The future of work centric social networks

I came across a blog today about social media and found a post called “Will 2011 be a Big Year for Recruiters and Social Media”. The answer is surely yes, as evident by my experiences in job hunting since I moved home from Boston, but this wasn’t what really interested me about the post. The writer also says:

“While I see quite a bit of chatter about social media being used to engage people external to companies (e.g., social recruiting, social media marketing), I am not alone in predicting the next big wave will come from more companies realizing there are huge benefits to be gained from internal, private, behind-the-firewall social networks.”

I noticed this trend last year while completing my capstone in Communication Management . In my research, I came across IBM’s Beehive, an internal social network for IBM. It’s one of the first large scale work-centric social networks of its kind and I’m surprised we don’t hear more about it. Below is an exert of my paper on Employee Branding Tactics:

One company that has successfully incorporated social media into their organization is IBM. In 2007 the company launched an internal SMN called Beehive. Beehive is similar to other SMNs in that users can edit their own profiles, befriend other users to create a network and can upload video and pictures. To put this case into perspective here are the current statistics[1]:

  • 400,000 employees
  • 60,000 active users on Beehive
  • 17,000 internal blogs
  • 1,000,000 daily views to IBM’s internal Wiki
  • 3,000 IBM employees on Twitter
  • 52,000 IBM users on Facebook
  • 138,000 IBM users on LinkedIn

The primary reason for Beehive’s existence is research. IBM researchers specifically monitored the site to answer questions about adoption, usage, motivation and the impact of social networking in an organizational setting (DiMicco, Millen, et al., November 8–12, 2008). One motivation that emerged was the discovery that employees were using the site to get to know colleagues better, particularly on a personal level. While this is similar to sites like Facebook and Myspace, an interesting discrepancy was found in that users of Beehive were more often reaching out to those outside of their immediate network. This concept is in direct opposition to typical Facebook users.

Other motivations included career advancement and convincing others to support ideas and projects. IBM researchers also concluded that internal social networking users with different motivations in turn used the network differently. For example, users communicating primarily with those they know personally used the site at different rates than those users reaching out to more users outside of their immediate network setting (DiMicco, Millen, et al., November 8–12, 2008).

IBM recently used information gained from Beehive experiment and launched Lotus Connections, SMN software for organizations. The software helps organizations to create their own Beehive by providing a platform to create communities, personal-file services, an internal Wiki, and individual blogs. IBM has also developed online and classroom training for administrators.

The creation of SMN software that allows organizations to create their own online network for employees opens up an entirely new set of questions that will be clarified only through increased usage among organizations. According to an article in Business Week one advantage is that employees can use their social networking profiles for “self-branding”, like showing off their new projects (Baker, 2008). The concept of self-branding is also related to branding for the organization. One instance, IBM employee blogs are public, giving readers a chance to get to know what IBM employees are like, which could potentially reshape the brand image of IBM and also help attract new talent

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