A lot of friends come up to me wondering what I really do. They are amazed as to how much time I spend with social software. They want to know what benefit, if any, I get from using these tools. Usually, I tell the story of how easy it is to find expertise within IBM, a company with 350,000+ employees. Additionally, as an individual, it has helped me get some exposure to executives and other divisions of IBM. In fact, I honestly believe that a recent promotion was largely due to my contributions in IBM's social software space.
Now these friends mostly work in small companies (<100 employees) and say... "Ok, I see how this can help in a such a big company, but how can it help small companies like ours where we all know each other" That's the question I would like to answer in this blog post. This is nothing new and was actually answered in a 2006 blog post: The Top Ten Ways Business Can Use Social Networking.
I've picked my top 3 and summarized them here (specially the ones that I think apply to SMB):
Social software does a very good job helping people and organizations get recognized. For example, a small and medium sized business can use social software (blogs, social bookmarking, profiles) to get themselves known in the external world. There is a HUGE number of people using the internet and blogs are an efficient way in giving a personal voice to a company. And while more and more users subscribe to your blog, you now have a cheap marketing tool (to announce new products, events, etc).
Today, customer service is extremely important. Before, if a company does something wrong to someone, that person would tell their family and friends and that would be the end of it. These days hundreds, if not thousands, of people will find out about it when that person posts about it in sites like Facebook, Twitter, etc. Therefore, it's very important to provide the best customer service possible. The communities module of Lotus Connections and its forums are perfect for this. End users can register and support each other (which has a side benefit of reducing your support costs).
Provide the whole solution
Small companies tend to provide one service/solution. For example, one company may be focused on solar-powered water heaters. But when you are thinking of 'greening' your house you also have to look at other services/solutions: batteries to store excess power, water collection systems, etc. SMBs can use social software to create a whole network of complimentary services / solutions which in the end provide more value to your customers.
These are some ways in which small and medium sized business can use social software. In summary, SMBs can use social software to get themselves known, and improve customer service. In fact, you may want to read how a company with only 5 employees is using Lotus Connections in this blog entry.