I’ve been working with a client to help them think about social technology from the perspective of business problems and needs. This is tough for the IT people who like shiny things.

To help the client team reset their thinking, I created a written framework for them that illustrates how organizations use different social technologies to solve business problems, what the behavior or cultural implications are, and what added value they might expect.

For example, companies use social networking tools inside to:

  • Help people find each other
  • Identify expertise and skills
  • Better visualize individual contributions
  • Surface the activities of groups and teams
  • Improve a user’s ability to re-find the stuff he or she needs

The cultural implications are that social networking demands a willingness to share the right types of information about yourself and a willingness to share what you know. Not every organization is ready for this.

Some of the side benefits of social networking include:

  • Discovering you’ve got two different teams working on the same problem
  • Sharing the resources of an advanced geographic region with those in a less capable region
  • With more control over what they see, employees can better cut through the clutter of internal content

For an organization that has eschewed social networking, this line of thinking is beginning to turn the tide. They are beginning to see the value and benefits that could be realized from a business perspective. They just have to get over their fear.

Take podcasting as another example. Whether you use that term or not, it really comes down to user-generated video/audio snippits for education and training. There are so many great examples here:

  • A consulting firm that wants the employee voice to be heard in recruiting allows their employees to create their own brief podcasts about their personal employee experience
  • The IT shop in a large corporation allows users to create their own how-to podcasts and share them along side the corporate-provided help content, thus allowing the community to better support itself
  • A multi-national corporation that needs to reach all continents at the same time about business results, uses a quarterly podcast coupled with a team engagement tool to drive learning and dialog about results

A with any social technology, podcasting comes with cultural implications too:

  • People must be willing to share
  • People must be willing to engage in dialog
  • People must trust and value other people’s content
  • People must be willing to take the time to share and learn

Podcasting demands good governance and guidelines, a little equipment investment (not much), and the use of other means (e.g., microblogging, RSS) to promote availability.

You get the idea. It’s about solving business needs: engaging employees in recruiting; improving a support capability; driving dialog for line of sight; uncovering hidden talent; and reducing duplication. Business needs. Business goals. Business problems.

Start mapping these out for yourself and you’ll start to see how the technologies can help solve your business problems. Meantime, we’re going to work on putting the guidelines we’ve created into a tool for our Tool Store. So everyone can think more strategically. After all, strategic thinking is what a great tool is all about.