Last week news was abounding that Microsoft are about to announce their acquisition of social media company Yammer for $1.2B. Although not yet confirmed, it comes hot on the heels of other social media buy outs such as Salesforce.com snapping up Buddy Media for close to $700 million to complement its existing Chatter social media platform; Oracle adding Collective Intellect and Vitrue to its portfolio of social media-related acquisitions and SAP acquiring Ariba for $4.3 billion.
Clearly something is going on with social media when heavyweight companies like these start spending such big dollars. And something is.
While here in Australia social media is still something of a speculative direction for businesses – we are the fourth slowest adopters of social media for business – overseas it is already becoming part of mainstream business processes. Indeed some organisations are completely transforming the way they go to market using social media. Businesses are going social. And social means business.
For example, Bloomberg, global providers of equity trading data for trading customers now use social media to track the flow of conversations to provide early insights into market directions. These ‘sentiment’ indicators help traders analyse what people are saying about stock and whether to invest. Millercoors, one of the world’s largest brewing companies implemented social networking to help women in their workforce to connect. The problem was that their ratio of female to male employees was about half the national average. The female attrition rate, particularly among the sales force was high because they felt isolated and were having difficulty with variable working hours. Social networking provided the means to connect in peer support groups where they shared ideas, sales tactics and work life balance strategies. Attrition decreased quickly and dramatically.
IBM, as of 2011, has over 130 communities of practice around the globe; with up to 198,000 employees using Facebook for business purposes. Some of the benefits reported include a 30% reduction in project completion time and a 33% reduction in component costs. And IBM has reported a 29% decrease in email volume during the turnover to social media.
To add to that, in 2009, Comscore who are the leading internet traffic measurement firm reported that for the first time social media networks were the primary way most of the world communicated eclipsing email for the first time. The rise of the smartphone and the ipad or notebook is also revolutionising business. With these devices now officially outselling pcs each year and so many being connected via social media, it doesn’t take long for business to realise it needs to be where its customers are – and that’s mobile and online.
Much of the discussion in the Learning Cafe is about the changing face of corporate learning from a heavy focus on formal learning via classroom or elearning that enables and measures recall and retention to learning embedded in the workplace that enables performance and is measured by business results.
If we consider the rise of social media as both a personal tool and a business tool along with the increasing mobility provided by smartphones and other devices, then we must think more seriously about how to embrace social media tools for learning. The social business movement that is changing organisations overseas is coming our way no doubt. It will become another channel for how businesses operate, how they function and even how they are structured as hierarchical silos are challenged by networked communities operating anywhere, anytime. There are implications for the relationships between the learning and knowledge management functions as well. Social media enables knowledge to be generated anywhere. Are employees ready for this? Do they have the skills and the management permission to do so? Is management ready to let go of some authority over knowledge creation and let the corporate organism find its own voice through social media?
There are many questions to be answered. But my belief is that we as learning professionals cannot ignore the real impact social media will have on the organisations we work within and on learning we provide in the future.