NY Times has a very interesting article on how enterprises are making Social Networking as a platform to get companies closer to their customers.
I really love the extension of the idea to business because social networking was seen more as a "peripheral community" among industry leaders. These sites were seen as a hub of young consumers getting together more as a hobby and sharing amongst themselves common issues and interests. Imagine, if this can become mainstream for enterprises - making it the hub for its customers! I think this is a big idea and inflection point for social networking this year and the future too.
When large companies & visionaries like Cisco Systems, Ning(the latest venture of the Netscape co-creator Marc Andreessen) put their might behind it, this idea has the capacity to really fly. Look at some examples of how it can be used:
- Imagine a social networking site for Whirpool where women who have bought their products can share their experiences,recipes, usage problems, service issues etc. in a social networking context. This could lead them to meet new friends, new information about raising children, new usage ideas etc. and Whirlpool will be the catalyst for this community. It could end-up in them sharing photos, holiday information etc. and this community will help Whirlpool design its products and services better for them. Imagine they allow customers to build their own site, invite their friends, look and feel are customized etc.
- Or a bank where people talk about money and issues wrt money - How to save, how to increase their wealth, investment opportunities, chat on financial services brands, their agents or Financial planners, their concerns and fears about the future of their investments, retirement plans etc. Imagine a banking website having a social networking site that can allow this community to grow and spread on the web, mobile, TV etc.
- Social networking can become the call centre of the future. The agents are customers themselves!
I think this is a great opportunity but companies need to be just the catalyst for such forums. They need to enable, listen, share, collaborate, engage with these customers and prospects if enterprise social networking has to come of age.