The CMSWire theme for June is "What's working in social business in 2012?"  I don't have enough knowledge to make any sweeping statements about what is or is not working, but I can deploy the standard consultants response: "it depends!"

Whether or not social business is working for you and your organization depends upon many contextual factors. To start, what definition of "social business", social computing, social technology or even Enterprise 2.0 do you subscribe to? Do you have a positioning paper, a policy document or a published strategy that defines these terms for your organization? Do you know what your aims, goals and objectives are? Do you have a well defined end state to shoot for? If not, you might find that it's helpful to develop this, even if you do it in parallel with getting some technology sourced and deployed.

Last week (June 20th) David Coleman (@dcoleman100) gave us an interesting article on "The Challenges of the Social Enterprise." The pedantic amongst you might have as we have just introduced another label, but don't worry about it too much!

In his article, David introduced a number of challenges as headlines to structure his article, so I thought I would borrow his headings and think about the state of social business in 2012, from a personal perspective. Please note that while David is talking about social business in its broadest sense (i.e. consumer / customer facing on public networks) my perspective based on my role is purely focused on the use of social tools and technologies within an organization.

1. Social is not always goal oriented

My first thought when I saw this was "… and ?" However David goes on to note that you may discover social networks in your enterprise that might be of questionable value. Networks existed long before computers, never mind social technologies! How much productivity over the last 100 years has been lost to 10 minute cigarette breaks, or people calling in sick with a hangover from the "team night out?"  

David deals with this element by providing a nice diagram that shows a communications continuum with axis based on level of commitment and level of purpose or goal. His point is summed in this statement: "….both social networks and online communities are focused on connection and communication, but there is no expected result or outcome." Yes, I agree, but so what? Not all benefit to an organization will come from highly directed, goal focused social collaboration. Now I admit, that the cost benefit analysis is highly contextual, both on the type of organization and the industry or area it is operating in, but enterprise wide communities of practice enabled and facilitated via social technologies may for example still generate value for the organization.

2. Social is not always innovative

As was mentioned, my first reaction was "so what?" quickly followed by, "hang on, who said they were?" On re-reading David's paragraph, I'm not really sure of the point he was trying to make. Social technologies may or may not be innovative in and of themselves. This does not stop us from being creative and using them in innovative ways though.

On the other hand, maybe we don't need either the tools or the use cases to be particularly innovative in order to meet our goals. In my organization, there are use cases for social technologies which are based on the more efficient use of time and effort when compared to using legacy tools. If we link back to the first challenge above and if you have a very goal oriented use case that collaboratively enhance a specific business process, this too may benefit from efficiency without requiring any particular innovation.

3. Social does not always get your attention

Now on this one I agree with David, but as information overload seems to only ever increase, what does get our attention these days? David states: "attention in a “social business” world depends on what content you post, where you post it and the type of media you use." Although he is talking about social business / social enterprise in the widest sense, I personally have an internal focus and yet David's point remains extant.

What information do we post/share/publish, where do we do it, and how all remain important factors, when it comes to user engagement and both gaining and keeping attention. Filtering of information and communications sources within the enterprise is a massive topic in its own right and not something I claim to have a "silver bullet" answer for. I would say as social tools just add more interfaces, more places to go, more things to read, listen to and watch, we should think about filters and overload when we introduce such tools.

4. Attention and 5 The Criticality of Engagement

Closely linked to challenge 3 above. David introduces us to Metcalfe's law and Reeds law, mathematical theories that propose the value of networks are based on size of the network. Basically you get more benefit from the network as it increases in size. The ideas of gaining attention and engagement are different, but equally critical and often just as vexing in an internal scenario.

How do you get enough people to engage and share, comment, rate and otherwise participate in an "social intranet" for example? We might return to challenge 1 above and try to make all participation goal oriented; or we may take the user adoption strategies we use for other tools and modify and apply them as it's appropriate.

6. Do you have the right kind of organization for social?

For many organizations with respect to internal use of social tools, this question is the crux of the matter. Does your organizational culture, as it exists, lend itself to the adoption of social tools and technologies for enabling enhanced communication and collaboration? Or does your culture and potentially your organizational structure, your historic ways of working, your mindsets and management paradigms hinder and even negate any potential benefits?

In many respects, it's the same old same old, whether you're an old hand at enterprise level software tool implementation in information management, content management, knowledge management or collaboration systems. We have seen the cultural challenges before and we should by now understand that change management is a key element of implementing new tools and technologies.


Many thanks to David for my use of his borrowed headings. So, how is social business working in 2012 in an internally focused way? Pretty good by all due accounts, if you can believe what all the vendors and analysts tell you about uptake and customer success stories. I will leave you with a link to Information Weeks 'Brain Yard' blog, and an article by their editor David Carr, which looks at such user adoption numbers from a couple of different perspectives: IBM Connections, Jive Lead Enterprise Social Software Market.

As always, please leave a comment and let us know how things are working out  in your organizations!

Editor's Note: Jed Cawthorne is a regular contributor to CMSWire on the topics of Enterprise Collaboration and Information Management. Another article of his that might interest you: Engaged, Informed Employees Get the Job Done.