Unless you are the Lone Ranger, Rambo or Superman, you have to work with others to get the hard things done. And the harder the thing is you need to accomplish, the more important collaboration becomes. Fortunately for today’s executive, there are some great new Web2.0 tools that can help you connect with others.
Popular social networking tools include LinkedIn, Plaxo, Spock, SecondLife and Facebook. The following are some personal thoughts/perspectives based on how I use those tools:
LinkedIn.com is good for keeping up with the careers of friends and associates. It has also been of use in helping me introduce myself to others since I can connect to a new associate via LinkedIn and they can see my extended profile. Conversely it helps me learn a bit more about who I might be meeting with so I frequently check LinkedIn before I meet with someone new. If an executive was only going to pick one online social networking site to use I would recommend this one.
Plaxo.com began as a site that would help users keep each other informed when their contact details change, and it is still pretty good at that. It also provides contact and calendar and task synchronization services, but I don't use those. My data synchronization needs are far more complex and I found when I turned on Plaxo agents on all my devices I started generating duplicate entries. The value to me now of Plaxo is in periodically reviewing it to see when friends have updated their blogs. I also point my blog to Plaxo and some friends tell me that is how they read it so I'll stay a member. One good thing about Plaxo is that it can automatically synchronize with LinkedIn, so it is not hard to keep up to date. My view: if someone invites you to join Plaxo, you should accept, but don’t invest too much time in it.
Spock.com seems to have grown really rapidly. I started getting invites from associates and tried it out myself. But for the life of me I don't see what value I'll ever get from it. They claim to make it easier for professionals to find you, but if an executive is in LinkedIn and has a blog or webpage then you are already discoverable, so I wonder about the value add. But, like Plaxo, if someone invites you to join you are not risking much by signing up.
SecondLife is just the beginning of future ways to collaborate. I recommend all executives dive in so you can learn both the strengths and weaknesses of this environment. Some of the strengths include the ability to virtually check out technologies from all the major IT vendors. Some of the weaknesses include the very primitive ways of finding information and the very slow ways of interacting with others (mostly via keyboard). So, although it is not the best way to find others it is a great way of thinking about the future and I recommend all try it out.
Facebook is used by an increasing number of technologists, and most college students are in it (so most of your future workforce is there). I use it for a couple purposes, including the fact that I need to stay up to speed with the technology of things like Facebook. I also point my blog feed to Facebook so what I publish gets pushed to my page and is visible to those I connect with (this is a feature similar to Plaxo's). I get some traffic from Facebook to my blog and this was very easy to set up so that was worthwhile. I also use Facebook to stay up to speed with the whereabouts of some friends, a few of which are very mobile. But my sense is those features are not going to be of use to most executives.
My bottom line: Executives should be in LinkedIn and possibly Facebook. Plaxo and Spoke are just ok. SecondLife is important to experience whether or not you use it to collaborate.
Now how might you use LinkedIn to kickstart your collaboration? Here is an example: Lets say you could use some advice from an enterprise-class CIO, and perhaps you worked with one a few years ago and want to reconnect. In this example, I’ll use Charles Church. I remember him as an award winning CIO in the federal space. But I seem to recall he has moved on somewhere (pretend I didn’t just read the ExecutiveBiz article spelling that out). I can open LinkedIn and look through my contacts. I connected to him quite a while ago, and he is still here. By clicking on his name I see he has changed jobs. Charles is now the VP of Homeland Security and Defense at Affiliated Computer Services. Since he configured LinkedIn to authorize me, his e-mail address and other contact info is available to me. Now I can connect in person and seek his counsel.
A thought to close this post: there are many other collaborative tools at your disposal. My advice is not to try to pick one, but to be aware of the entire spectrum of collaborative tools and have the agility to pick the right one for the right reason. Use social networking sites like LinkedIn to stay up to date with your network, and when it is time to execute the collaboration, chose from IM, e-mail, phone, VTC or Adobe Connect. Or, if you are so inclined, hold a good old fashioned face to face meeting.
Bob Gourley is the co-founder and CTO of Crucial Point LLC and is the former CTO of the Defense Intelligence Agency. Bob blogs on enterprise IT at http://ctovision.com