It wasn't too long ago when mega-social-network Facebook was only an experimental service used by a group of Harvard students. And Twitter was just a word used to describe birdcalls. But much has changed in the social networking space over the past three years. Just ask BlackBerry-maker Research In Motion's (RIM) Tom Goguen, the company's first VP of Social Networking and Collaboration.
Goguen believes enterprises can get just as much value out of social networking services like Facebook and Twitter as the average consumer, if not more.
"Let's face it, most business is about relationships," Goguen says. "The better I can establish, maintain and manage those relationships [using social networking tools], the better I can do my job."
That's why RIM has released a variety of its own social networking applications, including official Facebook for BlackBerry and Twitter for BlackBerry apps. Both applications are very popular; Goguen says there are some 33.4 million active Facebook for BlackBerry users and 7.2 million Twitter for BlackBerry users, many of whom employ corporate BlackBerrys.
"Social networking is not just about entertainment, it's about information," Goguen says. "We enable both, but we really want to help you get stuff done."
Goguen knows many organizations have been hesitant to embrace social networks, particularly companies whose employees regularly carry sensitive corporate data on their BlackBerry smartphones. And some of those companies will never feel secure enough to allow "consumer" apps like Facebook or Twitter for BlackBerry onto their enterprise handhelds, he says.
To address those enterprises' concerns, RIM developed a new BES-based offering intended to make it easier for companies to safely enter the social networking waters via their BlackBerry smartphones. The product, called BlackBerry Balance, creates a secure area on a BlackBerry smartphone where corporate data can be stored -- and remotely wiped clean, if need be -- without affecting any personal data or applications stored on-device. (Read more details about BlackBerry Balance.)
With BlackBerry Balance, "we provide the security enterprises are looking for, but also provide some work/life balance [to users]," Goguen says.
To further boost its social networking credibility RIM announced at its annual BlackBerry World conference in Orlando this week updated versions of Facebook for BlackBerry, available now via RIM's BlackBerry Beta Zone, and Twitter for BlackBerry, which should be publicly released in the near future. The company also unveiled a brand new Facebook app for the BlackBerry PlayBook tablet. These new and upgraded apps are designed to help any and all users gather information and manage their social networks in the fastest, most efficient way possible, via deep integration with the BlackBerry OS and its core apps, according to Goguen.
For example, Facebook for BlackBerry 2.0 integrates with the BlackBerry address book, so you could quickly post something on a contact's "wall" without ever opening a Facebook app or surfing to Facebook.com. Or you could place a phone call to a Facebook contact directly from the Facebook for BlackBerry menu, so you wouldn't need to open the phone app. (The newest version of Facebook also supports Facebook Chat, a feature many users have long anticipated.)
Because of this integration and other new enhancements, Goguen says that Facebook for BlackBerry is now the best mobile Facebook app available for any high-end smartphone platform.
Goguen envisions a time when private enterprise-oriented social networks will evolve to the point where users will follow things like products and events in addition to people. So if a company receives a complaint about a particular product via its customer service department, the product manager could follow the entire sequence, from the initial complaint to bug-reporting-stages and the eventual resolution, by "following" his product or service on the company social network.
"For many people, social networking tools are already part of their jobs," Goguen says. "It's not always about 'tweeting' either, but about finding relevant information or feedback from Friends and followers. Social networks can be another 'arrow in your quiver,' to [help] do your job better."