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Social engagement: Get people to 'like' and 'share' your vision

Social engagement is transforming business models, but enterprise-wide rollouts hit a wall when it comes to how a platform should be chosen.

In his recent guest column, former CIO and all-around business/IT strategist guru Harvey Koeppel talked about how to put the customer to work for your business. He gave an example of how social engagement is helping Frito-Lay gather thousands of new flavor ideas for its potato chips.But what the readers missed was another powerful example that Harvey shared at our most recent SearchCIO360 dinner in Washington, D.C. Eli Lilly spun off InnoCentive in 2005 as a social collaboration site that paired up businesses with problem solvers, awarding the solvers $37 million to date for their ideas. Businesses get access to 250,000 "solvers" worldwide, who are awarded prizes for doing what they love to do.

To me, that story summed up the power of crowdsourcing, but I am still blown away at all the implications that social engagement stands to have on traditional business models. Product development, marketing, customer service, just about every business department that you can think of could have their business processes rejiggered in a matter of a thousand tweets.

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Businesses can be born -- and die -- not by the power of the pen, but by "likes" and "shares." My sister recently quit her job to fulfill her lifelong dream of caring for animals. Not one flyer was put up in any neighborhood; she established her new doggy daycare through Facebook. She started a business with no investments. It was all word of mouth, or should I say (and yes I'm purposely being redundant), by likes and shares.

A startup business kicked off by likes and shares is small potatoes, I know, and it has been done a million other times through nonvirtual means, but that doesn't mean it isn't relevant to enterprise CIOs. The next generation of "big business" is not going to look anything like what we see today, in large part due to social, mobile and cloud solutions. I think Gartner analysts Jack Santos and Chris Howard were only scratching the surface back in 2011 when they predicted that by 2021, cloud computing would  simply be computing and corporate office parks would be senior housing facilities (somewhat in jest at a Gartner event). Yahoo may be taking a different tact for telecommuting, but the reaction around me (texts were flying, landline office phones were not ringing) was "Good luck with that."

With social engagement, luck may have a little bit to do with it. Someone considered brilliant in their respective field may retweet your scientific theory or your idiotic rant -- and a career is made or squashed with a few finger taps. The problem that CIOs face with this rollercoaster-in-a-blind tunnel of a ride called social engagement is that luck has nothing to do with it, but surrender does. You can't control the crowds or your company's employees (well, in the latter case you can, but it doesn't go over too well). What CIOs can do is give employees and customers a tool that they want to use, or better yet, a game (gamification!) they want to play to solve your problems for you. And that really means a tool they want to use and not one chosen for them by a vendor, because your company already has a solution in place for something else by said vendor. A CIO told me this happened to him with a mobile solution (which is also turning business models on their head) for employees for that very reason.

Just about every business department that you can think of could have their business processes rejiggered in a matter of a thousand tweets.

Ralf Larson ran into this on his "social journey" to develop an enterprise-wide social collaboration platform at AB Electrolux, a Swedish appliance maker with operations in 60 countries and with 58,000 employees. IT wanted to go with SharePoint, because it was in place, but one solution could not possibly encompass all the features Larson needed to create: more than 100 information portals and more than 1,100 collaboration spaces with 8,500 members. Electrolux ended up building the platform on SharePoint and IBM Connections, but the most interesting part of Larson's journey was what happened before the platform was rolled out. First, pilot groups came up with a business plan and 10 business initiatives for the yet-to-be-chosen platform. Once the technology was chosen, it was beta-tested again --not just feature-wise, but culturally, as SearchCIO Executive Editor Linda Tucci explains in "Powering past mistakes, Electrolux builds a model social enterprise."

What often is still missing from enterprise-wide rollouts is user testing. I am always surprised when I hear that users (both employees and customers) were not involved in the choice of a technology such as a social collaboration platform, when it stands to change the business and employees' jobs so profoundly. Yet it happens time and again because a solution is pushed through for one reason or another, or one agenda or another. It takes a strong CIO -- or in the case of Electrolux, a strong online engagement manager -- to push back at senior management or even their own staff, but that's just what CIOs are going to have to do if they expect employees, customers and partners to get LinkedIn to their vision.

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