Writing for the Sun Inner Circle, CIO Bob Worrall discusses the possibilities for the enterprise of social networking. Worrall is joined by Mary Smaragdis, Director of Sun News Network and New and Social Media, and Linda Skrocki, Senior Engineering Program Manager for Sun's high-volume external-facing community web properties, both social community experts.
Smaragdis notes that, "Within Suns social community spaces, people are conversing about their work and their passions around work. They use these platforms to engage their stakeholders, whether they are customers, prospects, media, or others. The network dramatically elevates these conversations so that they reach huge potential audiences."
Skrocki sees her role as supportive of this effort, explaining, "My responsibility is to enable those conversations.... When we open up a conversation to the marketplace, we need to have the toolsets to enable it. ... And while we have a very liberal policy, we have usage guidelines so that people learn when its appropriate to use a blog as opposed to a wiki, for example. Because of this safety net, employees feel comfortable having organic conversations in the marketplace which I think has been a huge factor in our success in this space."
According to Smaragdis, the resistance older employees initially exhibited regarding social media sites is lessening, making for a definite adoption curve across geographies and age demographics. Younger employees were aboard from the outset, she suggested.
The benefits of such sites are available both within and outside the enterprise, Skrocki observes, noting that Wikis.sun.com has proven to be a powerful tool for globally distributed Sun employees, such as tech writers and engineers, (tech writers, engineers, etc.), enabling collaborative possibilities among them as they create and iterate technical and program-specific content with customers, partners, and those members of the community who share common interests.
Skrocki goes on to say that another success story at Sun is Blogs.sun.com, in part because of the guidelines for employees to follow that keep Sun and the employees out of trouble. "Over 10% of our company is blogging. We have 4,500 bloggers who have posted 137,000 entries. Within those entries, we have 153,000 comments, which tells us that there really is a two-way conversation happening," she adds.
Yet another success area that Skrocki points out is is forums.sun.com, one of the company's oldest and biggest communities, where people interested in Sun products can converse and help each other. This community-driven environment allows users to get quick answers and engage with other users who share a particular technology. More than four million messages have so far been posted by approximately 1 million contributors, she reports.
Smaragdis expands on the volume numbers, saying that, "...in the past 12 months, Suns bloggers have pulled in more than 8.3 million unique visitors. Forums.sun.com has seen more than 15 million unique visitors."
Worrall observed that these free-to-use technologies enable the establishing of customer contacts that might otherwise have cost the enterprise to discover. "Were certainly using these technologies to drive down costs," he claims.
Worrall posed the question to both of his guests about the nature of a CIO's responsibilities with regard to the best use of social communities.
Smaragdis offered that an enterprise should make a determination from the beginning to make useful contributions. Consideration must also be given to the nature of the infrastructure and its architecture, she insisted.
Skrocki agreed with Smaragdis on the infrastructure issue, adding that CIOs must decide on the degree of control they require over such matters as scalability, uptime, performance, feature set, and data, and whether they can afford to outsource some of those considerations to third party provided services.
Worrall suggested that it is a mistake not to appreciate the business value of these technologies, inasmuch as they involve both mission-critical business applications and issues of privacy and data control.
With regard to what key personnel should be recruited to evangelize for the use of social media, Smaragdis listed the CEO and privacy experts at a minimum.
Skrocki insisted that users must be careful not to attempt too much control over exchanges, which need to be mutual by nature, not one-way publishing platforms for contrived messaging.
Finally, Smaragdis predicted that the use of social media will assume an increasingly central role in corporate communication. "The models we have for communicating and collaborating are increasingly becoming anchored around technology. The choices CIOs make will have ever-increasing reach in terms of how future models need to be anchored. This will be the way we communicate, collaborate, exchange, and engage in commerce for a very long time," she said.
Skrocki added that individual employees should cultivate an attitude of openness to these technologies as they evolve. "My advice is to be open and try the new social technologies as they come along, but don't feel compelled to use every one," she advised.
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