This is the fourth installment in a series on The 5 Big Ideas of Enterprise 2.0 — my look back at my 5 key takeaways from 2008′s Enterprise 2.0 conference as I get ready to attend the 2009 conference June 22-25 in Boston. (Click here to receive a 30% discountoff registration or a free pavillion pass to this year’s conference)
Social media in business. There’s a lot of talk about that topic — I’ve attended three conferences about it in the last week in Seattle alone. As I’ve listened in on the presentations and conversations I’ve heard people trading ideas for how to leverage Twitter to extend their brand, how to build facebook communities to engage with customers, how to establish blogs to demonstrate their thought leadership or to inform consumers about product developments and, then, how to tag those blog posts to garner the best search engine positioning to increase brand awareness.
Those are all valid uses of social media in business, but you’ll notice they’re all focused on projecting the business outward. Ideas like those above should be part of your social media strategy, but too often businesses make them the whole social media strategy. In doing so, they leave a big hole in the picture that social media can paint for a company. Namely, the role of social media inside the business to help the business gain competitive advantage in the knowledge economy. Now, when I talk about the knowledge economy, I’m using the definition presented here – an economy in which knowledge is a tool, where “expertise and know-how are as critical as other economic resources”, where what your company knows and how efficiently you can access it to fuel innovation is your primary competitive advantage.
That’s the economy we now find ourselves in. No longer an agrarian economy, no longer an industrial economy, no longer an information economy, now it’s the knowledge economy. Now what you know and how quickly you can put it to use is the fundamental driver of your business success.
Within this new knowledge economy, Enterprise 2.0 (social media applied inside the business) is a critical contributor to business success. Enterprise 2.0 yields competitive advantage by breeding retention. Here’s what I see:
There are two kinds of retention businesses should be focused on: of employees and of knowledge. Enterprise 2.0 addresses both.
Enterprise 2.0 and Employee Retention – At last year’s Enterprise 2.0 conference in Boston, Pete Fields of Wachovia outlined how adding wikis, blogs, IM, and social networking improved employees’ engagement levels by providing them a means for input; something they craved and even expected. The result was improved retention levels, especially among younger workers, something that all businesses should take note of (Wachovia’s subsequent fate notwithstanding). I was lucky enough to be there at last year’s conference to see Pete’s presentation; you can read an InformationWeek article about it here.
Enterprise 2.0 and Knowledge Retention — Enterprise 2.0 also contributes to the retention within the organization of the knowledge that would otherwise walk out the door with retirees — an issue of growing relevance to all companies now that the 80 million baby boom generation workers are reaching retirement age and an issue given even more acute importance by the economic collapse and the corresponding need to quickly reduce staff. Reducing staff without capturing what they know is like burning money. Enterprise 2.0 solutions like those mentioned already (wikis, blogs, etc) give employees places to record what they know before they go. Once the knowledge is out of their heads, it takes on new life as a durable, accessible resource to the company. And not a static resource either, a living resource. Because the knowledge resides in social media tools, users of that knowledge — other current employees as well as future employees — have the opportunity to add to the body of knowledge, to add their ideas, to highlight and promote the most useful knowledge and in so doing, to generate new and better knowledge unique to their organization.
I mentioned that Pete Fields spoke about young employees expecting to have social media applications available within the workplace on which to collaborate and offer their input. That’s a point not to be overlooked as we move deeper into the knowledge economy. Employees use social media all the time in their personal lives outside of work, the youngest of them have grown up using social media all their lives — it’s not a hobby, it’s a basic element of how they find one another, communicate with one another, think, research, and write. They do it socially and asymmetrically and it’s articifial to expect them to leave that at the door when they enter the workplace. Since these social media practices are not hobbies but are central to how these younger workers operate, asking them to leave social media behind and work according to traditional models is akin to asking them to work in a language other than their native language. In addition to the retention benefit outlined above, then, incorporating social media practices inside the company helps companies access the full expertise of their next generation workforce and that translates into greater success in the new knowledge economy.
Finally, as some additional background, I came across this slide presentation by Oracle’s Michael van Woudenberg. Of particular interest to me was this data about how businesses are using these social media practices internally today:
Managing knowledge — 83% Fostering Collaboration across company — 78% Enhancing Company Culture — 74% Training — 71% Developing Products or Services — 67% Internal recruiting — 54% Other internal — 12%
Source: July 2008 McKinney Quarterly Survey on Web 2.0
Next Up: Organizational change through Enterprise 2.0 is incremental