I had breakfast this morning with Antony Brydon, the CEO of Visible Path, to talk about the business application of social networks. Visible Path provides an Enterprise Software package that allows businesses to create their own contact networks, similar to online social networks like LinkedIn and Plaxo.
The discussion ranged far and wide, only touching the surface of some fascinating topics that warrant deep consideration–topics I’m planning to explore further in the near future. But the most important topic, from the standpoint of the business case for social networks, is the quantification of intangible assets to describe real market value. The notion is that among the intangible assets that enhance real market value, but don’t show up on the balance sheet–e.g. intellectual property, knowledge, business processes–one of the most powerful is human relationships.
Think of it this way: when you hire a sales person, one of the topline metrics of value is the depth and quality of their personal network. How big, how current, and how powerful is their Rolodex? The same concept is true for a business, but on a much larger scale. How extensive is the company’s network–with prospects, partners, regulators, financiers, etc–and how well are they using it to create real value, like products made channels built, deals closed? If you could map your network, place a value on the nodes of that network, and track some of the critical business functions that utilize that network, like lead generation, sales, and referrals, you’d be able to demonstrate an asset that generates value for the company, and reduces risk for investors because it moves a series of important processes into the light of day. That becomes value you can measure in the marketplace.
There’s a lot to explore in the uses and meanings of social networks, and I’ll be talking to Antony more in the future. Look for a column, or a podcast on this topic in the near future.