Unified Communications and Social Media: A Great Marriage

Updated: September 10, 2010

UC Still Needs a Killer App

Though UC has been around much longer, UC success stories have been much less frequent and more muted. Enterprises have been sold on the concept of UC for a long time, and virtually all of them have or are planning UC deployments. The potential collaboration benefits are clear.

However, there are many laments that most businesses, after more than a decade of deploying UC solutions, are only scratching the surface of UC capabilities. UC technologies are imposed from above, and involve making at least some changes to employee behavior and business processes. These changes may ultimately deliver enormous benefits, but, unfortunately, "only a wet baby likes change."

These UC systems were first conceived when the enterprise structure was a more controlled hierarchy. Taken alone, their value is now somewhat diminished by the business disruptions of the Internet economy.

The UC vision was supposed to lead enterprises through several stages. First, individual productivity goes up. This is followed by a boost to workgroup productivity. Then, communications-enabled workgroup processes evolve. And ultimately, the enterprise is transformed. Enhanced communications and collaboration move beyond the enterprise to embrace interactions with partners and customers.

This vision is still waiting to be fulfilled. Employees and business managers never completely bought into it, perhaps because it was too abstract. Social media is as real as it gets. It's where the rubber meets the road along the information superhighway. Social media is actually enabling new ways to collaborate, improve products and services, increase sales, crowdsource product development, and virtualize and globalize business—all things UC was supposed to do. This is happening because users are embracing social media spontaneously and enthusiastically.

More Is Less

Unless proliferating communications choices are unified, we face the conundrum that "more is less." A key goal of UC is to reduce communication latency and make quicker and more effortless contact with the right people. UC does this by tying together all kinds of devices and networks into a single virtual communications environment. Employees spend less time chasing each other and switching between applications and communications platforms, which frees them up for productive work.

Social media faces the same challenge—it is easy to dilute our social impact by spreading our efforts too thinly across the kaleidoscope of social media choices. We start to suffer from what has been called "social networking fatigue."

In response, the social media world is creating some spontaneous, quasi-UC order as it gropes its way toward cross-platform communications. The social media platforms themselves let you automatically share updates on other sites, and third-party dashboards let you see and update multiple social media networks simultaneously.

Great Synergies

Social media can be used for real-time communication, and some platforms are integrating Internet-based voice. However, both parties have to be logged into the same social network at the same time. Consequently, most social media communication is non-synchronous. Marrying social media to UC brings the power of synchronous communication to social media.

Consider some other potential capabilities of UC-enabled social media:

  • One-click escalation of social media conversations to richer media, such as audio or video conferencing
  • Automated routing of inbound social media interactions to the best available expert
  • Seamless integration of social media interactions and data into existing contact center management, monitoring and reporting tools, streamlining processes and improving efficiency
  • Making subject-matter experts available via social networking sites
  • Using UCC desktop integration to streamline information sharing via blogs, wikis, and chat groups
  • Using Twitter to deliver automated updates about presence status and conferencing ability

Mobility is another area where UC and social media have great synergies, and can deliver great benefits. According to Gartner, mobile devices will surpass desktops and laptops as the primary network access device by 2013. Social media applications are adapting rapidly to this trend. In this increasingly real-time world, businesses need to respond immediately to what is going on in the Twittersphere and blogosphere. Employees need to engage rapidly, from anywhere.

Social Media: UC For the Masses?

Social media can be viewed to a certain extent as a UC platform for the masses. It lets you connect to another identity, without having contact information—phone number, e-mail address—for that person. And the exploding location-based social media arena is all about exploiting the basic glue of the UC environment, presence. The presence and location aspects of UC and SM have a synergistic effect—the whole is greater than the sum of the parts.

Both bring people together for information sharing and collaboration, but in different and very complementary ways. Wikis, Facebook pages, content tagging, and social bookmarking apps like Diigo let employees participate in communities where they share information and expertise, and these same tools provide new ways to share information before and during collaborative UC conferences.

Employees now use social media to engage directly, in real-time, with key influencers—consumers, business customers and partners, and industry experts. With proper integration, social media can be the interface that is connecting with external sources and gathering data and delivering them to the internal UC infrastructure to be leveraged efficiently throughout the enterprise. Conversely, that infrastructure can facilitate and streamline the reach that employees have out into the external universe. The power of presence in both arenas—UC and SM—is magnified when they are used together. Social media can almost be thought of as the long-awaited "killer app" that will make UC fulfill its promise.

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