Enterprise social networking can take many forms, in-house wikis, blogging platforms, podcasts, vodcasts or full blown social networking platforms. Jimmy Wales, the co-founder of Wikipedia, famously described these as environments that "practice the philosophy of making it easy to correct mistakes, rather than making it difficult to make them" and that is the source of the discomfort within the enterprise when it comes to adoption of social networking.

Nevertheless, indications from business seem to say that enterprise adoption is coming whether officially sanctioned or not. Much as earlier technologies such as email or instant messaging (or, if you can remember that far back, even the presence of a telephone on your desk) social networking platforms afford employees opportunities for communication and collaboration which are difficult to deny. With hindsight, the benefits to business are clear. It is my feeling the same will be said of social networking and other collaborative platforms  in the future.

Social networking can be, and is being, used to reach out to your customers to solicit feedback on product launches in real-time, to proactively engage with less than satisfied customers and fix their problems, to create awareness of new social or commercial initiatives and in many cases to forge entirely new commercial infrastructures as we see in the music industry. Producers can open dialogue directly with consumers and create a feedback loop that drives innovation and improves customer understanding. Even mega corporations such as IBM have been engaging in their "Innovation Jam" using online collaboration tools since 2006 engaging tens of thousands of participants across the globe.

As Jimmy Wales noted though, these platforms do not eliminate the possibility of mistakes; in fact often their high public visibility and open nature could be said to exacerbate that possibility. An ill-considered remark in the confines of the office may be cause for disciplinary procedures, but it doesn't affect your external image in most cases. An ill-considered Tweet though can generate pages of negative publicity and cause severe brand damage, look no further than Vodafone at the beginning of February or the Virgin Atlantic cabin crew who insulted their customers and questioned the cleanliness of their aircraft.

The examples above do not of course cover the full range of security considerations around social networking; hijacked accounts, posting of confidential information, the ever increasing popularity of web 2.0 as an infection vector, shared passwords for shared accounts and the lack of audit trail and time wasting all help fill it out the portfolio a little. Blanket bans will only serve to spur your employees into creative ways around your roadblock, perhaps by using those risky "anonymous" proxies that spring up like mushrooms.

Even against the background of all those risks though, the possibilities for collaboration and communication between disparate but connected groups on varying  platforms over great distances, plus the human desire for sociability, all mean that social networking is coming to the workplace if it isn't already here.

It's up to you if you manage it, or cope with it...

Further reading:

Power to the people? Managing technology democracy in the workplace - http://graphics.eiu.com/marketing/pdf/Technology%20Democracy.pdf