Joining The Dots

By Richard Hughes on February 18, 2011

Social business networks should be able to connect with other networks. Not only are businesses at risk of creating silos within their own ecosystems. They are at risk of developing networks that are not discoverable by other companies. The solution is to invest in a world that is open, discoverable, and navigable.

Social business networks succeed by making it easier for members to communicate with each other and work together. They also provide people a single destination through which they can receive information from their entire network of contacts. Yet, if their contacts are fragmented across a wide range of unconnected and incompatible networks, the value of all these networks is diminished. The more separate destinations someone has to visit, the less the benefit of a social business ecosystem.

As discussed in social ecosystems, it is therefore important for companies to plan their entire social footprint in advance, considering how employee, customer and partner networks interact. But how does one company’s social ecosystem interact with that of another company?

One could argue that Facebook’s explosive growth has been caused not by any specific feature or function, but because a critical mass of membership was reached. It became essential for most people to join, because the majority of their friends were already there. Once everyone is on the same network, it is easy to interact.

Yet no such destination exists for businesses. LinkedIn, the closest parallel that can be drawn, is really a network of individual professionals, rather than a network of companies. It is not a platform through which separate businesses can work together effectively.

So someone working in one organization is likely to need to join each of the customer networks provided by their suppliers, and continually check on these to stay engaged. Far better, of course, would be to interact with each of the suppliers from a single place, uniting activity from all networks the user is a member of.

With so many organizations taking their first steps into social business, it would appear to be a great time to make sure that this sort of interoperability between social ecosystems is built in from the ground up. But there are many competing vendors, and few relevant standards to enable this.

This is perhaps inevitable in such a nascent market, and it remains to be seen whether this is addressed through common protocols implemented by all leading social business providers, or the emergence of a central hub for social business between companies. But the sooner we establish the standards, the easier it will be for businesses to work together, and the greater the benefit that social business will deliver.