Clay Shirky: Social networking will change business like PC, laptop, email

Clay Shirky: Social networking will change business like PC, laptop, email

Summary: NYU prof Clay Shirky said that it will fall to the IT department to make social networking strategic---just like the PC, laptop and email.


Social media is being brought into the corporate world and information technology departments will have figure out how to make it strategically important to their companies, said Clay Shirky, a NYC professor, consultant, author and watcher of Internet trends.

Shirky, speaking at the Gartner Symposium in Orlando Sunday, addressed a room full of tech executives and said he didn't want to tell CIOs how to do their jobs, but did scare the hell out of them enough for them to take the hint that they need to get social pronto.

Instead of preaching the merits of social media to business---Shirky has a bevy of funny anecdotes---the NYU professor put Facebook, Twitter and other tools in historical context. Shirky's take: Consumerization has been going on forever and IT departments everywhere have made technologies useful to business.

Shirky set up his history lesson noting that access to information has now been democratized. Now people form networks and share information everywhere. Social networking is a cultural change that will affect IT. The bright side is that technology execs have seen these drastic changes before.

"For the IT department these changes are familiar," explained Shirky. "The change brought about by social media for business is like when the PC came to the enterprise in the 1990s. The PC came to the enterprise because the accountants hated the mainframe guys. Instead of going down the hall for a batch job, they brought in PCs, Lotus and VisiCalc."

He continued and noted that the laptop didn't make it to the enterprise because some C-level execs thought it was a great idea to take their PCs home in a bag. Road warriors demanded laptops.

Email? "If you asked any business in the middle of the 1990s about email you'd get something between 'we're thinking about it' and 'what is it?'" What changed? Enterprises noted that AOL email addresses were being put on business cards.

Today, there's the hardware and software integration trend ushered in by Apple and all of those iPads consumers are bringing to work.

Shirky's message is that social media isn't all that different. Workers are bringing Facebook and Twitter to work because they need better collaboration tools. And the longer it takes for enterprises to get social media the harder it is to make it strategic. Shirky warned that businesses can't dismiss social networking as something frivolous. The reality is that social media just hasn't been pressed into more serious duty yet.

"Social media is being dragged into the business environment right now," said Shirky. "It will fall to the IT department---like it always does---to render these social threats and opportunities into something strategic."

Topics: Social Enterprise, CXO, Hardware, Laptops, Networking

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  • RE: Clay Shirky: Social networking will change business like PC, laptop, email

    People have a fixation on celebrities, believe the tiresome minutae of their day are interesting and love to gossip.

    Forgive me if I don't want social networking extending to enterprise ;-)
    • RE: Clay Shirky: Social networking will change business like PC, laptop, email

      @tonymcs@... But what if there was a way to harness the power of social media inside the enterprise without all the tiresome minutae? That's what Shirky means when it's up to the IT department to make social media strategic.
      • RE: Clay Shirky: Social networking will change business like PC, laptop, email

        What would these do that isn't already available? If I need to ask one of my co-workers for additional input, I already have available plenty of options:
        -- send them a quick email asking if they have a particular file or link;
        -- call them on their internal line to ask them a particular question if I need the answer a little faster;
        -- or (especially if they're sitting within 50ft of my cubicle) simply get off my duff & go ask them in person

        Email already provides me with a solution that allows for asking a question of multiple people...or even providing information to multiple people simultaneously. Plus, corporate email servers are usually set up with distribution lists, as well as a listing of each employee with their particular email address -- a lot of times with their location in the corporate structure -- so I can easily get in contact with another employee that I've never seen face-to-face. Change for the sake of change isn't always a good thing...& that's what social networking is right now for the enterprise.
  • Sure it will .... because business is all about wasting time

    I find it totally hilarious how dumb people who claim to be IT professionals can be. Anybody with 1/2 an active neuron can see that social networking is a fad with a short lifespan and business wise only useful for some minor low cost marketing. But some how you find self called "professionals" claiming that it will change the way people work.

    I guess that is the reason why social networking sites are at the top of the block list on MOST corporate systems and even at small businesses.

    Sorry to burst your delusional bubble but social networking is a time wasting FAD that (unless you are in marketing) has no place at the office.
    • RE: Clay Shirky: Social networking will change business like PC, laptop, email

      @wackoae Sweet! And dead on.
  • RE: Clay Shirky: Social networking will change business like PC, laptop, email

    IT departments are only as good as their managers, who more often than not are slow on the uptake when it comes to new technologies. My vote is that social media will only be impactful for those companies that have a need for social presence, and guess what-- that's is not all companies. In fact, for some firms, a lack of social presence is desirable.
    • RE: Clay Shirky: Social networking will change business like PC, laptop, email

      Point right on. Its a smaller percentage of business that would have a use for facebook or twitter. For me and my companies it has almost no use and I would hate for my employees to be wasting time on it. A web page or email blast to direct customers serves many well.
  • RE: Clay Shirky: Social networking will change business like PC, laptop, email

    Social network is certainly changing business - hours lost as people update their Facebook page and Tweet about how they are going to lunch. "Social netowrking" has been around since the dawn of mankind. How we network is ehat has changed. And it is becoming less personal all the time. Anymore, I find a quick trip to someone's office or a phone call is significantly more effective in getting a task done compared to communicating via e-mail and IM. How anyone can colloborate to complete a technical task using Facebook and Twitter is beyond me. Especially since Facebook has turned into a mass marketing playground for advertisers.

    Not to say there are not any instances where Facebook, Twitter, etc might be useful. But it is not the end all solution that the social media evangalists would like people to believe.
  • RE: Clay Shirky: Social networking will change business like PC, laptop, email

    Facebook and twitter as they are today might not be the most productive tools, and the author clearly states this in saying that "The reality is that social media just hasn???t been pressed into more serious duty yet." And he's right: with some tweaks to the way social media is set up, it could be the most productive tool in the office. Imagine - a personal Facebook site for each office where only people who were in that office had accounts. People could accomplish meaningful tasks while keeping their superiors informed about their whereabouts.
  • RE: Clay Shirky: Social networking will change business like PC, laptop, email

    It is not up to IT to make it to a success and that is because their role changed. They used to be a solution provider (as they provided the solutions such pc, laptop and email), now they should be solutions enablers. And IT doesn't make that switch their customers (the other people in the organisation), just go away to somebody who can help them better (and many saas providers understand them better than IT does).
  • Simple - supervise it

    We had growing demamd from business users that "NEED" to use social networking. So we bought a product that intercepts and archives all communication to and from social networking sites.

    99.5% of content is of personal nature. Rarely is social networking done for business outside of some internal marketing. If you saw the volume of what people did for the weekend, had for lunch, who they met, who broke up etc it would change your opinion really fast.

    People want open tranparent ability to communication but don't have their conversations supervised. Unfortunately we work in a regulated industry and FINRA has deemed these corporate communications need to be monitored.

    Once word got out social networking was being monitored usage has dropped to 2% of employees using it.

    Leave personal activity outside of the office.
    • Exactly.


      I'd love to know which companies have the employees that are "dragging" Facebook & Twitter into work to use for "collaboration".
  • Don't need social networking for collaboration.

    For most people, if you need to ask a co-worker a question or get some information, you can simply stand up & walk 5-20ft from your cubicle to theirs...or, if you can't get up, you can call them on the office line or shoot them a quick email.

    The main purpose of social networking isn't to "collaborate" between yourself & someone else (or a small group of people), it's to share your personal information & events with as many people as possible. For 99% of corporate projects, you don't need to disseminate the information that widely, & there are already tools in place -- telephone, email, simple face-to-face contact -- that will provide *all* of the necessary collaboration functions needed for business.
  • RE: Clay Shirky: Social networking will change business like PC, laptop, email

    I have followed Clay Shirky's writings for a number of years and have found him to be an articulate writer who is remarkably prescient on the trends that matter. I highly recommend visiting his site to catch up on his work.

    For those who think Social Media is a fad, I would suggest you look first at the data your company needs to stay competitive in marketing, customer service, recruiting, product development, and business continuity, etc. If 50% of the data you need is no longer on your servers but out on various SoMe sites, how are you going to obtain, manage and measure that information?