Suddenly, the business world is all a Twitter

For most businesspeople, the line between their work and personal lives has been blurry ever since companies started issuing laptops and cell phones. And now that we're firmly ensconced in the era of Web 2.0, that line is being washed away completely. There's still some debate about the business value of certain Web 2.
By Sidney Hill, Jr., Executive Editor May 1, 2009

For most businesspeople, the line between their work and personal lives has been blurry ever since companies started issuing laptops and cell phones. And now that we’re firmly ensconced in the era of Web 2.0, that line is being washed away completely.

IBM VP Sandy Carter
Video: IBM VP Sandy Carter on social networking .

Social network graphic
There’s still some debate about the business value of certain Web 2.0 technologies—specifically social networking sites like Facebook, MySpace, and Twitter. And it recently occurred to me that the people who insist on continuing that debate don’t know what’s actually happening on these sites.

When a corporate executive inquires about the business value of an activity, what they’re really asking is, "How’s that going to make me money?"

The next time someone asks you how Tweeting will help the company turn a buck, this should be your response: "What has taking a customer to dinner or out for a round of golf ever done for the bottom line?"

There’s a social aspect to those activities—people are there having a good time, and every now and then a business tip gets passed on, a new contact is made, or contract terms are ironed out.

Similar things are happening in the social networking arena, and it’s a lot less expensive.

It was easy to see the business value of social networking at the recent IBM IMPACT Smart SOA Conference. It started with Sandy Carter, IBM’s VP of SOA, BPM, and WebSphere, announcing that a large percentage of the 3,500 people who follow her on Twitter had asked if they could be apprised of news from the conference through that channel in lieu of flying to Las Vegas. I’m sure a lot of business executives trying to trim travel budgets see the value of that.

Later in the conference, IBM unveiled several initiatives to help both its customers and business partners integrate social networking into their businesses.

These announcements included:

    • IBM Atlas for Lotus Connections; and
  • IBM SOAsocial.

IBM Atlas for Lotus Connections is a tool for creating internal virtual communities in which people seeking knowledge about specific topics can easily locate and submit questions to co-workers with expertise in those areas.

SOAsocial is an IBM-hosted community in which IBM partners and customers can connect to discuss new developments in the realm of service-oriented architecture.

I managed to squeeze in a few minutes with Carter to discuss her opinion on this question of the business value of social networking. Among the questions I asked:

  • Why should manufacturing executives be interested in social networking?

  • When did she realize social networking could be an actual business tool?

On the first question, she said social networking offers a low-risk way of connecting with customers to generate new ideas for developing products and services.

When did she realize the value? Carter said the business value of social networking became apparent to her a couple of years ago, when a customer responded to an item she posted on her blog. "We started a dialogue . . . and ultimately it resulted in a very large deal," she said.

And no one paid for a single round of golf.

Click here to see a video of my talk with Sandy Carter. You also can follow me on twitter at: www.twitter.com/mbtsid