The use of social networking within companies to facilitate knowledge sharing and collaboration is only just being appreciated. But the model is moving on already.
The popularity among a certain Web 2.0-savvy demographic of ‘social messaging’ services such as Twitter or Jaiku, that allow users to broadcast short messages expressing their whereabouts, thoughts or mood to a network of friends, has shifted the focus of some social networks.
According to Tim Young, CEO of on-demand, internal social network provider Socialcast, the attention of social network users is moving from their profiles – who they are, what they know and like – to their ‘news feeds’, where they describe what they feel about things right now.
The next iteration of Socialcast’s software has been designed to reflect this change, says Young, in order to maintain adoption.
“We’ve found that in an enterprise setting, when you first launch a social network there is a huge spike of usage as everyone sets up their profile,” he explains. But users can soon get bored unless what is new – updates from colleagues, news from the company etc – can be found easily.
“Users want a more effective means of communicating quickly and easily; they want a rich conversational flow,” Young adds.
Socialcast began life in 2005 as a white-label social networking supplier for music industry brands. But as Young saw marketing budgets decline, he repositioned the company to provide social networks for internal, corporate use.
Corporate social networking has gained most traction in the retail sector, Young says. Typically, 90% of the workforce of retail companies works outside head office, so software tools that promote knowledge sharing and company identity across premises are very valuable. What is more, they tend to have a young workforce. Socialcast’s flagship customer is the US’s Guitar Center, the world’s largest musical equipment retailer.
But according to Young, it is companies with a high average age that stand to gain the most from social networking, because it can act as a knowledge management platform, helping to tease out and document the implicit knowledge that resides in the minds of employees who are highly experienced. And that is especially important to the business when they leave or are approaching retirement.
For example, Socialcast is currently working on a project with NASA, an organisation particularly beset with this problem. “There are people at NASA walking the halls who are 80 years old. Because they have so much implicit knowledge that has not been codified, they still need to come in,” says Young.
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