On Wednesday, I spent a day at Salesforce.com's Cloudforce 2011 event in New York City. Now, Salesforce CEO Marc Benioff and company are among the most extreme advocates of rebuilding organizations around the "social enterprise" idea, but I'm not just drinking their Kool-Aid. It's apparent that social networking environments are ready to break the confines of marketing departments and find their way throughout company operations.
So what is the social enterprise? In Benioff's model, it entails a three-step process: creating a social customer profile that extends beyond simple customer contact information; creating an internal social network; and creating a customer social network and product social network.
If you can imagine an organization whose technology improves customer interaction, where business intelligence systems measure customer sentiment, and where internal discussions are as vibrant as those among Facebook-proficient employees, you'll start to get the idea.
If your 2012 priorities already include cloud computing, mobility, prosumer hardware, and new business applications, you might not be eager to add a robust enterprise social network to that agenda. But you must.
Here are my 10 tips for CIOs to create the foundation for a social networked enterprise.
1. You don't have to create everything from scratch. While Salesforce may be the most vocal vendor in this sector, many companies offer enterprise-level social network systems. What makes them enterprise-level? The ability to meet security, privacy, and compliance needs, for starters.
2. Find the expertise within your company. It's not just the 20-somethings who are adept at using social networks.
3. You don't have to invent a reason for a social network. Case histories, difficult to find a few years ago, are now widely available. At the Salesforce event this week, Daniel Flax, CIO of TheStreet, showed how the financial media company is using social networks to engage with customers. Martha Poulter, CIO of GE Capital, discussed how its GE Edge is spurring innovation among senior executives at midsize companies. Dig into those kinds of case histories and ask your peers how their social media projects were funded and how they're producing.
4. Social networks require top-down buy-in. Often, an internal social network such as Chatter or Yammer can languish until the boss starts creating and responding to discussions.
5. Think beyond the marketing department. The idea of "earned media," using external social networks to build and monitor brands, has been the province of the marketing folks. But customer service, product development, and supplier interaction are prime candidates for an extended social network infrastructure.
6. Understand the new development platforms. Facebook isn't just a social network, but also a development platform, as is LinkedIn, Twitter, and Google+. These platforms use their own distinct application methodologies and APIs.
7. Think beyond the PC. Social networks and mobility go hand in hand. Tablets and smartphones are where much of the social networking action will take place both within and outside your company.
8. Think beyond text. YouTube, Facebook, and Google+ are multimedia-friendly.
9. Don't try to do it all at once. A full-blown enterprise social network is a big undertaking. The good news is that you can start with fairly simple internal and external collaboration applications and move sequentially into broad-based social applications and social measuring and monitoring.
10. No one has all the answers. As Michael Krigsman, president of technology consultancy Asuret and longtime chronicler of enterprise IT successes and failures, described it: "The social enterprise is not a product, but a concept." The more you can share your experiences with other CIOs, the more advice you'll get back. After all, isn't that what enterprise social networks are all about?
VP and Editorial Analyst, InformationWeek
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