Dennis pinged me yesterday on his post. I've included some excerpts here but you should follow the citation link to read the entire article which has additional insights and references. Dennis also points to one of my recent posts on the topic. To me, social software is in the tool domain. Social media is in the user experience domain. Social media is delivered via tools (social software). And both fall under the general umbrella of social computing. We take something like social software, mix in the organizational/culture factors and we have "Enterprise 2.0" (this is a quick over-simplification). Social networking is somewhat of a hybrid - there are tools, and a user experience aspect can exist (especially around a social network site ala Facebook) but there are tremendous relationship dynamics that, as Dennis points out, can differentiate it from both social media and social software - but still under the broader field of social computing.
I do agree with Dennis that I rarely hear the term social media applied internally. I'm really not sure why - since in my definition - social media is about the user experience. But I think it's one way people try to draw lines in their minds to differentiate internal efforts from external initiatives that involve brand and other marketplace factors.
Social networks clearly apply to organizations however. I feel quite strongly on this point. Yes, they are tremendously over-hyped and yes, we are making many of the same mistakes associated with "knowledge management mania" of the late nineties and the "groupware craze" of the late eighties / early nineties. The holy grail pursuit of enterprise portals also comes to mind.
But social networks have existed for centuries and it is important that business and IT strategists understand the nature of such relationships and participation models. While power relationships are a valid point to call out, I disagree with how Dennis frames that particular aspect as significantly more important than other dynamics that influence relationships, formal/informal structure, culture and so on. But that's fine - we can agree-to-disagree. I do agree on the "irrational exuberance" being touted by different evangelists regarding social-anything.
What we need to do is not lead the discussion or the solution by talking about social networks or social anything in most cases. We need to talk about the solutions in terms that business and normal people understand.
- Business decision makers and other strategists need to hang their hat on an argument that demonstrates value to the institution. That's their role. Avoiding this requirement leads to institutional forces fighting back. Example: I talked to a company where middle management pushed back on the use of E2.0 tools because their roles became disintermediated. The public/transparent collection of information on blogs, wikis - coupled with RSS, etc - really cut into their perceived value as the "messenger" so they started asking people to go back to e-mail sent to those middle managers so they could summarize the information and bring it up the chain.
- Normal people need to know why they should care, why should they be aware of such applications or tools, why they should change their attitude and behavior to become engaged, to participate and contribute (this angle is very centric to the person on the edge and not a stakeholder in the institution per se).
If we can talk about how a social application improves how utilization management nurses in urban and rural areas can better share information to improve their own activities, streamline workflow and improve relationships with external providers (doctors, hospitals) - and it just happens to be a social network / community platform that plays a key role - then wow, that's great. Sign me up. But don't tell lead with the social network academic argument or the consumer metaphor of Facebook. Social technologies augment business activities so express the solution in those terms - do not "do social media for the sake of social media" or "social networks for the sake of social networks".
Facebook is attractive as a reference model to IT organizations because the site implements concepts that leverage many of the experiences organizations have gained over the years with collaboration platforms. Facebook supports its own messaging system, allows posting of documents, allows for group discussion forums, and displays a user interface reminiscent of enterprise portals (including how the platform integrates with application plug-ins – conceptually similar to portlets). However, Facebook also implements social networking concepts that are new to the vast majority of organizations. Strategists unfamiliar with the field of social networks beyond its technology aspects are unlikely to realize critical aspects such as:
- how culture influences awareness of, and engagement in, social networks
- how social networks can be structured in a variety of ways with, and/or without, technology as a mediation focus point
- how relationship dynamics influence participation (e.g., politics and various power plays)
Strategists unfamiliar with the inter-disciplinary research field of social networks (e.g., sociology, anthropology, mathematics) and focus primarily on tooling aspects are unlikely to realize the criticality of non-technology factors.
Facebook is one example of a usage model to help structure participation within a social network, and one reference point to leverage as a technical blueprint, but it is not the only framework possible.
The poverty of enterprise 2.0 and social media
Most CXO’s I know, who represent a cross-section of businesses both large and small, have concerns other than E2.0 and social media. Now that the consumer facing social media style stories are emerging, CXO’s are starting to pay attention to what this might mean for sales and marketing effectiveness. That’s a good thing. But the moment that equation is turned inward, the mood goes dark.
CXO’s instinctively know that internal collaboration, whether through rudimentary technologies like blogs and wikis hold significant efficiency promise. They know the technology is relatively inexpensive compared to other types of enterprise technology and that implementation can be rapid. They also get that in the longer term, these technologies could hold incredible promise for business effectiveness across their entire value chain lies in releasing huge amounts of resource back into the business. None of that is disputed. What is disputed are two things, social media and social networking as applied internally. Why?
In the context of ’social’ anything, these are incredibly important concepts because what we’re really talking about are power relationships. In any business, power relationships are what provide the hidden glue that makes organizations develop hierarchies and structures. We see this reflected in almost every major form of software you care to examine. From process workflows that mange order to cash, through problem resolution in the call center and out to procurement. We have baked those relationships into the structure and organization of everything we see as providing the means of operating successful businesses. Then all of a sudden, business leaders are asked to forget everything they know, accept that structures can and will be subverted but that it will all be OK because people will naturally want to collaborate to get things done. This is a fundamentally incorrect assumption.
While the benefits of collaboration may be blindingly obvious and the path laid out on a platter, it is only by first understanding the absolute requirement for top down, wholesale DNA change that you stand a hope in hell of making these technologies work within the enterprise. How might this be encouraged?
What I will say is this. All the internal marketing efforts currently being expended will not do it. Neither will the application of liberal doses of FUD. Don’t wait upon the next generation because they won’t do it for you, despite what some pundits might think. You can absolutely forget the latest shiny new object coming out of the fertile imaginations of most (not all) Silicon Valley development shops. Leave that to the consumer obsessed. Which includes Twitter; as currently iterated and (probably) Facebook.