Social Business came up in conversation at one of the press events I attended this week, but instead of the usual it-is-the-best-thing-ever tone, I found myself in the midst of a group questioning why so many people still have an aversion to it. Specifically, we wondered why software modeled after Facebook is still worrying so many professionals when the benefits are exceedingly obvious. 

The Facebook Imperative 

I think Salesforce.com's founder and CEO, Marc Benioff, is best known for pushing business face-first into the Facebook experience. Early last year he wrote an article titled The Facebook Imperative for TechCrunch, stating the the following:

We need to transform the business conversation the same way Facebook has changed the consumer conversation. Market shifts happen in real time, deals are won and lost in real time, and data changes in real time. Yet the software we use to run our enterprises is in anything but real time. We need tools that work smarter, make better use of new technology (like the mobile devices in everyone’s hands), and fully leverage the opportunities of the Internet.

At the time, the opposing team contained Larry Dignan of ZDNet. His argument compared Facebook functionality to feces. No joke:

In a nutshell, Facebook is a lot like poo. You inadvertently step in it and then spend a lot of time trying to clean it up. Do we really want to extend that social-poo-ridden approach to the enterprise? I don’t. All I want at work is to find an expert within two or three clicks. On Facebook, I can find a few good Farmville experts, but not much else.

Charles Zedlewski of Enterprise Irregulars was another naysayer. He too highlighted some of this own beliefs back in response to Benioff's article:

  • Facebook is designed for entertainment, not productivity.
  • I do not have the same social relationships with my co-workers that I do with my Facebook friends.
  • Facebook is not another better Lotus Notes

“I’m not so sure that ‘spend as much time on the site as possible’ is a useful design paradigm for the enterprise,” he wrote. And then, in an awesome play on pop culture, “…to ask 'Why isn’t all enterprise software like Facebook?' is a bit like asking, ‘Why isn’t all enterprise software like the final season of LOST?'”

Benioff replied to criticisms by posting another beast of an article on TechCrunch titled The Facebook Imperative Cannot be Stopped:

The enterprise is not just going to the cloud, it’s now going social, and it’s going mobile. Facebook and Twitter have shown us the way. Like Microsoft, and IBM, not everyone has to get it yet, but eventually they all will. As they say: Shift happens.

The Look, the Feel, of #SocBiz: The Fabric of our Enterprise

These days it looks like Benioff was spot-on. Social Business is the new pink, so to speak, and the number of enterprise-oriented platforms that mimic Facebook's user interface is growing every day. Not only that, but these Facebook look-alike players are aiming to become entire social layers for organizations.

Yammer, for example, has been big one, announcing release after release of social business integration tools. They even used the Salesforce.com API to create a Yammer feed that will function within the CRM platform -- even though it already provides Chatter, its own social business solution. 

I did some Googling and found a few enterprise heads who've spoken to the Facebook-for-the-Enterprise subject in more recent times. Among them, our old friend Dignan, who's sticking to his guns. This time around he wondered what would happen if we all suddenly got sick of Facebook

What’s the problem? Here’s a theory: At some point Facebook could become AOL. Perhaps the masses get tired of Facebook. Perhaps we all realize that Facebook wastes big chunks of your life 15 minutes at a time. Maybe social networking in business kills productivity. Designing enterprise software around the Facebook motif could be the equivalent of cribbing the AOL user interface back in the late 1990s.

Today that “we’re sick of Facebook UI” moment seems far off. Facebook is the air we breathe online. Then again so was AOL at one time. And given enterprise software players can take their time to update interfaces you may be stuck with Facebook-ish themes well beyond their useful life.

It's a fair question, but I think most of us would agree that at this point getting sick of the Facebook UI isn't going to happen any time soon, which brings me to a key point that came up at the press event: Facebook has 750+ million users. That's 750+ million people who don't have to be trained to use social business applications. While there's almost always room for opposition, it's difficult to think of a reason that could outweigh something as heavy as that. 

What do you think? Chat with me in the comment section below. 

Related News

  • Yammer kicked out Yammer Connect, a bundle of plug-ins that spreads social functionality across an organization's entire ecosystem. 
  • Yammer further socialized Salesforce.com data by hijacking their API. Note: neither company is calling it a partnership
  • Salesforce.com reported their quarterly numbers, surprising many with the amount of growth they've achieved. 
  • WebEx cut their video conferencing prices in WebEx 8 specifically for SMBs.