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IBM may be one of the largest, most successful technology companies in the world, and it has a piece of a lot of pies. But chances are it isn't one of the top companies that comes to mind when you utter the words "social media" or "social network."

For a growing number of corporations, however, IBM has become the social networking vendor.

As detailed by the New York Times' Steve Lohr, the company's Connections division, which was founded in 2007 and sells social networking and collaboration software, has amassed a customer base in the tens of thousands. Some of those customers are building impressive internal social networks. TD Bank, for instance, has some 43,000 users on its Canadian social network, which is used to facilitate communication and knowledge sharing amongst employees.

But Big Blue isn't just just looking to sell Facebook-like software to the enterprise. Increasingly, as Lohr explains, IBM is looking to put its investments in data mining and analytics to use in the social context:

The intelligence being built into the software can be applied inside a company or out in the marketplace, said Alistair Rennie, general manager of social business software at I.B.M.

For an individual worker, the new software can help find and recommend experts within the company to solve, say, a specific marketing or manufacturing problem. The Web-based software...can sift through a worker’s online messages, comments on company blogs and wikis, and shared documents to determine what is most important to the person — and present that first on an on-screen dashboard.

While employers grapple with employee use of social networks like Facebook and Twitter, IBM is trying to reshape what social media and social networking means to business. If it has its way, it could become one of the most, if not the most, important social media companies in the world, even if the Facebook and Googles of the world seem to be duking it out for that distinction.

Of course, Connection's success wouldn't be possible if Facebook didn't exist. The Times' Lohr notes, "The enthusiasm for adopting social media tools is another sign of consumer-led innovation in technology." A more accurate way to put it is that consumer technologies increasingly pave the way for more effective enterprise technologies. By designing around what's working in the consumer space, companies like IBM are able to better build tools that allow them to bring innovation to the workplace in a usable fashion.

Today, that is proving to be one of the easiest ways to deliver enterprise software that doesn't just work, but that gets adopted enthusiastically by target users (read: employees). With this in mind, it shouldn't seems likely that, going forward, the fortunes of more than a few enterprise companies will be based in large part on their consumer savvy.

Patricio Robles

Published 16 January, 2012 by Patricio Robles

Patricio Robles is a tech reporter at Econsultancy. Follow him on Twitter.

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Comments (4)

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Adi Gaskell

I really think this is going to be a massive growth area.

Firstly, companies are increasingly knowledge based, so getting the most of the knowledge people have is key.

Secondly, companies are increasingly international, so enabling collaboration across sites is crucial.

Finally, work patterns are changing, so it's increasingly common for people to work outside of the office. Again offering them tools to collaborate and share with remote colleagues is key.

over 4 years ago

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Ann Holman

It is indeed going to be a major growth area as Facebook and the others become increasingly underwhelming and organisations realise the power that internal employee social networks can have in achieving knowledge sharing, peer to peer learning and connection.

We must also remember that the technological solution is only part of the process. Its not the technology that makes something like an employee social network a success but the human interaction, engagement, participation and collaboration. We seem to have forgotten that in the dominance of algorithm in recent years.

over 4 years ago

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Ryan Taylor

As someone working in an organisation using connections this horror quote in the NYT article is what you really need to take note of: "Thousands of blogs and wikis have been created by the workers themselves" How you manage all that - simply in terms of maintaining accuracy over time, avoiding duplication and ensuring findability needs a ton of resource.

over 4 years ago

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Alan Connor, Digital Manager at Nucleus Financial

Yeah but Connections is still a bit crap as you can't post an image or video on your status update like FB and Twitter.

over 4 years ago

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