Social Networking and UC - One Vendor's Perspective

Linking social networking (SN) to unified communications (UC) has generated some interesting conversations.  Some of my points have been validated and others refuted.  It has been a learning experience worth sharing.


I had the opportunity to speak with Mr. Lyle Fong, founder of Lithium Technologies, earlier this week on the topic of social networking and how it is and isn't similar to unified communications.  Lithium Technologies is a hosted social networking provider. What makes them stand out from other vendors in this space is their relentless focus on adding value to customers through the application of business intelligence. Lithium provides over 200 business intelligence metrics its customers can leverage to determine the business value of SN implementations.  There is no guessing here, this is fact based.


At the highest level of abstraction, social networks for enterprise businesses are a natural extension of forums.  The difference today, according to Mr. Fong, is that nearly everyone is online.  When forums and message boards were popular, the participants were those that were technical and engaged in the technology industry.  In the connected world of the 21st century, social networks take forums to an entirely new level.  The SN is now able to truly leverage the “wisdom of crowds,” where everyone has an opportunity to contribute.


Social networks take advantage of the modularity of technology.  Just as open source was designed for wide access and contribution, the same idea applies to social networking – take advantage of what adds value, leave the rest.  In the case of SN and UC, the influences become clear: presence and the ability to track who is online and participating is part of the SN.  The ability for 1:1 interaction does not add as much value to the community knowledge base, so while the functionality is there, its use is discouraged. Mobility is supported by both SN and UC.  Video is also a strong component of both technologies.


The fundamental difference between the two platforms is real-time versus near real-time.  UC’s strength is connecting in a 1:1 relationship in real time. SN’s strength is connecting with the community of users and developing a knowledge base that benefits all parties involved in the network. 


If a company is still waffling on the value of establishing a customer facing social network consider these two items: First, support costs for the vendor are demonstrably reduced. Customers participating in the SN are able to get their questions addressed and problems resolved with a search of the knowledge base.  If the answer is not available, they can readily query other users to see how they are addressing the situation. Second, the customers become the company’s advocates. Folks that are really into their technology love to share that passion with other users.  Dell and Apple are two examples of strong SN-based customer advocacy voices.


While social networks will not replace UC, they do share many of the features and functionality of UC.  I’ll be talking with another SN vendor next week for its perspective on how SN is similar and different from UC.  What are your thoughts on this topic?


On a separate note: Does it pay for a company to emphasize organic and/or green? Attend the Naturally Boulder Products conference in Boulder, Colorado at the end of October to answer this question. Conference information can be found here:

With the state of the economy in question, the next post will address how virtual business processes can positively impact squeezed firms without having to reduce headcount. Have a great weekend.

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