COMDEXvirtual: Making Social Computing Work For You

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With all the influx of social media, how can businesses make heads or tails of social networking tools and effectively use this new wave of data?

That was the primary question tackled during a panel titled "The Future of Social Computing: Defining What's Next," which was moderated by Mitchel Lieberman, president and CEO of Comity Technology Advisors, at COMDEXvirtual, the online conference hosted by CRN parent company Everything Channel. The show takes place November 16 - 17, and sessions are available on-demand until May 17, 2011.

The panel also featured Rick Burnes, inbound marketing manager at HubSpot; Mike Dubrall, Channels of the Future community director at the Gilwell Group; and Chris Pape, founder and chief creative officer at Genuine Interactive.

The panelists first tried define what the term "social computing" really means. Pape said social computing is a term that describes how current technology has changed the way we communicate today. Burnes, meanwhile, explained the term as additional information about people that is being exchanged across the Web. "Social computing is a layer of social data that goes on top of the computing that we've already done," Burnes said.

Dubrall discussed how social computing enhances such communication, especially in instances of group-to-group exchanges. "I think it's very different than e-mail," he said. "E-mail is not very good for one-to-many or many-to-many communications, and I think that's why people are moving away from e-mail because we tend to work in groups in our companies and social computing supports us in that work."

Social computing has permeated different areas such as e-mail, panelists said. For example, Burnes pointed to Google's priority inbox feature for Gmail as something using social data to improve the user experience. "You're seeing social entering a traditionally non-social domain and improving it," he said. "I see it as something that will actually become so ubiquitous and so obvious and common that [we'll say] computing is social -- it's not social computing."

So is social computing replacing more traditional sales and marketing tools? The panelists believe the answer is yes –- and they encourage companies to start exploring different social computing avenues. Burnes, for example, said social computing can be used by small businesses to "change the game" for advertising and marketing by allowing the companies to produce compelling content and build a network of followers, which would allow those businesses to replace your typical Madison Avenue ad agency.

But Pape issued a warning to companies about using social computing as a marketing vehicle: It's a two-way street, and companies have become used to letting go of having total control of the conversation. "[T]he interesting thing that they're realizing is, if they choose not to partake in that conversation happening out there, then they don't have any control," he said, "whereas at least if they participate in the public forum, then they have the opportunity to guide the conversation in the direction that benefits them the most."

As for the channel, Dubrall believes that vendors will be key for solution provider efforts around social computing. "Resellers don't have the time to figure all of this stuff out. They don't have the resources to spend the time to build up their online presence," Dubrall said. "So the vendors are going to have to lead the way. They're going to have to educate their resellers about why this is important."

The panelists also examined how social computing is changing the dynamics of communication. Social computing is enabling people to have discussions and interactions in a public domain on the Web rather than private conversations on the phone, for example, Pape said. "There's a shift away from the monologue to the dialogue," he said.

Social computing allows more feedback and interaction than, say, a conference call, Dubrall added. Companies, especially solution providers, could take advantage of that enhanced level of interaction by replacing more traditional phone sales calls, for example, he said. "You're seeing a lot of efficiencies in transferring [voice-based sales efforts] to social computing," he said, "and I think that's something that's a very strong tool that resellers should be engaging."

Register now to attend COMDEXvirtual or to access on-demand sessions.

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