One of the most attractive concepts I have ever come across is that of crowdsourcing. At no time in history have ordinary individuals possessed the tools that enable them to engage with such a huge variety of people and to tap such a vast amount of knowledge. Many of today’s emerging business titans such as Facebook have used ‘the crowd’ to build their businesses and to build fortunes for their founders.

For knowledge based workers, the use of these tools can increase their productivity enormously and engender innovation at a more rapid rate than would be the case for smaller, selected, teams and individuals.

In a traditional corporate environment, knowledge workers predominantly access corporate resources alone. Admittedly, in certain environments such as academic institutions, knowledge sharing and collaboration beyond a single institution has been the norm for centuries. However, today, knowledge workers within corporations as well as within academia have access to infinitely more resources than ever before by using social networking tools.

The massive benefit offered by social networking tools is obvious in some corporate functions such as human resources, marketing and customer care. But, for other activities, the benefits are also huge. For example, a specialist such as an engineer can potentially source best practices or solutions to challenges using social networking tools. These professionals can use these tools to ensure that they are fully aware of the latest developments in their profession and they can do this anywhere in the world. Clearly, these tools can offer huge benefits to professionals ranging from aerospace engineers to zoologists. In fact, those that do not use social networking tools will soon find themselves isolated from the rest of their profession and risk coming across as having a seriously outdated approach to work, a bit like refusing to use word processing software and preferring to write by hand.

Horses for Sources has used social networking to build a business and to engage with a large community of professionals that share an interest in outsourcing. There are no restrictions on who can read the blog or follow Horses on Twitter. Provided, external content does not offend Phil Fersht, it can be added to the blog. But, the main point is that it is open to anybody, anywhere, who wishes to engage.

So what is enterprise social networking? Well, it is collaboration within the enterprise and with selected external stakeholders. To me, this is not social networking given that if I use these tools, the people with whom I can interact and the content with which I can engage are restricted by the enterprise. For example, it is much easier for an IBM employee that I have never met to connect with me using Twitter than using Yammer. Enterprise social networking tools are the next generation of collaboration tools that are designed to overcome the thorny issue of insufficient collaboration within most enterprises. Intranets were, and in many cases, still are used to engender greater collaboration within the enterprise.

In order to improve performance within many functions within their organisations, management must embrace open, public social networking tools such as Twitter, Linkedin and yes, Facebook. They should not seek to use enterprise social networking tools as more secure or manageable substitutes of the open, public tools. They have very different benefits. Instead, they should use enterprise social networking to help them to address that on-going challenge that they face, namely getting people, within different teams (or within the same team), to work together more closely.