Is Social Media a Beast That Needs to be Tamed?
Insurance Experts' Forum, December 3, 2009
The social media revolution isn't just a lot of people connecting via Facebook, Twitter and other online services. Rather, the revolution is occurring within corporate walls as well. And this has profound implications for the way organizations are, well, organized.
Dr. Irving Wladawsky-Berger, formerly one of IBM's top innovators, recently hosted a panel discussion on the business and media impacts of social media at the University of Southern California's Annenberg School of Communications.
While much of the discussion focused on the impacts on the media business, there were a lot of takeaways for other types of information-intensive industries such as insurance. (The video of the panel covering the business implications can be seen here.)
As Melissa Cefkin, a research scientist at IBM, discussed, her company employs internal versions of social media that run on the company's own IT systems and offer a secure environment for business discussions.
“These technologies are invaluable to help people find each other, share information, communicate and learn,” she related. “If you think about it, that is the quintessential corporate challenge ... Businesses or organizations of any kind could be more effective if you can get effective knowledge sharing going on. So why wouldn't you want to encourage that kind of knowledge sharing?”
However, as with any new disruptive force, there are risks with social media, she warned. “You do not want your employees out there … grumbling about the new project they are on. You don’t want them sharing IP. You don't want them … in advance of the market, creating a potentially bad reputation for something that's about to launch … You want employees to be productive.”
She added that IBM—as well as other companies—constantly have to weigh the benefits of social media versus these potential downsides. “Is all this time spent … with these [social media] tools and in these different environments a productive use of employees' times and ways of interacting, or is it not?”
No doubt many insurers will be asking themselves the same questions in the months and years to come. Does your company encourage the use of social media, merely tolerate it, or even clamp down on it?
Joe McKendrick is an author, consultant, blogger and frequent INN contributor specializing in information technology.
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