Social media: How savvy businesses are capitalizing on collaborative tools

In this article, industry experts offer their insights into how businesses can capitalize on the many uses of social media and collaborative tools.

Social media plays an important role in facilitating interaction between businesses and their customers, according to many industry experts. “We see social media as an opportunity to connect to our community, which includes users, customers, the market and competitors,” says Susan Tran, Director of Marketing Strategy, Service Assurance, CA Technologies. Social platforms offer options for interaction and marketing that are fast, easy...

and inexpensive. She adds, “Understanding the impact of how all of these different important entities interact and evolve is important to our business.”

Businesses are also capitalizing on the broad marketing opportunities that social networks create. “Social media has become a staple of our marketing efforts, not just a nice-to-have anymore,” says Fred Pinkett, Vice President of Product Management at Security Innovation. He adds, “We don't post anything to our blog, push an announcement or run events without the use of social media platforms. So in a way it adds visibility, but we have to be strategic and judicious because we want to be credible.”

Direct user participation

Beyond facilitating announcements and company marketing and branding efforts, social media features also allow users to actively participate in product development and modification. For example, CA provides users with discussion forums, interactive webcasts, online events and even an ideation platform. This platform creates a direct conduit between customers’ suggestions and the company’s formal internal process for turning ideas into products and features.

Another company, Mendix, whose social/business hybrid platform sprintr was designed in a collaborative manner by business and IT decision makers, makes use of direct feedback from users by enabling them to use an “Ideas and Polls” feature that allows for presenting an idea that can be voted on, as well as instant polling of company participants. Users can share updates about what they are working on with teammates. Stakeholders can also weigh in using the sprintr product, providing direct feedback during the project creation phase, according to Eric Peters, Marketing Communications Manager at Mendix.

Perhaps one of the most frequently used features on Facebook and other interactive media is the “like” button. CA’s Executive Insight product enables users to customize business indicators they're interested in by using a "like" feature to select metrics from the catalog of choices. Their selections can later be “unliked” when they are no longer interested. “Gaining insight into what a community of users sees as important lets IT appropriately prioritize resources based on business goals and objectives,” says Susan Tran.

The role of mobility

Social media offerings are closely linked with mobile technologies. Mobile devices allow for business, personal and social interactions to take place virtually anywhere. In a recent SSQ blog post with MobileCause CEO Doug Plank, he explains how social media allows not just consumers, but also donors and others interested in a particular organization, to spread the word about new offerings using a mobile device, calling it “the most personal and ubiquitous tool that’s out there now.”

Companies can choose to be observers or participants in this very important trend. We not only want to participate, but also integrate the influence of social media into the way we innovate.

Susan Tran, Director of Marketing Strategy at CA Technologies

Designers of CA Executive Insight also had mobility in mind, acknowledging that it encourages user behaviors that are not typical of traditional enterprise desktop products. Tran explains that business users may be making decisions on the road, while in an airport, or in someone else's office. “Mobility affords these users situational awareness while traveling or remote. They can make decisions and connect with other stakeholders with ease and speed,” she says.

Twitter and LinkedIn are popular influences

Like many companies, Security Innovation has increased their social presence in the last couple of years. They have engaged with customers on Twitter, LinkedIn and Skype, among others.

Says Pinkett, “We've found that once we start engaging with customers over Twitter for example, we're finding that we're able to see quickly what their suggestion or comment is, and from there we can engage one-on-one or live much more easily.”

Agile development expert Lisa Crispin also has had positive experiences with Twitter. She discusses social networking sites in Social media: What is personal and what is professional? and highlights Twitter specifically. “Every day, tweets lead me to blog posts and articles I wouldn’t have noticed otherwise that provide valuable learning for me and sometimes for my whole team,” she says.

The sense of community created by social networking sites also carries over to Web-based applications like those developed by Mendix, which offers a social media platform designed for project management teams. Users create their own profiles and share and document information instantly in one convenient place.

Learning opportunities

Another growing aspect of social media and collaborative online tools is the potential for interactive learning and training.

Security Innovation takes advantage of the educational functions of social media through its unique eLearning platform, which is comprised of courses that instruct developers how to write secure code, and a remediation guidance system for mapping static analysis results. The Computer Based Training provided by Security Innovation enables self-paced interactive learning that can be tracked by the company. For users accustomed to consuming online media, this is a practical and timely training option, and social-savvy companies recognize this, according to Fred Pinkett. He explains, “For our guidance system, called TeamMentor, we had to ensure that as we built it out, collaborative capabilities were integrated, like the ability to add their own content or full libraries. We currently have general awareness courses in development that will address security relative to social and mobile platforms as well as Web 2.0 applications.” These courses are based on current market demand.

Collaborative education tools can also be as simple as a company-wide wiki, like the one described by Lisa Crispin: “We have an extensive wiki documenting much of the system, but it’s hard for a newbie to navigate, so we created a page for training new testers. This page lists what a new tester needs to learn on the first day, in the first week, in the first month, in the first quarter. We ask the new tester to update the wiki as he learns, so that it will be more clear and helpful for the next person.”

Conclusion

Susan Tran sums it best, perhaps, by highlighting the relevance of collaborative technologies in today's business culture: “Companies can choose to be observers or participants in this very important trend. Those that choose to cautiously observe will most likely be left behind, while those that choose to participate will incur risks as well as rewards. We not only want to participate, but also integrate the influence of social media into the way we innovate.” 

Social media opens doors for companies, offering new ways to connect with customers and users, as well as efficient means for training employees and consumers. Information is available, accessible and changeable.

For a comprehensive resource on social media, see Social media: A guide to enhancing ALM with collaborative tools.

This was first published in December 2011
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