Ambient Awareness – Enterprises, get on board!

Much of the business world is lagging in truly adopting the knowledge sharing, analytics oriented, collaborative tools that have revolutionized our social world. And while I believe that resisting getting on board with social networking has some adverse impacts for individuals, for businesses the benefits of being completely on board are swiftly becoming too great to ignore.

Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Whatsapp, and even Spotify, with its streaming list of what friends are listening to, give a three-dimensional view of what one’s friends and family are doing, thinking, reading, seeing and hearing. For many of us, the benefits of these platforms have relegated our email use mostly to coordinating plans and extracurricular activities with contacts when Facebook groups aren’t enough, and otherwise for professional or ecommerce communications. The phenomenon brought on by social media of being either consciously or subconsciously aware of our contacts at a micro-level has been termed “ambient awareness.” We can have our fingers on the pulse of our contacts’ lives, and not just periodic briefs of the highlights, even if they live across the globe. Newer platforms make non-face-to-face interaction more alive than ever, truly inspiring increased awareness of others and thus encouraging intensified networking.

Ambient awareness is much newer to the business arena. While there are plenty of marketing departments running Facebook pages, HR teams finding talent through LinkedIn, and interoffice Skype conversations, adoption and full utilization of the social networking spectrum remains far on the horizon for most of the business world. So how can this micro-level awareness revolutionize the operational and cultural models of organizations, both internally and externally?

The potential that social networking holds for internal organizational use is revealed in the fact that Google, Microsoft, Salesforce, Adobe, and Oracle have spent over 2.5 billion USD just this year in acquiring social media tools to add to their enterprise offerings. These platforms and others are designed to diminish the silo effect between departments, countries and organizational hierarchies. They facilitate real-time communication and problem solving that can benefit all departments, while helping social relationships to flourish, which is directly connected to the activation and sharing of organizational learning as well as the creation of new knowledge. Socialcast is one such platform, and its popularity with larger enterprises, such as Nokia and Philips, is growing. They report, for example, that questions posed to an internal organizational community are answered in real-time at a rate of 67%, and that about half of employees’ contacts in the networks are from other business units or departments. This solution and others like it also offer analytics tools for added value to the management and strategy offices. These tools measure and provide actionable insights on the important people, conversations and topics occurring throughout the organization’s collaborations, such as a quantified status update on project management. When implemented and fully utilized, such platforms offer ambient awareness of the health and mood of the organization, which has heretofore been something that management can only ambiguously estimate, at best.

The possibilities of ambient awareness in regards to the commercial relationships of companies are just beginning to be exploited, and then only by a small proportion of organizations globally. Using social networking platforms consistently and intentionally across an organization’s value chain can provide a three-dimensional overview of the consumer landscape. From measuring the public opinion on a new product through Twitter to the ability to reach a potential client with targeted advertising based on their location combined with their online social profile, it’s time that more organizations prioritize the way social networking platforms can positively impact their business processes and decision making. An impressive example of an organization pioneering in social media strategy is American Express. When cardholders sync their cards with their Twitter accounts, they will get couponless deals related to items that they tweet about. As they encourage the syncing of cards with other platforms such as Facebook, Foursquare and Youtube, American Express is developing a growing three-dimensional perspective of their consumers Plus, their exposure grows exponentially, where for example, based on the number of AMEX-related stories on Facebook (a “like”, “comment” or “share” by a fan) there is a potential reach of over 3 million people, and that is all without spending a cent.

I think the organizations most resistant to social networking see it as a trend that they can continue to sidestep without consequence. Some have moved into this arena passively, with only bottom-up implementation constrained to certain departments. Organizations need to move towards establishing social networking as a critical aspect of top management’s strategy, despite the hurdles that the necessary investments of time, training and other resources may pose. Not doing so will inhibit their development and competitive advantage, if it isn’t already. It will only be with the C-suite’s formalization and follow through of a top-down social networking strategy that a company will see and reap the benefits of ambient awareness both internally and externally. The hurdles in achieving this, and the accompanying resistance so prevalent within organizations, deserve to be addressed in another post soon.

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