Tips for Social Computing in the Enterprise

Implementing Web 2.0 tools can lead to better collaboration and productivity at your business, higher levels of employee engagement. The tools also can help you attract the next generation of workers. These tips can help you get started--and also get out of the way.

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Improved Employee Relations and Engagement

An employee who happily engages with their coworkers and the company is usually a great thing. They have a lower rate of attrition, are generally more productive and have a better sense of the overall objectives of the company. Social computing allows employees to connect more easily with one another and with the corporation as a whole. Shared connections also enhance face-to-face interactions and the sense of belonging to the wider corporate community. New friendships emerge, common interests are identified and cohesion increases as users interact with one another around similar goals. Social networks, blogs and wikis create a forum for the voice of the employee to be heard and for their ideas to be validated. They have the ability to directly influence decisions within the organization, and their level of engagement increases.

Attracting and Keeping Younger Workers

Much has been made of the need to update enterprise technology to attract younger workers. These workers carry expectations of highly interactive, mobile and ubiquitous computing into the workplace. It's how they interact with the world, and they have become highly productive (and a bit distracted) by it. These people expect high interpersonal connectivity and create solutions to problems from fragments of interaction.

It's not just about younger workers, though. Although that demographic has more time to experiment and, as a result, build facility more quickly, people of all ages have experience with a broad range of social computing devices and applications. Recent studies at Stanford's Communication between Humans and Interactive Media (CHIMe) lab suggest that adaptability has more to do with new cognitive types that are not age-specific. Humans are highly efficient parallel processors, even though most of our information worker applications force them into a narrow box. The challenge for IT departments is to design applications that take advantage of these human capabilities on top of an infrastructure that is strained to support them.

Promotion and Public Relations

Many companies are starting to use public-facing social computing as a means of projecting brand. From executive blogs (such as Marriott's and General Motors') to consumer communities (such as Pepperidge Farm's and Wells Fargo's), companies are trying their hand at increasing customer loyalty in innovative ways. This is tricky if not done carefully, though. An executive blog that is obviously written by the PR department will alienate people. Forced "community" experiences will immediately feel artificial or opportunistic.

In the case of Pepperidge Farm, their well-crafted "Connections" initiative targets a specific demographic (professional women with homemaker sensibilities) and builds on a theme of friendship. The connection to the company's product is tangential: Obviously, a selection of Pepperidge Farm goodies would be a natural addition to a gathering of friends. Rather than build in any social computing functionality to their site, Pepperidge Farm suggests ways to use some of the most common applications (photo sharing, blogging) to connect with friends.

Other companies are creating a presence for themselves using social networking sites like, which have also proven to be a fertile ground for political candidates and musicians to get their message out.

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