When you look around and see one corporation after another in crisis, you might wonder how employees get the latest information about staffing changes, new policies, and whatever other urgent matters that may come about. No doubt they use e-mail as a "first responder" approach, but then what? Everyone is left alone to sort out thoughts and feelings and develop responses to changing conditions. This is one situation — of many — in which social computing can make a difference in the enterprise.
Not only can corporations quickly communicate with their employees using the latest Enterprise 2.0 technologies and emdash applications running on the corporate intranet that function like Facebook, Twitter, etc. — but these social apps also provide online "water coolers" for employees to share information, ask advice, and even comfort each other.
Other social computing capabilities offer the enterprise opportunities to differentiate and innovate. Consider prediction markets, popular for social chatter and opinion aggregation on anything from the outcome of a Lions game
(well, that one is pretty much a foregone conclusion!) to next weekend's box office winner, to the winner of the presidential election (see, e.g., Intrade and Hollywood Stock Exchange and the Iowa Electronic Markets). Prediction markets are used by enterprises to predict next week's price of key commodity inputs, or the sales of a new product release, for example.
Tools that harvest and organize the "wisdom of the crowd", such as Amazon book reviews and its "people who bought Wuthering Heights also purchased..." recommender systems, or Wikipedia's user knowledge aggregation, or CiteULike's system for collecting and sharing knowledge references, can be adapted to internal knowledge sharing, creating, and recommending needs. Community question answering systems like Yahoo! Answers can supplement internal help desk teams. But bringing these wild and woolly Internet communities and their platforms inside the enterprise takes more than just setting up an account and directing employees to it.
To that end, the School of Information has just launched an executive education program in collaboration with social computing company NewsGator. Our first course is "Making Social Computing Work in Your Enterprise," a framework for understanding Enterprise 2.0 in terms of business objectives rather than technology features. The course also explores economic, social, and psychological principles that can help Enterprise 2.0 rollouts succeed.
The program is coordinated by my colleague, Professor Paul Resnick, who has been one of the early innovators in several different social computing technologies. While still a Ph.D. student, he helped develop one of the first
online user-driven recommender systems. He co-wrote the PICS standard for organizations to label their web sites and Internet content so that users (and parents!) could filter out unwanted material. He undertook some of the early
studies that measured the value of reputation systems such as we see on eBay, then provided value-based design guidance. Currently, he is co-editing and contributing to a handbook for managers, entrepreneurs and social service
providers who want to implement successful online communities.
"Online communities, social networking, and user-contributed content dominate the consumer world, and businesses yearn to capture the power of these new models to improve performance," according to Paul. This explains the need to
transfer social computing technologies to enterprise settings, along with the knowledge of how to develop and sustain their user communities.
"Unfortunately, an organization can't simply copy and paste consumer social computing tools into the enterprise and hope employees make good use of them. This course will help managers and executives choose the right technical
features, according to their business needs, and plan the social interventions that will motivate employees to participate."
If you want to learn more about this course, visit the web site. This is one example of how the School of Information at U-M is bringing knowledge economy ideas, experience and training out to Michigan businesses.
Oh, yeah: I'll be there. I'm teaching one module on prediction markets, and another on pragmatic lessons for social computing gleaned from economics, game theory and social psychology.
(This entry was written with the assistance of Jay Jackson, editor at the University of Michigan School of Information.)