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11/10/2010
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Enterprise 2.0: The Social Needs Of Smaller Businesses

A panel discussion led by InformationWeek.com editor-in-chief Alex Wolfe finds differences in the way SMBs should approach social collaboration tools.

"An SMB will spend a dollar to make a dollar but not to be more productive," said Garcia. They'll consider solutions that help them build partnerships to bring in money but not to save it, he said.

It's such concerns that have companies like Industrial Mold & Machine abandoning Exchange licenses to run Gmail. But that's not to say SMBs are looking to transition from e-mail to trendy social modes of interaction. E-mail is still the center of gravity, in companies small or large.

"There is absolutely a place for e-mail," said Yeh. "Not everything you do is something you want to broadcast to your organization."

Wolfe suggested cautious organizations might just prefer to wait until Microsoft bakes social features into Outlook. But the panelists were skeptical. "Upgrading Outlook isn't going to be an option for an SMB in a down economy," said Garcia.

While SMBs may face constraints related to cost, they have more agility in terms of implementation than large companies. SMBs can often forego pilot tests and simply mandate the use of certain software. "SMBs get the luxury of running a dictatorship," said Garcia. "That doesn’t often happen in enterprises."

But Kaykas-Wolff insisted dictatorships in SMBs have limits. It's still necessary, he said, to nurture key influencers. "We're all forced to be better marketers regardless of the department," he said.

And Yeh seemed to agree. "The best way to think about it is you don't stop selling when you've made the choice [of moving to a new software tool]," he said. "That's when the selling begins. You have to market to your organization the benefits of what you're doing."

Wolfe raised the specter of privacy and security, something that continues to frighten companies about social software.

But Garcia insisted that security isn't as big a deal for SMBs as it often it for enterprises. "E-mail is about as insecure as it gets and you can easily e-mail anything out of the company," he said.

Yeh pointed out that such concerns vary across industry verticals, but the consensus seemed to be that for SMBs, social software matters when it solves specific problems immediately.

"You have to dive in," said Garcia. And if you fail, "do it quickly," urged Kaykas-Wolff.

"The best time to have started [a social initiative] was five years ago," said Housel. "And the second best is right away."

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