Social computing has evolved beyond the buzz of social media networks to become an important strategic platform for driving business decisions, actions, and outcomes across the enterprise. In my role in Microsoft Finance, I have experienced the exponential growth of information sharing both internally and externally at the company. And while there are inherent risks in embracing the tools and channels available, there are also a number of opportunities that can be especially beneficial to finance executives.
One of the roles of finance is understanding and controlling risk where possible, and the growth of social computing has created a unique set of risks. For example, confidential information can now easily be shared outside the company and spread quickly. While some may immediately think of malicious information leaks, sometimes it can be as simple as an employee excited about a new product or innovation. I would imagine that most companies have experienced this type of ‘accidental information leak.’ At Microsoft, we try to proactively mitigate risk by providing role-based training to employees on this type of activity. Another example encompasses issues with product quality whereby end-users can share their dissatisfaction publicly, which can quickly escalate to a PR issue and—in extreme cases—the company brand and its bottom line.
So: how do we remain aware of these risks while ascertaining the financial impacts they might have on a company?
Luckily, the growth of information sharing has also brought an expansion in the number and types of tools to help manage a company’s social interactions. Social monitoring tools, such as the recently acquired NetBreeze solution, are often thought of as tools for our marketing colleagues, but they also can benefit the finance organization as well. Because monitoring can be defined by an organization, alerts and reports can be customized to look for negative sentiments or keywords that are of particular interest to finance—allowing responses to risks in real time.
While social computing presents new risks, it also presents major opportunities to listen to the market landscape and make better, quicker decisions within the company. In addition to gathering information about your own organization and products, there is also the chance to glean intelligence on the competition’s product issues that have led to customer dissatisfaction with your own. As businesses transform and embrace social media, it is important to understand both the risks and rewards. An organization that sees the full picture can use it to their advantage, responding quickly to capitalize on a feature or service real-time to drive competitive wins and sales.
The velocity and scale of social communications can be staggering. Therefore, finance needs to be cognizant of the risks and opportunities it presents. The ability to interact with customers and other constituents on a daily basis is powerful, but organizations also need to be very aware of what people are saying about it, both good and bad; impacts to the company can be swift. This is where embracing social monitoring tools can make a crucial difference.
Charly Tracy is a Director in Microsoft Business Solutions, Finance sector.