While prediction columns can get voluminous and repetitive this time of year, it is a great time to take stock of where we have been, where we want to go and where we think everyone else is going. Looking back at where we’ve been is relatively easy but articulating what we want is hard and trying to predict where others may go is challenging indeed. However, I am a big fan of stating intentions -- it’s the first step in proactively getting where you want to go. It is also a useful exercise to think about what might happen around us, even knowing that we won’t be completely correct.

Looking Back

In 2011, the social business market figured out that the opportunities and challenges encompass far more than technology and in fact, the conversation about technology has somewhat receded. It is still and always will be a critical component of building a networked organization, but it is just that, a component.

2011 also saw a move toward real enterprise-wide deployments. The result is that many more people are joining the conversation and asking questions. This is a great leap forward and yet, for those in the space it can add to the feeling of repetitiveness as a new wave of people need the basics.

What does all this mean?

It means that a lot of the market has moved from talking about social business to doing it, and that is exciting. Success, however, comes with its own challenges and there are three critical ones to stay on top of in 2012:

  1. Overload. Too much information, too much content, too many connections, too many "apps for that".…just way too much for most individuals to handle productively.
  2. Acute lack of talent & expertise. As more organizations get serious, the need for community managers, social data analysts, collaborative innovation experts and social strategists will grow dramatically, but the available expertise will not. A skirmish for talent -- and maybe even a war -- will break out.
  3. Momentum Dip. The changes required to move our organizations from where they are today to a new way of organizing and operating will take a long time to implement. As ideas and concepts move into execution, it becomes less about excitement and more about slow, persistent reinforcement and progress -- different skills and individuals are needed to manage this transition successfully.

Future Steps

How you approach each of these challenges depends on where you want to go, both next year and further out. Knowing and accepting your organization’s realistic potential in this space is critical. If your executives are neutral or negative about a social business approach, you should not be planning for a fully networked organization -- at least not for the foreseeable future. You would be better served by addressing very specific use cases where there are clear wins through use of a social approach. Still impactful, and impactful because it is realistic in a context where transforming the organization may not be on the radar of executives.

Once you can articulate your short and long term goals, you can start to respond to the challenges:

  1. Overload. Optimally, social tools can help individuals sort through, prioritize and have more control over their information streams, ultimately allowing them to make better decisions more quickly. However, until the adoption of those tools happens broadly and the efficient use of them is culturally accepted, it adds to the information burden rather than decreasing it. It is imperative that social business initiatives start to reduce the information burden as soon as possible for individual users. This is both a tool and a usage issue. We need to provide individuals with the most effective tools but also educate them on how to use them in effective and productive ways.
  2. Acute lack of talent. The sooner you can develop your resource requirements and get support for them, the better off you will be. Time will give you the opportunity to source and find the right individuals, to seduce key individuals or to train existing resources. Even now, to get experienced resources requires a concerted proactive hunt and the market is barely warmed up. If you are not planning for this well ahead of time it will become a significant risk to your initiative.
  3. Momentum Dip. Your executives may have attended a conference and gotten very excited hearing about the results of other companies or maybe you tripped upon the excitement around social business and have done an amazing job of selling the vision internally. And now? Now comes the systems integrations, the enterprise-wide training programs, the 10 different policy documents that require development, the 3 executives who are determined not to believe in this approach, the legal team that doesn’t understand the space and the peers who still think your "work" is talking about what you had for breakfast on Twitter. There is a hill of issues that need to be addressed every week and it can be overwhelming. If you are a professional in this space, you need to reach out to peers that are going through the same thing -- they have both advice and can commiserate, which relieves the feeling that you are taking two steps back for every foot forward and helps you stay motivated.

There is plenty of work to be done in 2012, but our organizations are increasingly ready to take on the challenges of becoming more networked and open to their markets. The fun -- and the results -- are just beginning.

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