As mentioned in yesterday's article, there are two critical considerations for businesses trying to transform into social businesses. We already looked at the business processes that can act as the foundation of a social business. With this article we will explore the technology that drives the change.

Some form of social in a given application is becoming commonplace. But just because you add a social feature to your ERP application doesn't mean that you have transformed into a social business. Recognizing who is participating, whether they are inside or outside the organization, inside or outside the firewall, and what role they play in the business and various business processes, should indicate what type of technology could be used.

Critical Technology to Drive Conversation

There are six types of technology that are likely to play a critical role and maybe part of a larger suite of products or services. Each contributes significantly to the conversations of social business, and should be on the short list of business looking to enact a social transformation.

Content

Well, of course this is CMSWire, so I was bound to drop this one first. However, as the container of conversation, the focus of conversation and often the result of conversation, content is a critical part of a social business strategy. Easy and ubiquitous access makes sharing much easier and also provides the context of the social work. This can come in the form of a repository in-house, a repo in the cloud or a SaaS file manager.

Collaboration 

There are many forms of collaboration but they all involve the exchange of and elaboration upon ideas. Collaborative technologies can range from email to forums to streams of conversation. Collaborative technologies distinguish themselves from pure communication and conversation by providing context and a linkage to all of the tools and resources required to work together. They provide the "Go To" place where social participants can find the results of others works and contribute their own ideas and content. Collaborative workplaces can come in the form of enterprise portals, wikis, forums or information workplaces.

Communication

Without communication there is no social in social business. The tacit exchange of ideas, impressions and feedback are what distinguishes how we work together from how we work alone. The conversation is impossible without communication. This may be in the form of telephony, online chat, microblogs or emails. Conversations are communication and they may be around content or around ideas that ultimately become content.

Social Stream

Activity Streams or Social Feeds are a river of updates that reflect change in the social business or organization. They are a special form of communication that gives the pulse of the organization. They can play an important role in the growth of social business, in that with critical mass, they can become compelling and addictive. They become the source of recognition of those that have contributed knowledge or content.

Mobile 

Conversations can happen anywhere. Increasingly they are happening outside of the office. Just as communication took a big leap with the mobile phone, mobile collaboration is transforming when, where and how we can collaborate and socialize. This will become an increasingly important part of the social business. Mobile applications of all of the above technologies can take on unique characteristics, as they are adapted to task-oriented types of apps on mobile phones or flowing, gesture-based information viewing and content consumption on tablets.

Social Channels 

As much as enterprise vendors would like to be the focal point of all the communication, collaboration and conversations that happen within the social business, conversations really know no bounds. The social business' web site can be a very important point of engagement outside of the company, but that may not be where the conversation is happening. Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter, YouTube and others play an important part in the conversation of the social business and its customers and even employees.

The days when the brand and conversation is controlled strictly by the marketing channels owned by the company are over. The conversation, content, feeds and communication must be linked, fed into and contributed from external social sources.

Socializing the Business – The Holistic View

We are still in the early days of the social business. Global challenges, which are unique to the time we are in, are pointing the way to a need for greater cooperation and competitively using technology to our advantage. However, with new employees coming on board who are used to exploiting technology and actually enjoy doing it, we can see that this is not a rehash of old re-engineering or productivity initiatives.

This is a revolution in the way we do work.

Companies who have started using these technologies to socialize work and collaboration are already yielding benefits. Sales and Marketing can be improved. Employees can get answers to questions that they thought were impossible to answer. Innovation is being driven not by the few, but by the many, including our customers. Through recognition and reward, we are having fun doing the work that may have been drudgery.

However, the transformation to a social business comes at a cost and it isn't just the cost of technology. The technologies that support the activities of the social business are still young and integration between pieces is still being worked out. But they’re making rapid progress.

The bigger challenge -- getting people to collaborate, as part of the social business is not just a matter of turning on the technology. The culture of the organization must change to think about what role social plays and how to encourage this behavior.

And that’s really the basic consideration for businesses looking to become a social business. Before you look at the technology, look at your own business processes. And before your flip the switch on the new technology, do the work to enact a transition in your company culture.

Conversations are facilitated by technology, but they can’t happen without people. Becoming a social business, therefore, requires a balanced strategy that understands the unique mix of process, technology and culture at play within your own organization. Without a holistic understanding of those key areas, you’re merely doing social for social’s sake.

The good news is that many businesses have already risen to the challenge. As the benefits become clearer, and the challenges become greater, the path to becoming a social business will be well worn, and easier for others to follow.

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