Why social tech's real value is inside the business

Most companies focus on social media, social marketing, and reputation management -- and miss potentially bigger benefits

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CrowdFlower's "enterprise crowdsourcing platform," for example, taps 1.5 million online "contributors" for work such as trolling social media sites for information about sales prospects or ensuring eBay offerings are listed are in the right category. This can save as much as 40 percent compared to using a traditional outsourcer, the company claims. The contributors, who are recruited from gaming sites and other online venues, are paid as little as 5 cents for simple tasks and as much as $10 for more involved work such as taking a picture of a physical location.

uTest crowdsources testing to "contributors" whom it categorizes based on their technical skills, geography, and demographic characteristics. Direct marketing and teleservices firm RuffaloCody estimates uTest costs only 15 percent of what using its own staff for load, functionality, and user acceptance testing would have entailed, says Paul Ruffalo, the firm's director of information systems. He also says the crowd-based testers did a better job than in-house engineers of finding creative ways to break the software and ensure it will work, allowing the firm to find and deploy fixes more quickly than it could in the past.

Likewise, mobile video software vendor Viddy found uTest to be faster and less expensive than using in-house testers or an outsourcer, says David Dean, Viddy's head of operations. The service also made it easier to find testers who can check the application on various versions of the iPhone running on different networks, he says.

Crowdsourcing a basic function such as data entry can be 60 to 70 percent less expensive than traditional outsourcing, says outsourcing consultancy Everest Group. It cautions, though, that large customers worry there is less accountability with the crowd than with a traditional staff, and that Web-based contributors do a better job on well-defined tasks than on more complex business processes. Some firms are also nervous, it says, about protecting information shared with anonymous workers over the Web.

Tips for deploying social tech successfully
Like any other technology, business social technology must be deployed and managed right to deliver a return.

Several early adopters recommended deploying social tech platforms as add-ons to existing applications rather than forcing users to install and learn something new. As proof, IBM's Benitez points out that more than half the traffic on Connections comes from links to regular office applications and users' email clients.

Some customers are integrating the new social tech platforms with existing collaboration platforms such as Microsoft SharePoint. In those cases, SharePoint often becomes a repository for reference material, with real-time conversations migrating to social media tools.

Egencia did a "road show" educating skeptics on the value of Chatter, as well as an internal marketing campaign that offered prizes for users who found information using Chatter. Users organize information themselves as they create it through the use of hash tags and groups, which allow others to find information months or years after it was created.

Although it gets less attention than its fancy customer-facing social networking counterpart, business social tech can deliver both dollar savings and harder-to-measure benefits such as involvement, commitment, and speed. In a tough, uncertain economy, that's more than enough reason to try to bring social tech in-house.

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This story, "Why social tech's real value is inside the business," was originally published at InfoWorld.com. Follow the latest developments in applications at InfoWorld.com. For the latest developments in business technology news, follow InfoWorld.com on Twitter.

Copyright © 2011 IDG Communications, Inc.

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