Guest Blog post by Bob Violino

Employees’ ability to share knowledge with their co-workers about market trends, customer demands, best practices and other information is critical to success in today’s highly competitive business environment.

Given the frenetic pace of change and the need to be continuously innovative, workers need to be able to effectively and easily keep in touch with each other, share documents, view demonstrations and otherwise work together to grow the business and better serve customers.

Enterprises find that they have an ever-increasing need to allow their employees to work in an environment that is more connected, using tools such as social media sites, unified communications and customer relationship management (CRM) to share ideas and collaborate in real time in a way that increases productivity.

Social networking is playing a significant role in helping to build more collaborative enterprises. Each day, more people are becoming more familiar with social media and how it works. And a growing number of companies are using social networking to support key business processes such as marketing and sales, human resources and customer service.

An InformationWeek Social Networking in the Enterprise Survey of 394 business and technology professionals conducted in October 2011 showed that 66 percent of the companies surveyed have an official or unofficial presence on Facebook (up from 55 percent in a survey conducted in 2010), 62 percent have a presence on LinkedIn (up from 58 percent) and 53 percent have a presence on Twitter (up from 45 percent).

Businesses have clearly taken to these online resources, which bring together large numbers of people who have common interests or personal connections.

“The world revolves around communities. People form and join communities to communicate and collaborate — to get stuff done,” says Reuben Krippner, director of technical product management for Microsoft Dynamics CRM.

“Communities have existed since time began: families, tribes, cities, teams, clubs and interest groups,” Krippner says. “Social technologies have expedited and simplified how people connect and collaborate globally in real time.”

Social networks such as Facebook have been adopted at an unprecedented rate, Krippner says. “Radio took decades to reach 50 million users. Facebook took less than a year to reach 100 million users ,” he says. “The sheer global scale of social networks such as Facebook has connected people unlike any previous mainstream communication technology.”

More and more of Microsoft’s content “is becoming socially friendly, and [we have] enabled the access to popular social media platforms like Facebook, Twitter, Digg, Delicious, etc., to have the customer-sharing content that they consider useful when they are consuming it in our platform,” says Nestor Portillo, worldwide director, Community and Online Support at Microsoft.

Apart from improved collaboration, the use of social media in the enterprise has some obvious benefits. Companies can support the next-generation workforce with tools that reflect how they prefer to interact with others. They can make the most of internal expertise, and can connect seamlessly with an increasingly distributed and mobile workforce.

 “When used together, SharePoint and Lync provide powerful capabilities to help [companies] find knowledge experts and collaborate in real time within commonly used Office applications,” says Jared Spataro, senior director of SharePoint product marketing at Microsoft.

“For example, you can use People Search and Expertise Search tools from SharePoint to find contacts directly from your Lync client,” Spataro says. “The Presence capability in Lync lets you easily see whether a colleague is busy, on a call, away or available anywhere you see their name — whether it is from your Lync client, from an Office document or from an update in SharePoint.”

Workers can look up colleagues from other countries and use instant translation in Lync to have an instant messaging conversation in real time, or start a conversation with a colleague by clicking on a comment or edit they had left in a document.
The benefits include greater collaboration, increased productivity and efficiency, Spataro says. An excellent example of this is Revlon, whose global new-product development teams have been using SharePoint and Lync to collaborate on marketing plans.

“Between the collaboration features in SharePoint and the video conferencing in Lync, Revlon has shortened its product development time, allowing the company to increase product output by nearly 300 percent in two years,” Spataro says. “Revlon’s story is a great example of the real, tangible benefits of using SharePoint and Lync together.”

For about 20 years Microsoft has been investing in online communities, “and today we are using our technical communities as an enabler for peer-to-peer conversations” for support, how-to instructions and other collaborative purposes, Portillo says. “This vibrant and active global community allows us to mine the conversations and gather feedback or ideas about our products,” Portillo says.

Microsoft has a broader vision than just a social enterprise, Krippner says. “We are defining a connected and forward-looking enterprise, the successful enterprise of the future; an enterprise that connects its employees, partners and customers to what they need, when they need it, using the device and channel they prefer,” he says.