Social Computing as a Disruptive Force

This year I am focused more on researching insights and implications surrounding communities and social media, so I will be writing more often on these topics.  Enterprises are increasingly exploiting web 2.0 to create community-like environments on their websites where customers, partners and employees can discuss and collaborate on anything from support issues to new product ideas.

The last few years, thanks to the Web 2.0 explosion, we have seen the Internet transform from primarily an information dissemination and transactional tool to a communication and social tool.   At the same time, social computing is beginning to transform from a structured collaboration and communication capability to social networking.  Increasingly, major enterprise software vendors are following a similar path, incorporating social computing capabilities such as blogging, discussion forums, unified communications, video sharing and social networks into their enterprise software suites. 

At the same time, consumer-oriented social network sites (e.g. Myspace, Facebook, LinkedIn) continue to evolve into rich platforms where user experiences are further enriched through add-on applications and widgets from third parties.  Eventually, these social platforms will become the next generation portals of people, information and applications.  For many enterprises, social computing will represent a major disruptive force because it breaks down the traditional management system hierarchies and organizational boundaries, leading to more open, dynamic collaboration.

Leading edge enterprises will see this disruptive force as an opportunity to invest in social computing capabilities in order to build the capabilities they will need to be successful in the future.   The problem with communities and social networking is that it has a soft ROI, which makes it hard to convince management to make investments in time, money and resources.   

Early enterprise adopters are exploring the use of social networking and community collaboration tools in order to develop pools of subject matter expertise that can enable smoother flows of knowledge within (and external to) an organization, reducing human latency and increasing efficiency.   Quick access to the shared community knowledgebase, on demand community member profiles, and a persistent chat facility will allow queries to be settled quickly and efficiently, without having to send emails, schedule conference calls, or set up face-to-face meetings.  One implication of all this is that I expect email to continue to decline in use, as compared to other modes of online communication, such as texting, IM, twittering, and member profile status updates. 

So what will all this focus by employees on internal and external communities, social media, and social networking mean to enterprises?  I believe it is a disruptive workforce trend.   Management teams that are still holding on to the old command-control systems of the past will have a hard time adapting.  Those management teams that understand the power of communities and social networking need to take the leadership and invest in building capabilities now to leverage this disruptive trend.

Like I said at the top of this post, I will be focusing on researching social computing and communities in 2009.  In addition to helping our teams better understand how to launch and sustain communities, we will also help them learn how to extract insights and business value from their communities and from the social media in general.