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Does the future of B2B social media lie behind the firewall?

A couple of months ago, Microsoft acquired enterprise social media network Yammer for $1.2bn. Since then, Yammer has been bolting on new services like instant messaging and – no, I’m not making this up – employee emotion tracking so HR departments can measure employee mood. Microsoft is also planning deep socially collaboration in its upcoming launch of SharePoint 15, including an app marketplace and cloud integration with Office and Outlook.

Other business software leviathans are throwing their weight behind social media-style features for internal use. A study by IBM in 2010 showed that ‘standout organizations are 57% more likely to allow their people to use social and collaborative tools’. Since then, its ‘social business’ offering has spawned a set of tools that cover communications and team collaboration tools. Oracle is doing the same thing, and has even launched a social network product called… Wait for it… Oracle Social Network.

The big guns may not give their software products the most imaginative names, but the thinking behind them is subtly changing the way businesses think about social media. Adding social features to the software we use every day is letting us see how building deep, personal connections with colleagues allows us to work together more quickly and have more fun doing it.

Consider this quote from Anthony Bradley, a Gartner analyst (who references the example of building materials firm CEMEX and how they increased the use of alternative fuels in their factories by creating a social network of factory managers, achieving an 18-month goal in 8 weeks):

“The most strategic, transformational, and beneficial organizational processes just might be found in the chaos of the community.”

A nice way to sum up the unpredictable but rewarding nature of social media, no? Now consider how the business systems we’re conditioned to use in our jobs – from how we email to how we count our money – are all becoming social. Big business is changing from the inside out.

Eventually, the change will reach the outer edges, where things like marketing and PR exist. But instead of social media being an approach that is forced on a business because a bright young marketing person says it’s the latest, hippest thing, social media will be a natural evolution of how the business, and every other business in its network, operates.

At that point, social media will have become the way everyone does business. Don’t underestimate social collaboration – what’s happening behind the firewall is about to make a leap through the flames and change the industry. And your job will change along with it.

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Jon Silk tweets as @prgeek, and blogs at www.prgeek.net.

Photo by hanspoldoja.