Testing the Business Value of Social Networking in the Enterprise

We have officially completed our exploration process to determine the value of social networking within our enterprise. This is included conversations with industry analysts; IT peers; a proof-of-concept (POC); usage model work; focus groups and human factors engineering. The first lesson we learned is to not call it "social" networking. It was wrought with images of kids throwing virtual pies at each other. Our new terminology for the capability within the enterprise is now Professional Networking.

We took a look at professional networking’ s ability to solve some key challenges for Intel and tested a short list of vendor platforms to determine which one, if any, could meet our requirements. Below are some key findings and conclusions.

Employees see a significant ability to tackle increasing feelings of isolation and difficulty finding knowledge.

In particular, POC participants noted the ability to put a face to a name; extend and create their network; and locate experts as valuable features. As one participant stated, “Providing people better ways to connect, and find that knowledge from experts, would really help with silo’d information and make Intel feel more productive.”

There is substantial value in improving the attraction & retention of the next generation workforce.

Professional networking is expected by the next generation workforce. See for learnings from focus group conversations with recent college graduates. Intel has opportunities to deliver expected new ways to learn, interact and access information immediately. This is not a trend, it is reality.

What Strategies are Critical for Success?

In addition to exploring the business value of professional networking, we learned a lot about what strategies are critical for success and what key road blocks need to be removed. What are the most critical strategies surrounding the deployment of professional networking?

Professional networking must bolt into an integrated social collaboration framework.

The strength of professional networking doesn’t just lie with the people information in the tool, but with the added context that other tools bring. For example, my profile lets people know that I am the Enterprise Social Media Program Manager but doesn’t present any documents, blogs, wikis or discussions forums to discover my “knowledge” around social media. A robust social stack provides the full rich picture.

Integration across social tools and traditional collaborative tools such as email, meeting workspaces and instant messaging is critical.

We heard loud and clear that the professional networking application should not be a disparate application. At a minimum, it must be integrated across social tools such as blogs, forums and wikis. Additionally, it needs to be engrained in work flow processes. This means that it is integrated into internal white pages; enterprise search results; email v-card, presence, to name a few.

Employees want only one profile to maintain; it must be unified.

If time is dedicated to update and enrich a profile, employees want only one. In addition, employees want to be able to leverage the profiles to search and find experts. In a survey done by our Enterprise Search program team, finding people was the third most important search employees want to do.

Deploying professional networking successfully is not as easy at it sounds. See , which highlights some of the key challenges. In a nut shell, if IT doesn't act, business units will. Also, if a strong investment in enterprise social computing has lacked, then the success of professional networking will be at risk without a solid core social stack. The core stack brings to the forefront the information and knowledge associated with the people.

Our goal is to have professional networking deployed by the end of the year. However, we still have a bit of work to be done.

I would love to hear how your company is approaching professional networking. Are you finding the same business value, challenges and strategies necessary for success?