While leading a workshop on business applications for social media recently, one overwhelmed business owner sheepishly pleaded for a return to the good old days, when life was simpler -like when the sound of "You've Got Mail" on your computer was considered state of the art!
Well it's been just a mere 10 years since AOL hit its stride and a blockbuster movie with Tom Hanks and Meg Ryan charmed millions of people. AOL technology connected nearly 27 million customers to the Internet and just a decade later it's nearly history. Today we struggle to make sense of communicating (and even survive) in a world of tweets, nudges, pokes, friends, fans and connections – a world where email is now considered the snail mail of digital communication. YIKES!
As hard as it is to believe, AOL, the once-dominant Internet Service Provider (ISP) in the country, is considered a drain and a pain to Time Warner. And Twitter, a mind-numbing -140-character -mini-blog- phenomenon, is turning the elusive yet seductive Internet into the wild, wild cyber-frontier.
But underneath all this digital chatter lies a business asset often ignored and a value under-leveraged. The messengers (social networking sites) are being targeted as everything from annoying wastes of time to causing the fall of civilization as we know it. But regardless of the business model trying to capitalize on the art and science of the six degrees of separation, there exists within every organization an embedded invisible social network.
This social structure is not new – it existed long before the Internet was even conceived. All that MySpace, Facebook, LinkedIn and others have done is act like a super -steroid, giving extraordinary power and influence to the invisible social structure functioning quietly behind the scenes. Think Windows® – it's revolutionized the way we work and live but we rarely know it's there until something goes wrong. That's what social networks do.
Until online social networking hit the scene earlier in this decade, an organization's social structure was largely ignored and usually weakly represented by boxes in an organizational chart. What we've learned is that the org chart is a primitive representation of how things really get done in an organization. By ignoring online social networking as a strategic application, management deliberately chooses to turn a business asset into a malignant cancer.
Social networking exists whether you want to recognize it or not. Facebook and MySpace didn't create social networking – it merely exposed it. But just like an MRI that reveals the body in more detail, online networking turns the org chart into a piece of art.
Pretending that social networks don't exist won't debilitate them but will allow them to run wild – and the value of knowledge and relationships that already exists within an organization will be squandered. Setting up firewalls and limiting access to social network sites is like placing shut-off valves on your water pipes to prevent leaks. You stop the leaks but also cut off a vital resource.
How is your business responding to online social networking?