Disruptive Idea: Should Businesses Unify Their Social Networks?

By Bertrand Duperrin posted 04-26-2010 12:46


I recently heard someone saying that businesses must unify their social networks. They meant that a business should use one, and only one, social network for every business purpose. It was, of course, meant to be provocative, but if we dig a little bit further it's also thought-provoking.

Provocative because no business can seriously think about building a global social network for every internal, external, and joint use today. There are many reasons for that, more or less rational, security-related ones not being the least.

Thought-provoking because it's not about openness or any philosophical vision of enterprise 2.0, but basic and concrete performance, about issues the "old" manufacturing economy already solved decades ago.

Today it's clear for anybody that a company can't have many internal social networks. That would prevent reaching the needed critical mass and may create internal collaborative bubbles what will add more silos to the too many existing ones. As local performance is determined by the way people can collaborate in a given area, global performance is limited by the way those areas could collaborate together. The fewer points of contacts there are, the lower the collaboration bandwidth, which means the organization won’t perform up to its maximum collaboration capability. 

What some intuitively understand, but isn’t addressed as much as internal collaboration is that the same approach also applies to external collaboration. No business creates any value on its own: value depends on transactions with partners and clients, most of all in the service industry. Two internally highly collaborative and efficient organizations will create not a lot of value by working together if nothing is done to make them as efficient together as they are, internally, on their own. Concretely speaking, the limit to value creation is not the bandwidth of internal collaboration, but the bandwidth of cross-company collaboration.

Internal collaboration has been the bottleneck that used to limit organizational performance for ages. As internal collaboration improves, the bottleneck likewise moves beyond the organization's borders. That does not mean that there should be totally open platforms for both employees, clients, and partners, but that, at least, one platform should host them all but in different security bubbles.

But this is not a perfect solution too. It may work for B2B businesses but, if the so-called partners and clients have their own network the point won't be to host everyone but to allow the networks to interoperate. For B2C businesses who need to meet their customers on the public Web and social networks such as Facebook, social networks interoperability should also be the response since those people seldom accept to join a business-hosted network (not desirable for scalability and security reasons).

Business Social Networks can improve organization performance and value creation because they can solve bottlenecks issues that are the real threat to collaboration flows. But since value is not created alone and internally but through cross-organizations interactions, social networks have to be connected and interoperable (rather than unified) to be sure that the impact of internal collaboration won't be limited by the incapability to make partners, customers, and providers take valuable benefits from it.

#facebook #bottlenecks #Collaboration #socialnetwork