Social Business: Not Just for Gen Y Anymore

When it comes to social software, companies often get hung up on common misconceptions without realizing its potential in various talent management processes.

The first misconception is that social networking tools and sites are a waste of valuable work time. The near ubiquity of popular social networking sites such as Facebook and Twitter in workers’ personal lives lends this conclusion an air of credibility.

But skepticism about the business use of social software and networking may end up leaving companies slow to take them up on the outside looking in.

“Candidly, I think they’re going to go out of business,” said Daniel Debow, co-founder and CEO of Rypple, maker of a social performance management tool used by several companies.

Debow said the expectations of customers have changed and their interactions have become more social. Companies that embrace social as a way of business, not just in customer interaction, will be more successful in the long run, he said.

“It comes when people are empowered and engaged — when they get things done faster than their competition,” he said. “They respond faster and have better client relations, customer service and loyalty.”

Another misconception is this: When social software does have a business purpose, it’s something to merely keep Internet-addicted, attention-challenged younger workers happy. A 2010 study by the Pew Research Center gives the lie to that idea. Social networking use among Internet users 50 and older doubled from 2009 to 2010, and half of all Internet users from 50 to 64 use social networking sites.

“It’s important to remember in 2002 and 2004, LinkedIn was a crazy concept,” Debow said. “Now everybody does it. No one thinks of it as something strange or out there. Quickly a social norm has changed.”

Social Software Is Big Business
Debow would know the potential of social software as a business. His company’s social tools are used by growing companies such as Facebook for performance management. But perhaps more significantly, online software giant ponied up an undisclosed amount of cash in December to snap up Rypple.

But the value of social software isn’t exclusively about market capitalization or potential sales revenue. What Salesforce bought, and more companies are beginning to recognize, is the potential for cloud-based social software as a tool to handle processes such as performance management and employee development.

The traditional performance review process creates what Debow called a “feedback desert.” Managers hold onto important feedback until a formal annual or semi-annual review, depriving employees of useful insight that could make them better at their jobs in the near term. That lag in feedback can also lead to lower employee engagement and higher job anxiety.

“How do people really get productive at work? It’s a socialization process,” he said. “There’s a stylized model that has been implemented by the traditional vendors and then there’s the reality of what happens at work.”

Online performance management tools allow a sales manager to give a salesperson immediate feedback on a sales pitch after it happens in a way a traditional review can’t match, for example. Social software also allows managers to mix existing workforce practice with the open, iterative and collaborative nature of the Web.

But to make that mix successful requires perhaps the most difficult step in moving to a more social management model: changing behavior.

“This is not magic super sauce,” Debow said. “It’s not like a magical tool that makes people better managers. It gives them tools to be better managers.”

Mike Prokopeak is vice president and editorial director of Talent Management magazine. He can be contacted at