While many Internet companies are still trying to figure out how to make money with Web 2.0, where it’s really taking off is the enterprise. Often referred to as Enterprise 2.0, this is the sweet spot for businesses – using social technology to empower your existing employees. Social applications let employees connect across organizations, and provide a way for them to work together to solve problems and enable the mission of your company.
Some companies have found real success with Enterprise 2.0 – for example, IBM with Beehive, and Deloitte with D Street. It’s also been a hit in the Intelligence community, with Intellipedia. The trick has been to make both the output of the application of benefit to the business, and the input enticing to employees such that it gives them a reason to participate, a reason that they can relate to. It’s in answering not just “What’s in it for me?” or "What's the value to the organization?" but "What's in it for us?" Addressing only one side of the equation means you have either an application where your employees hang out that costs your company money, or an application you spend money to build that no one uses.
Here’s an example – some of the scientists I work with want a Match.com style application to help them find other scientists to collaborate with. OK, sounds good to me. It has a benefit to our organization. But they want to mandate that everyone fill out a profile and keyword their skills and areas of interest. Bzzzt. Wrong answer. Why? Because what do I, the user, get out of it? Nothing. On Match.com, I fill out a profile because I get something I want – I get to meet someone who could be a potential mate. With this, what's my motivation to keep my information up to date, let alone fill it in in the first place? This is an application that's doomed to failure.
What the scientists are asking for is to have experts identified for them. There’s nothing wrong with this, and it can be a very helpful Intranet feature. The trick is to make sure there’s a two-way benefit. A better way to discover experts is organically. As social applications grow, you gain a wealth of keywords and information about people and their behavior online. This data is built up automatically over time. You can see who participates the most, who has contributed the most relevant content to your area, and who’s received the highest ratings for the quality of their participation. These are the "experts" to connect with. This is one of the reasons Intellipedia is successful – they’ve answered both ends of the equation well enough that people find value in participating.
If you decide to jump on the Enterprise 2.0 bandwagon, remember that for social applications to be successful, it’s critical to make them win-win for participants on both ends. Find the balance between what's in it for me and what's in it for you, and come up with what's in it for us.
(Originally published on Meritalk.com, August 29, 2008)