As I near my 30th year as a professional journalist, the topic of social networking worries yet excites me. My main concern is that every self-professed expert who tweets or blogs has suddenly become an authoritative source that can render true journalistic services obsolete. Who will readers trust more: some sales guy or engineer attending a conference posting his take on an event, or the trained eye and sharp assessment of a reporter? With more information floating around via tweets, Facebook and on wikis, perhaps there is an important role for someone to filter it all to make sense of it for decision-makers.
With that backdrop, I listened carefully to the opinions of six IT executives who tackled the broad topic of social networking's impact during Everything Channel's recent Midsize Enterprise Summit. Panelists included six midmarket CIOs and vendor executives who are grappling with how social networking is changing the way their companies communicate or how such tools can be utilized to provide better customer support.
While the social networking sites struggle with the issue of how to monetize their platforms, companies such as Google are using social networks to drive collaboration among employees, said Tom Mills, head of midmarket sales for Google Enterprise. It is also helping the company understand the big issues its executives must address, using the openness of the Google Moderator platform to present questions to its founders and CEO during company meetings. However, the questions addressed are ones "voted on" by employees as important enough for the big boss to answer.
The superbly articulate and bright Niel Nickolaisen, CIO of Headwaters, said social networking allows his company to connect with customers in ways it never could in the past. By leveraging social networking tools, Headwaters can respond to customer needs both large and small. His advice to fellow CIOs or integrators developing a social networking solution for customers is to conduct pilot projects in small departments before a full-fledged rollout. "I roll the pebble up the hill today, not the boulder," he said.
Social networks may allow companies to capture customer information more rapidly but they are also a platform for selling, said Vikas Sehgal, president of developer Nagarro. "It's everyone's job. Sell or help someone sell," he said. "There is no such thing as business to business, it is business to community," a play on the popular acronyms B2B and B2C. Sehgal's point is that social networks shape the opinions of analysts, editors, peer groups and individuals who are either going to buy your product or recommend your stock or not.
Perhaps the final frontier is how social networks will allow companies—even ones with stodgy images—to attract new employees, especially those between the ages of 18 and 35. The panelists all agreed social networks help recruit bright, young people who have provided feedback via Twitter or Facebook.
However, risks do abound, the panel agreed. Social networks can become pipelines to competitors if information is leaked. They can also serve as PR headaches if an inappropriate or ill-timed comment is captured and posted.
Finally, one panelist said he scours Twitter for what analysts and reporters have to say about his company. "I don't want to hear from sales and marketing," he said, but from those objectively covering and tracking his company.
Well, maybe there is hope for us journalists after all.
Let me know what you think in the comments section below.