characteristics. Direct marketing and teleservices firm RuffaloCodyestimates uTest costs only 15 percent of what using its own staff for load, functionality, and useracceptance testing would have entailed, says Paul Ruffalo, the firm's director of informationsystems. He also says the crowd-based testers did a better job than in-house engineers offinding creative ways to break the software and ensure it will work, allowing the firm to find anddeploy fixes more quickly than it could in the past.Likewise, mobile video software vendor Viddy found uTest to be faster and less expensive thanusing in-house testers or an outsourcer, says David Dean, Viddy's head of operations. Theservice also made it easier to find testers who can check the application on various versions ofthe iPhone running on different networks, he says.Crowdsourcing a basic function such as data entry can be 60 to 70 percent less expensive thantraditional outsourcing, says outsourcing consultancy Everest Group. It cautions, though, thatlarge customers worry there is less accountability with the crowd than with a traditional staff, andthat Web-based contributors do a better job on well-defined tasks than on more complex
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