The Keynote session at Lotusphere this year, in Disney World Florida, was opened by a left-field surprise guest in the form of Hollywood actor and London theatre boss Kevin Spacey.

The tag line of the conference is Get Social, Do Business and is an effort by the vendor to align itself with business efforts to harness social media for their own ends, be it internally or with customers.

Not a professional that springs to mind at a developers' conference, Spacey – who produced the Facebook inspired film Social Network – was at pains to explain how the loose social connections that social media is set up to encourage formed the backbone of his career development.

"My career is down to a social network," said Spacey to a packed audience of thousands of IT professionals, at the Dolphin Hotel complex at which the conference is being held. "It meant I came into contact with talented people who didn't have the opportunity to knock on the right doors."

Spacey described how he was among a group of people who set up their own social network, before the likes of Facebook and MySpace were created, to keep those unconventional lines of communication open once he had gained some standing in the moviemaking world.

"I could no longer take the script in the manila envelope handed to me by an unknown writer in a café," he explained. "I had a new-found protection mechanism that prevented that. The walls had gotten higher, but that didn't mean the scripts that got through were getting any better."

Spacey's network – – now has 350,000 members, according to Spacey, who actively uses it to avoid the barriers to fresh talent his position has thrown up.

He said: "Good ideas can come from anywhere. Some of the best ideas are ones that get chucked over the wall."

Spacey's experience of social networking as a film-maker and theatre proprietor illustrate one of the benefits of social networking businesses need to grasp, according to Alistair Rennie, IBM general manager collaboration solutions.

Other's were demonstrated by more conventional business leaders.

For instance, Fareed Mohammed , CTO at chemicals company BASF, who explained how the company's internal social networking site enabled the company to distribute pharmaceuticals quickly to China in time to counteract a fungal epidemic.

His story illustrates how social networking can capitalise on a collective intelligence and bring products to meet a demand quickly.

Another speaker from the banking community observed that in mature markets it's no longer possible to buy market share. Social networking allows companies to tap into local customer demands by using the knowledge of local employees.

Creating the conditions so that businesses can make the most of social networking will be the task of developers like those attending the conference.