• September 1, 2009
  • By Jessica Tsai, Assistant Editor, CRM magazine

The 2009 Influential Leaders - The Socialist

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It was early in the previous recession—2001 to be exact— when Socialtext entered the scene as a social  solution for the enterprise. That makes the current recession a fitting moment to herald company cofounder Ross Mayfield.

“Ross has a very simple but powerful vision,” says Rob Koplowitz, principal analyst at Forrester Research. That vision is to capture the fluidity and simplicity of communication and content generation that users are accustomed to on the Internet, and transform the historically rigid, siloed enterprise.

The motto of Mayfield’s company, “putting social networking to work,” is demonstrated by the very nature of its enterprise wiki, Workspace, which enhances knowledge sharing and collaboration, and in turn, promotes efficiency. “Often the efficiencies are modest at the start,” Koplowitz says, “but, over time, dramatic changes begin to take place.”

Integrated into Workspace are social tools: Signals, an internal, Twitter-like feature for social  messaging; Weblogs, where employees can share and store ideas and information; and People, a social networking platform where employees can connect with each other.

Given the complex nature of the enterprise, creating a technology to meet the needs of the social enterprise “is more difficult than it seems,” Koplowitz says. Beyond the technology, he credits Mayfield for having  successfully translated the value of the Internet as a solution to deep-seated business problems. (One way to do that is by practicing what you preach: Mayfield, for example, famously relied on social media to find his own replacement as Socialtext’s chief executive officer.)

Mayfield has significantly impacted others in the social media vanguard. The Altimeter Group’s Charlene Li says that he “was very influential [for] me personally thinking about social,” she says. (Incidentally, Li and co-author Josh Bernoff used Socialtext while writing their best-selling book Groundswell. From research notes to marketing plans, Workspace allowed the authors to collaborate with their marketing team at Forrester and their Harvard Business School Press editors.)

Li describes Mayfield as “one of those people I keep going back to over and over again because he really makes me think,” a quality she admits is all too rare in this industry. His academic perspective on the social space, she says, puts him in a class apart from mainstream bloggers. “I know that every time I see him, I’m going to come away with something.”

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