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.