Future Differentiation of 'Social Media' from Collaboration

Future Differentiation of 'Social Media' from Collaboration

Summary: 'Social media' seems to be becoming even more of a hindrance to the successful application of 2.0 technologies to solve specific business problems as time goes on: I finally read 'Beware Social Media Snake Oil' by Stephen Baker in the December 3 issue of BusinessWeek, the ailing old media title recently bought by Bloomberg.

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'Social media' seems to be becoming even more of a hindrance to the successful application of 2.0 technologies to solve specific business problems as time goes on: I finally read 'Beware Social Media Snake Oil' by Stephen Baker in the December 3 issue of BusinessWeek, the ailing old media title recently bought by Bloomberg.

Morten Hansen, author of the excellent book 'Collaboration' quoted me in his Harvard Business Review blog post 'Is Social Media Worth Your Time?' which comments on Stephen's BusinessWeek piece.

More on that in a moment, but what's troubling me is the continuing lack of differentiation or understanding between using the internet as a marketing medium, by which any publicity is good publicity, and the very different use cases of modern web technologies to help people collaborate more effectively together in business.

Marketing use of the internet touches pretty well anyone online despite it being a very immature medium, from banner ads to Google ad words to those bizarre Facebook ads to the psychotically over amped home shopping network style shilling by 'internet famous' social media personalities.

Marketing messaging has always been a traffic jam of information overload, constantly interrupting your train of thought with hand waving and attention grabbing antics. This type of media isn't 'worth your time' - it's going to encroach on your personal space in time honored advertising style.

'Social Media' is essentially of the moment online marketing thinking to encourage and enable 'conversation' with customers by any means possible - just like Radio and TV commercials stimulate you to think about products, discuss and build a propensity for them.

Applying 2.0 agile web technologies to streamline business performance use some similar underlying technologies to the social media 'word of mouth' marketing efforts but are an entirely different proposition, and have very different foundations.

Successful business collaboration practitioners create processes that leverage 2.0 and other technologies as a component of consciously designed collaborative intents with desired outcomes. While marketing practitioners often claim their skills also encompass internal processes they are reaching, hoping to encompass an entirely different discipline.

From Morten Hansen's 'Is Social Media Worth Your Time?' post:

Consider collaboration inside companies (which differs from using these tools for marketing and PR). The promise of social media, or "enterprise 2.0" as it is often called, is that employees can become much better at finding information and working together if they use blogs, wikis, social networking, document sharing, Facebook pages, and the like. But are these new activities valuable for a company? Well, that depends. The first obvious issue is that you can spend an awful lot of time on this, and that's time not spent doing other things, such as finishing your job for the day. So it's only valuable if the result (e.g., finding good information) justifies the effort (all the hours put into social media). That's focusing on outputs, not inputs.

Some people miss this point: They think of adoption success in a company as the number of wikis, blogs, tweets, and Facebook pages that people have created and used. In other words, they measure success as the activity level. But that's the same as saying, "in our company, we have lots of meetings so we must be doing something right." As enterprise 2.0 expert Oliver Marks told me, "random Twitter and online dialog can be an even more disastrous use of time than endless unfocused meetings." More is not necessarily better.

Hansen is excellent on helping identify when collaboration is of value to business and when it is isn't - human nature comes first and there are plenty of instances where encouraging people to work together will be a waste of time and money. 2.0 technologies are a relatively recent development and are a more flexible set of technologies to enable these activities when and where appropriate.

For those paying attention to these nuances, this delineation between mar comm and business collaboration strategy value focus is reasonably well understood, although there is widespread confusion about scale. (Small, Medium, Enterprise sized business units; local, continental and intercontinental applications).

For the vast majority of people reading BusinessWeek, subjected to endless inane advertising throughout their lives and driven mad by their young offspring's endless texting and Facebooking, there isn't just evidence of snake oil in all this modern technology business: it all probably appears to be a gimmicky, time wasting, distracting annoyance.

This inability to differentiate because of the sheer noise level from hucksterism - the '30's recession had a similar level of low buck advertising hustling - is drowning out sober internal business use of these technologies.

We need a far greater focus and general understanding of the specific business values which can be unlocked over time by planning out collaboration strategy. Those involved with business efficiency, innovation and governance can help each other by consistently delineating the space to demystify it and make it accessible to the world.

Topics: Collaboration, Social Enterprise

About

Oliver Marks leads the Global Digital Enterprise Team at HP, having previously provided seasoned independent consulting guidance to companies on effective planning of business strategy, tactics, technology decisions, roll out and enduring use models that make best use of modern collaborative and social networking tools to achieve their business goals.

These are Oliver's views and not those of his employer HP.

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5 comments
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  • I agree

    I think this is an important topic. I guess
    it's in our nature to be optimistic - to
    believe that new tools will help solve our
    problems. Of course, an effective and user-
    friendly collaboration platform is one piece of
    the puzzle, but there needs to be a well
    defined purpose. If not, it's like having a
    shiny new tool-belt and no idea what to build
    and how.

    / @rlindstedt (Novell)
    rlindstedt
  • RE: Future Differentiation of 'Social Media' from Collaboration

    I am not disagreeing with the "lots of noise" piece but I remember the same comments that are articulated in Mort Hansen's post being applied to the use of computers in the workplace in the early 80s, especially when companies encouraged their employees to play games (remember solitaire?) to help them overcome their fear of technology...remember the comments: 'playing games is a waste of company time', 'typing at a computer is secretary work not manager work', 'they [employees] aren't doing real work when they are sitting at their desk and on the computer', etc.

    I have this belief that we are in the 'wild, wild west of social media' and that it will sort itself out over time as there are more adopters.
    DebExo
  • RE: Future Differentiation of 'Social Media' from Collaboration

    Social media is about "conversations and relationships." Collaboration is about getting work done in concert with other people. I use both and understand the difference. I'm thinking that the future differentiation will be more difficult because I believe it will be common to have both capabilities built into one tool or platform.
    mainjeff@...
    • Using both

      Could it be the case that you do need both - social media to form close working relationships in order to improve the collaborative process..? I am predicting collaborative software adding social features to improve the process (like what Sharepoint 2010 offers)
      CDangson
  • RE: Future Differentiation of 'Social Media' from Collaboration

    Great article. I believe the *potential* for internal productivity improvements via internal collaboration are high, even revolutionary, but the risk of failure is magnified by simply importing public models (twitter, facebook, etc) into an internal business environment without thinking about 1)what process you want to support and 2)how you will make the desired type of contribution support that goal.
    John Held
    SAVO Group
    jheld3