Over on NoJitter Eric Krapf discusses a recent Economist article and uses the points in that article as a discussion point for how the change in the economy might affect collaboration tools such as social networking, noting that while access to social networking tools might no longer be used as an incentive to lure young college graduates in a competitive job market, social networking tools now play perhaps a larger role in fostering communication and collaboration than ever before.
My sense in talking with a number of companies over recent months is that the idea that social networking and web 2.0 tools are the bevy of the younger generation has rapidly eroded. 40, 50, and even 60-somethings are rapidly discovering sites like Facebook & LinkedIn, relying on Wikipedia, and reading and/or writing blogs. Those who have lost their jobs are quickly learning to leverage social networks, not just traditional groups of friends, but on-line communities as primary means of seeking new opportunities.
From an IT executive's perspective, social networking isn't about giving the millenials a place to play, rather it's about how to improve the flow of information throughout an organization, using collective knowledge to solve problems, respond to customer needs, or exploit new business opportunities faster than ever before. With the reality of many companies downsizing, social networking can enable organizations to more rapidly share knowledge, not only helping managers get a better understanding of who their "go-to" people are, but also cope with reduced workforces by enabling those who remain to more easily share information.
It's still difficult to justify social networking purely in terms of ROI, but it may be more necessary than ever before to justify its use in terms of demonstrable business need to improve the way organizations share internal and external knowledge.