Most discussion these days of enterprise use of social networking looks at the internal perspective, e.g. how can enterprise organizations leverage the concepts of social networking to improve the ability of the organization to better collaborate. I think its also important that enterprises look outwardly at leveraging social networking for the benefit of their organization.Social networking sites now dominate the Internet, with YouTube, MySpace, Facebook, and Orkut comprising four of the ten most visited sites in the world according to web ranking service Alexa, and four of the ten most visited sites in the United States (with Craigslist replacing Orkut in the US top ten). Still, many organizations spend far more time trying to fight their employees use of such sites rather than figure out how they use such sites to improve both external and internal organizational communications.On the external side, organizations should adopt two approaches. First, they should create a presence for themselves in popular social sites such as Orkut, Facebook, and MySpace, creating groups or pages for customers and interested parties to congregate, exchange tips and information, and enjoy a direct link back to the organization. Presence on social networking sites should be actively promoted and offers the opportunity to reduce support costs by enabling users to organize among themselves to solve problems.Enterprises should actively participate in social communities that are directly related to their products and services. For example, a company that manufactures audio-video gear should have support personnel participate in places like the AVS Forum, one of the premier social sites for A/V enthusiasts. By participating in these types of forums, enterprises can directly reach their customers, leverage support opportunities, and demonstrate a willingness to have free and open communications with the outside world. Be warned that entering these sites with a sales-centric viewpoint is likely a bad business move. Instead, strive to make your organization an integral contributor to the community at large.Secondly, larger enterprises should consider creating their own on-line communities to enable customers to support each other. For example, imagine if automakers had community forums where buyers and owners could ask questions and receive immediate answers from other owners, as well as company representatives. Would the average buyer be more likely to buy a big ticket item from a company offering such as direct support/community building model? I know I would. Can such sites be leverage to get instant feedback and input from customers about future business plans? They sure can.In exploring the opportunities for external leverage of social networking sites and concepts, it becomes more an exercise in marketing than an exercise in technology. Still, its up to the technology folks to work with their marketing, sales, and support organizations to help them understand the opportunities presented by social networking, but how those opportunities can be leveraged to meet bottom line objectives of improving sales, customer loyalty, service, and support.
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