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Opinion: Boost business, let your workers socialize online

By Sandy Carter, Special to CNN
June 19, 2012 -- Updated 1500 GMT (2300 HKT)
IBM's Sandy Carter says businesses need to understand the value of internal social media networks -- or get left behind.
IBM's Sandy Carter says businesses need to understand the value of internal social media networks -- or get left behind.
  • Consumer social networks are causing a ripple effect in the business world
  • Socializing in the workplace in no longer by the water cooler but in the digital sphere
  • IBM's Sandy Carter looks at the importance and return of investment in social business

Editor's note: Sandy Carter is vice president of social business sales at IBM. Global market intelligence firm IDC recently ranked IBM the #1 enterprise social software vendor worldwide.

(CNN) -- It's a well known fact that the social networking phenomena has had a profound effect on society. Consumer social networks continue to creep into the workplace as many companies are encouraging and allowing the use of Facebook, Twitter and even Pinterest during business hours.

But what's new is that this shift is now causing a ripple effect in the business world.

Socializing the workplace is no longer about conversations at the water cooler, chatting about team deliverables, client leads and pipelines. With the emergence of social networking platforms, socializing the workplace means that an organization has embraced a platform that allows its employees to share ideas and expertise, connect with colleagues, customers and business partners across the globe and gain actionable insight from social data that provides them with the ability to make smarter business decisions faster than ever before.

Forrester Research estimates that the market opportunity for social software is expected to exceed $6 billion by 2016, an increase of 60% annually from 2010. IBM's recent CEO Study reports that only 16 percent of CEOs are using social business platforms to connect with customers today, but that number is poised to spike to 57% within the next three to five years.

If your organization plans to stay competitive, it can't afford to ignore the impact of social on the workplace.
Sandy Carter, IBM

How do you quantify the ROI (return on investment) of Social Business?

The ROI of social business is a topic for debate, as many of the benefits extend beyond just a company's bottom line. Enterprise social networking tools are fundamentally changing the processes through which we do business and in the past year, we've progressed from just talking about the idea of a social business to companies reporting real and tangible business outcomes from collaborative practices.

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Companies that are seeing real business value from social capabilities are doing more than launching a Twitter campaign or maintaining a corporate Facebook page. And ROI is about more than simply dollar figures. Organizations are embedding social tools into business processes, enabling the business as a whole to become more engaged, connected, and providing them with social analytic capabilities that are leading to faster, smarter and more strategic business decisions.

Here are a few companies taking advantage of social and realizing significant gains:

TD Bank Group is using enterprise social networking software as a business tool to improve employee collaboration, information discovery and sharing. With a team of 85,000, TD employees across North America can now easily find experts, get answers to questions, recognize accomplishments, share ideas, and communicate and collaborate across geographies. More than 4,500 blogs are spreading across the bank, and almost 4,000 Communities have been formed. Those numbers keep growing daily at TD.

The bank is starting to see a number of positive outcomes to drive business value across the organization from its use of social. It's helping to build stronger, more connected teams, increase collaboration, improve communication -- they've already seen a reduction in meetings and email volume, all of which ultimately impacts TD's bottom line and employee experience.

By allowing employees at any level to bring ideas to the table, businesses create a flat, collaborative environment leading to ideas that are more profitable
Sandy Carter, IBM

Newly Weds Foods, a global leader in food ingredient technology, is also using social networking to help its chefs create recipes adopted by its tens of thousands of clients globally. Chefs are able to share information, exchange ideas and discover region-specific recipes with social networking technology in the cloud. As a result, Newly Weds Foods has reduced travel and meeting costs by 10%, saving the company valuable time and resources.

Cemex, a Mexico-based building materials manufacturer, implemented an enterprise-grade social networking platform to help connect 47,000 employees in 50 countries in 2012. Looking to consumer social networks as examples, Cemex determined that the social communications occurring on these sites were something they wanted to encourage employees to do internally across the company. Within the first month of implementation, 5,000 users signed up, with 20,000 users on board after the first year.

By creating communities and microblogs, Cemex has the ability to crowdsource new product and business ideas. The company began innovation challenges to engage employees and task them to come up with new ideas for the company. During one of these challenges, an employee came up with the idea for ready-mix, cement which has now become one of Cemex's most profitable products. By allowing employees at any level to bring ideas to the table, businesses create a flat, collaborative environment leading to ideas that are more profitable.

If your organization plans to stay competitive it can't afford to ignore the impact of social on the workplace. Companies that have adopted social practices and tools early on to create a more collaborative work environment are already gaining competitive advantage in their market and becoming more innovative, smarter and more profitable. As social businesses evolve, we'll continue to see studies around the ROI of social and just how transformative this cultural and technological shift can be.

But be warned, if you wait to see what social business can do, what value it brings to other companies, you'll find yourself left in the dust of your competitors. Can you afford to be left behind?

The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of Sandy Carter.

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