By Fefie Dotsika, Senior Lecturer, Westminster Business School

Many social media channels run on cloud computing platforms. From Facebook to LinkedIn and from YouTube to Twitter, the content posted by millions of users is stored in the cloud. That is to say that these posts are available to anybody on the Internet, as long as they are registered and/or have appropriate privileges to access the social media channel the content is on. The social part of the cloud, the convergence of social media and cloud computing, is often referred to as social cloud and is immersed in the culture of media sharing, content co-creation, project collaboration and marketing.

Social clouds are digital, collaborative and powerful. They create trends and shared behaviour and have an impact on the way culture is expressed and managed. Used appropriately, they can influence cultural relations. They can also leverage the social community by providing access to a diverse solution crowd of multifaceted expertise. Tapping into the collective intelligence has never been easier: it’s all in the cloud.

Sourcing the cloud, or cloud-sourcing, is a model that, by means of an open call, outsources a task originally assigned to a resource (or set of resources) to an undefined, usually large group of similar resources residing in the cloud. When the resources are human, then we talk of crowd-sourcing.

Cloud- and crowd-sourcing are particularly relevant to the social cloud. Business-driven social clouds channel online resources and social media to individual businesses, but, more importantly, can power cloud-sourcing and enable its many forms, some independent and non-profit and some particularly suitable for business development.

So, what can the social cloud do for you?
Here are the top seven applications that can be directly applied to your business:

1. Product development. Building products within a modern organisation requires the integration of many systems. Using the social cloud, companies like IBM allow access to tools and technologies, allowing their customers to participate in product development, simplifying the process and reducing costs.

2. Prediction markets. Voting and polling are expensive and slow. Solutions that aggregate opinions posted on blogs and social networks such as Twitter can outperform traditional methods and are cheaper.

3. Competition platforms. Linked to marketing and fundraising, competitions create brand exposure, and reward clients and/or users. Another application is the use of competition platforms for the discovery of specific domain expertise such as specialised programming and graphic design.

4. Event planning. Event management applications have it all: from workflow management to harnessing the power of social media so that the visitors will be kept interested, informed and engaged.

5. Open innovation. Integration of communities and external expertise into internal processes creates original ideas, initiates new strategies and promotes innovation.

6. Fundraising. Whether the aim is to increase revenue, engage new clients or build awareness for a cause, the social cloud can bring brand new audiences and is the ideal platform for fundraising. The solutions support interactivity and direct user involvement, but are also simple to adopt and cheap to implement.

7. Research. There are many projects that are currently run taking advantage of the power in the cloud. As an individual you can donate or rent your computer’s processing time to work on distributed research on a program of your choosing. Biophysics and climate research projects are among the most popular examples. Or you can choose to participate in projects that use cloud applications for a specific amount of money set by the project co-ordinators. The Amazon Mechanical Turk, one of the Amazon Web Services suite is one such example with applications whose tasks vary from podcast transcribing and image tagging to searching for missing individuals.

In a nutshell, the social cloud can help the design, development and marketing of products and services, streamline the supply chain, carry out market research and support innovation. And all that with the added elasticity of the cloud: you get as much or as little as you want and scale up or down on an as-needed basis. Having your head in the cloud never felt better!

Fefie Dotsika is a Senior Lecturer in Business Information Management in Westminster Business School. Her expertise and research interests are in the area of web information modelling and retrieval, and web-based knowledge management.