Quickly: Enterprises must embrace social technologies quickly, despite the recession.

As noted in a previous post, I ran a session on social and the enterprise at the World Economic Forum. Thank you to everyone who commented – I used your ideas in the session – much appreciated. Discussion leaders included Robert Scoble of Fast Company TV, Michael Arrington of TechCrunch, Eric Clemons of the Wharton School, Paulo Coelho, Author, Matt Cohler of Benchmark Capital, Reid Hoffman of LinkedIn, Jun Murai, Deio University, and Jimmy Wales of Wikipedia.

We had a spirited, at times contentious conversation. The divergence of definitions and ground rules for social signal that, despite the calls for Facebook’s or MySpace’s or Twitter’s anointing, we’re still in social’s early days.

Here are the best thoughts from the session:

1) Definitions of social:

“Individuals and colleagues sharing knowledge, wisdom and opinions.”

“A channel for customers or stakeholders to state grievances or congratulations.”

“Human interaction in a virtual environment.”

The group’s favorite (thank you Matt Cohler):  “The ability of any person anywhere to tell anyone anywhere his opinion on anything.”

2) Enterprises of all stripes can no longer ignore social computing. They must calculate its impacts on the company, its employees, its shareholders, and its customers.

3) What are the greatest risks of social to an enterprise?

“The disruption or destruction of a company brand if social computing is not implemented wisely. Brand destruction affects customers, employees, and shareholders.”

“The greatest risk to the enterprise is moving too slowly, letting social overtake you before you can adapt.”

4) How should enterprises use social?

“Social can extend a company’s reach and enhance its ability to process a wide range of feedback from its customers and stakeholders to improve its products and/or services. This can develop increased company loyalty, both within the company and with customers and suppliers.”

“The CEO, who should be ahead of the curve, can drive change and give feedback in a social fashion.” One participant reported that social computing enabled his pharmaceutical company to find and invest in start-ups without using venture capitalists.

“If a customer has an internal channel for complaints or communication with the company and is accustomed to receiving a response, the customer is less likely to consider escalation to a more public place.”

“A large, global enterprise faced with asynchronous communication can find social computing a vital tool as it is possible to reach agreement on connecting common dots concerning the company’s practice and interest across wide distances.”

“Although people worry about losing face to face contact, it is unavoidable, it is happening. Either you embrace it and structure it or it will take the shape others give it. You must take the initiative now.”

A final thought. I abhor hype. But social is one topic that every CEO, from every company I met with at Davos, wanted to talk about. Recession be damned, social has extraordinary momentum.