Wednesday 7 March 2012

The benefits and concerns of Social

This post is the last in a series of six that deals with Social Business and Social Enterprise. The goal of the series: to explore the pros and cons of Social Business and Social Enterprise, given the current odds, and fast-forwarding to business opportunities now and in the near future

Well, this is it.

1. A small recap

What do we see there? We see individuals growing apart, due to distance, and we see the traders form larger groups in order to close the widening gap, and bring back trust to the level it was at

That pinpoints the best usage for Social at this very moment: in aftersales (customer service, providing that via communities and help forums) and presales (marketing and sales, providing that via communities and product reviews)

Social Enterprise will merely reproduce the current working mechanisms of the Enterprise: networks. It will take the old-boys networks, clone and copy them, and turn every apprentice into a master on the spot

Today, I'll (and I'd) put a fair amount of money on Social Business. It won't cure diseases, yet nor will it inflict mortal wounds. Focus on pre- and aftersales, train your people, monitor closely, evaluate frequently, adjust and adapt quickly - it's just another business opportunity

The clueless layer is there to absorb the bottom-up information flow, while freely letting the top-down flow through. It functions like a veil; the puppeteers (Board of Directors) can see through it, but no one on the outside can see what they're doing. Social will bring transparency to the Enterprise, all across the board. And like any old-boys network the average Enterprise is, they thrive on secrecy and anonymity

One quote from each post

2. My conclusion

My conclusion is that Social Business certainly offers a few nice business opportunities that offer relatively low-investment ways to improve your current offerings, and maybe generate some spin-off from that. It will work best where people-driven employees face consumers, and even customers (e.g. customer service), and will fail where product-driven and product-facing employees work (e.g. assembly lines) - and of course there are shades of gray in between...
My conclusion on Social Enterprise is that an Enterprise only works because it is a soul-less anonymous pit.
Social will break down the walls and bring transparency to the Secret Chambers of the Enterprise, and that will be the end of it - the employees will revolt, the apt and able will either demand and get huge promotions or jump ship, and the usual suckers and losers will stay behind; to continue their usual complaining but now out in the open

3. Practical view

Harsh? Indeed. But an Enterprise is harsh, and unlike a cosy 5-to-a-few-hundred people company, it works because it is so. How about an army where not following orders is okay? Or arguing with the sarge, the captain, or the general even?
Well yes but we have email, and a fair amount of openness in the Enterprise you say? You may, but does that mean good arguments always win? Certainly not - there is plenty of stakeholder issues hidden from everyone

To be honest, I've seen Social work in a few Enterprises - it's not that bad. The 90-9-1 rule is followed, the usual hard core that was there from the start dominates the conversation, there are a few useless megaphoners, some saboteurs, a few opportunists and one or two Crown Princes of Social Media that indulge in self-promotion.
And there are genuinely good questions, good answers, good pointers, and everyone gets to learn a lot if they try and can keep up with the unstructured mess that Social Enterprise is

Although: the structured vs unstructured information issue will safely be met by people taking the unstructured data and translating that into data fed into Information Systems - relying on "standards" there such as OpenSocial, as Dion Hinchcliffe does, is naive: standardisation never makes it past the hard, cold and deep infrastructural layer: networks, protocols, CPU's, disk I/O, etc.
Above that level, standards are taken and changed into bi-lateral or at best multi-lateral agreements: cf. message exchange patterns such as X12, EDIFACT, XML, JSON, etc

4. How does the Social Future look?

Right now we're in a greenfield situation with Social, with a few tweets, updates, yams or whatnots a day. Pretty soon we'll get the effect that we see with email: information overload and filter failure. While you are supposed to read (and answer also, mostly) every email addressed to you, you're not supposed to do so with social updates but pretty soon your Social Channel will be the main one and rely on fast and proper answers.

When you listen to the old people that refer to knowledge management when they talk about Social, they have a point, but they've missed one as well.
Knowledge management failed, because knowledge is dictated from above: knowledge isn't something you can "create" among yourselves - the teacher tells you what knowledge is, or rather, he doesn't: everything he shares with you is supposed to be knowledge

The same will happen with Social Enterprise: information at best will be shared, labeled, structured, classified and archived in the best case scenario, but not knowledge - that takes old-fashioned hierarchy, a desk clerk, a stamp, and a diploma: proper procedures the wild Social people detest so much for so many good reasons...

The verdict? Yes to Social Business where it can improve your current offerings, no to Social Enterprise - as the latter is an oxymoron. Using social media in an enterprise certainly does not make it one inch Social - although some would like you to believe differently

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