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Private Social Networks and the “Bathroom Moment”

Steve Jobs was an insistent man. And that trait was on full display when he was designing Pixar’s headquarters and demanded that there be only two bathrooms located in a central spot.

This may have seemed like an idiosyncratic nuisance, but what Jobs understood is that creativity doesn’t thrive in cubicles. He schematically ensured collaboration would happen in the most common way, creating a space where casual conversation leads to the next brilliant idea. People at Pixar often describe having “bathroom moments.”

Absent of ripping out stalls from the office, how can a business get its people to collaborate as effortlessly and naturally?

This is where private social networks can shine.

Social media was supposed to usher in a new era of real-time collaboration. But while the big, public social networks may get the most attention, it’s hard to see how incessantly refreshing your newsfeed improves work performance. In fact, many enterprises treat social sites as distractions. (Estimates for how many employers block access to social sites range from 29% to 54%.)

That’s too bad, because the mechanics of social networking have the potential to break down barriers between departments, geographies and functions, giving the individual greater opportunity to impact the entire organization.

Social media didn’t introduce a novel form of communication so much as provide a platform to scale the way we naturally communicate: short sentences, off-the-cuff remarks, half-baked ideas. Very few of the initiatives and projects enterprises embark on start out fully formed.

Unlike more formal channels, such as email or organized brainstorming sessions, private social networks don’t filter communication so much as let it slosh around, top to bottom, left and right. Our own CEO likes to refer to Salesforce.com’s Chatter as “my Twitter.”

And clearly some functions could use a workplace Twitter. Nowhere is this separation more obvious than in sales and marketing. On the surface, it would seem these two groups would share a lot of common ground. Too often sales feels removed from their marketing counterparts efforts. And marketing is unsure of sales’s real needs in the field.

Private social networks give enterprises the opportunity to break down these barriers by creating a single social layer between sales and marketing, providing a natural space where the two can interact and collaborate on content and programs that drive revenue. This is the reason we partnered with Salesforce.com to integrate Chatter, a social networking platform for the enterprise, into our marketing automation platform.

The result is more aligned, more agile sales and marketing. The social layer offers a space to comment, converse and collaborate organically.

In other words, it’s a place for sales and marketing to have their own “bathroom moments.”

Are you using a private social network in your workplace? What impact has it had on you and your teams’ collaborative efforts?

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