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Why social tech's real value is inside the business

Robert L. Scheier | Dec. 20, 2011
Although companies have been urged to adopt "Web 2.0" and social technologies for years now, the truth is that relatively few have done so internally in any serious way -- and use inside the business is where the most value can be gained.

Gartner's research shows that, in 2007 and 2008, about 80 percent of companies were using social technology for marketing and 20 percent internally, but analyst Bradley recently wrote that "the mix has since shifted closer to 50/50." A fall 2011 Frost & Sullivan survey showed 56 percent of surveyed organizations using social technology for professional purposes; of those, nearly 6 in 10 used it for internal purposes such as internal communication, training, and (for 4 out of 10) to "foster team spirit" or to "increase job satisfaction."

Collaboration: Social tech's low-hanging fruit

One enthusiastic user is grocery giant Supervalu, which operates or supplies 4,200 grocery stores under about a dozen brand names. It now has 8,000 users of the social networking platform Yammer, a number expected to nearly double this year in a move to increase collaboration, says CIO Wayne Shurts. One example: Managers of stores operating under different brands used Yammer to coordinate a campaign offering college students small refrigerators stuffed with discount coupons to generate repeat visits.

IBM's internally developed Connections platform includes capabilities such as text chat, video, blogging, and document sharing, and it's searched about 1 million times a week, says Luis Benitez, a social software product manager at IBM. He himself used it to find an IBM expert who, unbeknownst to Benitez, was working at the same floor of the same building. Connections is also helpful for gathering answers to RFPs in a single place rather than creating a string of unwieldy emails, he says.

Connections also saved $4 million in one year by making it easier for employees to find information, and another $100 million by allowing customers and other outsiders to get information online rather than calling IBM, Benitez says.

Software vendor SAS says its use of the SocialCast platform helps employees quickly find both answers and skilled colleagues. Some 63 percent of its 12,370 worldwide employees have begun using SocialCast since it was rolled out in January 2011, helping to "build on a culture of transparency and trust," as well as "dynamic working relationships" that led to the highest employee and customer satisfaction rates in the company's history, a spokesman says.

Egencia, the business travel arm of consumer travel site Expedia, uses Chatter to share competitive information such as pricing among its sales force, says Courtney House, the unit's senior director of sales operations. She estimates about 40 percent of its sales force is actively using Chatter, with another 30 percent "lurking" (reading but not contributing often); the remaining 30 percent is uninvolved.

Email marketing vendor StrongMail used Jive Software's social media platform to create one collaboration community for customers and a second internally to help sales reps with such tasks as finding and sharing customized sales material, says Kristin Hersant, vice president of corporate marketing.


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