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12/8/2008
08:10 AM
David Linthicum
David Linthicum
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Learn to Live (Perhaps Thrive) With Social Networking

Speaking at a collaborative technologies conference recently, I was the lone mashup guy among consultants and IT execs trying to make sense out of Facebook, Twitter, and the proper place for social networking within the enterprise. Opinions varied, from "No way, it's too risky," to "It's a way of life, you might as well learn to use it for productivity." So, who's right? Let's take a look at the playing field.

I found myself in the world of social networking when speaking at the Enterprise Web, Portals & Collaborative Technologies Conference last month in Las Vegas. I was the lone mashup guy in a world where consultants and enterprise IT people alike were attempting to make sense out of Facebook and Twitter, and their proper place within the enterprise. The opinions on social networking were widely varied, from "No way, it's too risky," to "It's a way of life, you might as well learn to use it for productivity." So, who's right? Let's take a look at the playing field.

First, it doesn't matter if you understand the differences between Myspace and Facebook. Most of the people who work in your enterprises, IT or not, use some sort of social networking system, and most look at it at least once a day during work hours. While I assume you could put your foot down and declare this stuff against policy, I'm certain most employees would find that a bit too "Big Brother," and find a way to do it anyway, perhaps on their iPhones and Blackberries. So, social networking in the workplace is a fact of life you must deal with.To figure out the enterprise opportunities or risks with social networking, you first must define the reasons that people use social networking, including:

Communicating with people, both passively and actively, and using all different types of media. While these are usually friends and family, in some cases, as is the case with me, it's all work related. Typically, it's a mixture of both.

Learning more about areas of interest. For example, I belong to several Linkedin groups, such as SOA, Web 2.0, and Enterprise Architecture. Thus, I receive information and questions from the groups, including job and consulting opportunities.

There are risks, however. Every week somebody is fired for something they posted in a social networking site that put their employer at risk. Or, when somebody is publically embarrassed by posting pictures or videos or other information they thought would be private. There are also many cases of criminal activity in which social networking was a mechanism to commit a crime.

Here's the skinny. Social networking, in one form or another, is always going to be around. So if you're doing enterprise IT, you might as well accept it but learn how to govern through education, policies, and perhaps some technology.

Make sure you define for all employees when and where it is appropriate to use social networking within the workplace. Try not to be too restrictive, but instead inform them what's good social-networking practice and what's unacceptable. You'll find that 99 percent of those who are already networking are using their heads.

Keep in mind that leads are being developed, sales made, and customers supported using social networking systems. Thus, the correct use of social networking can have a very positive effect on the bottom line. Moreover, you may find that employee-to-employee communication improves using social networking systems, internal or public.

Work with your legal department to define written policies around social networking, and make sure that all employees are aware of and committed to adhering to these policies. The idea is to cover the company in case someone does something stupid. Again, you're mitigating the risk, not eliminating it.

Finally, monitor the use of social networking sites with standard Web governance technology, including logging and trending. This is not to catch a particular person who is abusing social networking, but to determine the patterns of use over time. Also, if particular sites do become a problem, you can shut them off.

Don't fear social networking, embrace and use it for the good of the business.Speaking at a collaborative technologies conference recently, I was the lone mashup guy among consultants and IT execs trying to make sense out of Facebook, Twitter, and the proper place for social networking within the enterprise. Opinions varied, from "No way, it's too risky," to "It's a way of life, you might as well learn to use it for productivity." So, who's right? Let's take a look at the playing field.

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