The poverty of enterprise 2.0 and social media

The poverty of enterprise 2.0 and social media

Summary: Over the last few months I've been listening with growing alarm at the claims made for enterprise 2.0 and social media.


Over the last few months I've been listening with growing alarm at the claims made for enterprise 2.0 and social media. Or rather the lack of claims coupled to an incredible amount of posturing. What concerns me greatly is that in the mad rush to all things X2.0, we seem to have lost sight of past failures which continue to provide Mike Krigsman with a rich seam of lurid tales while failing to define exactly what we need to address in this context.

Most CXO's I know, who represent a cross-section of businesses both large and small, have concerns other than E2.0 and social media. Now that the consumer facing social media style stories are emerging, CXO's are starting to pay attention to what this might mean for sales and marketing effectiveness. That's a good thing. But the moment that equation is turned inward, the mood goes dark.

CXO's instinctively know that internal collaboration, whether through rudimentary technologies like blogs and wikis hold significant efficiency promise. They know the technology is relatively inexpensive compared to other types of enterprise technology and that implementation can be rapid. They also get that in the longer term, these technologies could hold incredible promise for business effectiveness across their entire value chain lies in releasing huge amounts of resource back into the business. None of that is disputed. What is disputed are two things, social media and social networking as applied internally. Why?

Brian Solis, who describes himself as "among the original thought leaders who paved the way for Social Media," recently opined:

Social media is about sociology and the understanding that with the new social tools available to us, we can more effectively observe the cultures of online communities and listen to and respond directly to people within the communities.

He then goes on to use the definition of sociology found at the top of

The study of human social behavior, especially the study of the origins, organization, institutions, and development of human society.

Whenever building an argument, you always look for definitions which are going to support your thesis. In the context of external marketing, Brian's definitional choice may work well. Internally, it is meaningless. When I majored sociology, the topic was defined as:

The study of inequality as culturally and politically located in society

We reviewed that definition primarily through the twin lenses of health and poverty but also through feminist thinking. My second major was psychology and my speciality was abnormal psychology. Some people like to think of it as deviance. Again, this was located politically and culturally as a way of tying the two topics together.

In the context of 'social' anything, these are incredibly important concepts because what we're really talking about are power relationships. In any business, power relationships are what provide the hidden glue that makes organizations develop hierarchies and structures. We see this reflected in almost every major form of software you care to examine. From process workflows that mange order to cash, through problem resolution in the call center and out to procurement. We have baked those relationships into the structure and organization of everything we see as providing the means of operating successful businesses. Then all of a sudden, business leaders are asked to forget everything they know, accept that structures can and will be subverted but that it will all be OK because people will naturally want to collaborate to get things done. This is a fundamentally incorrect assumption.

Although I don't agree with everything he says, Mike Gotta has done some excellent work in examining some of the detail surrounding the dynamics that might be at play when considering how collaboration and social networks do (or do not) work. Most recently, he offered this insight:

One of the greatest challenges facing an organization is knowing under what circumstances a social network site is insufficient. Social dynamics are very complex and not always addressed by technology-centric tactics. While a dedicated site can help an enterprise benefit from social networks, there are other credible approaches to facilitate social networking.

  • One example would be a collection of social networking services that are contextually integrated within a variety of applications (reducing or eliminating the need to rely on any single destination)
  • Another example would be a social network service that analyzes and correlates situational information (e.g., activity, location) to make participants aware of each other or aware of other relevant circumstances (reducing or eliminating the need to rely on pre-defined relationship connections).

To effectively leverage social networks, organizations should understand how structural relations and interaction patterns affect the perceptions, beliefs and actions of their participants.

Organizations literate in social network analysis will demonstrate better governance practices concerning the role and application of technology. Such analytical methods can also influence management strategies by providing business decision-makers with valuable insight.

These are tremendously lucid insights and I would encourage anyone considering the application of social computing in their organization to seek Mike out and get his thoughts. I have one huge caveat that spins back to what I was saying about power relationships, the understanding of the social and the psychology at play in all of this.

Most of the current thinking that informs ideas around how to make collaboration work in the social context and the development of supporting tools, products and services have been built by vendors populated by people who are natural libertarians, free thinkers and broad believers in a sometimes fuzzy but discernible sense of equality. Robert Scoble springs to mind with his declaration that he wants his life to be an open book. James Governor and his thoughts on declarative living is another. But that's not in the DNA of most management. Neither is it in the DNA of the people who work for these companies and have picked up the scent of what it means to survive and thrive in corporate life. To illustrate the point Dion Hinchcliffe Tweeted:

What's evidence that a F500/G2000 company understands the new edge of the network & 2.0? When their management starts surfacing on Twitter?

My response was when the DNA changes. Dion replied:

Yes, that's it, isn't it? The DNA problem. Only when they can retrovirally adapt to new business models will make it. Many won't.

While the benefits of collaboration may be blindingly obvious and the path laid out on a platter, it is only by first understanding the absolute requirement for top down, wholesale DNA change that you stand a hope in hell of making these technologies work within the enterprise. How might this be encouraged?

The example of Sun is often cited but I believe that is a special case. There is a certain set of dynamics operating among geeks that makes them different to most others inside the organization. What has happened at Sun cannot be used as an exemplar for what is needed inside the vast majority of other organizations. I do however accept that some broad policy principles can be drawn. I'm thinking a lot deeper than that.

I make no apology for picking out Sam Lawrence, Jive Software's CMO of whom I have frequently written. He is one of the very few and best thinkers in this field who has surfaced ideas that make sense outside the geek community. Once again, I'd encourage readers to seek out Sam. What makes Sam's work interesting is the creativity that he recounts and encourages. Rather than repeat the latest story, I'll simply point to the provocatively titled Don't pee in the pool post which sets out some of the tactics a client operated to implement his company's solution. There is a clear and perceptible difference in the DNA structure of Sam's customer and 'the rest.' That has informed their imaginative approach to the project. How they got there isn't explained but I have thoughts about how this might be achieved which are for another time.

What I will say is this. All the internal marketing efforts currently being expended will not do it. Neither will the application of liberal doses of FUD. Don't wait upon the next generation because they won't do it for you, despite what some pundits might think. You can absolutely forget the latest shiny new object coming out of the fertile imaginations of most (not all) Silicon Valley development shops. Leave that to the consumer obsessed. Which includes Twitter; as currently iterated and (probably) Facebook.

Topics: Collaboration, Networking, Social Enterprise

Dennis Howlett

About Dennis Howlett

Dennis Howlett is a 40 year veteran in enterprise IT, working with companies large and small across many industries. He endeavors to inform buyers in a no-nonsense manner and spares no vendor that comes under his microscope.

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  • Maybe the root problem is...

    ...The seemingly total inability to spell or proof read? This blog is unreadable on its face (apart from the blather of whatever the argument might be) -- "argingerging," "ligs anogs," "chaineasinleasing hhuge," "Onoblem. Onlat can retrocan." Is this insider code, incoherence, or satire? I'm betting on POMO incoherence: "When I majored sociology....We reviewed that definition primarily through the twin lenses of health and poverty but also through feminist thinking." Uh oh. POMO incoherence it is. Or are you channeling Alan Sokol?
    • Fixed now

      We're not sure what was responsible for garbling Dennis's text, but should be fixed now.
      David Grober
    • Weirdness

      I checked with others and when it was first posted, the text was formatted correctly. I can only assume 'gremlins' got in the pipes somewhere. It happens and it's been fixed as quickly as was humanly possible.

      I'm not channeling anyone. Although I don't make any deal about this, I've been looking at these problems since 1993 and my current thinking reflects a combination of practical experience in a number of such projects combined with a theoretical understanding of how industrial society works.

      I am currently engaged on a very large project where these exact problems are the major pain points that not to be overcome.
      • Wasn't meant as a cheap shot

        The OP was very odd, and I was responding to that. I still think the revised text has some POMO aspects to it, and I always like to bring up Sokol and "Hermeneutics of Quantum Gravity" when I get a whiff of POMO. I'm sure you know about Sokol, but if not, it's well worth reading about.
  • RE: The poverty of enterprise 2.0 and social media

    One of the major gates I'm seeing is the cultural and social differences between tech and non tech companies.

    My extensive experience at Sony PlayStation WorldWide Studios managing a complex collaboration portal (Japan, Europe, Asia attempting to work together), was the marked difference between the technical users (and their management) and the business, conceptual and arts users.

    This is a particularly interesting cross section of both tech and non tech users.

    Tech users are generally very happy with an ugly user/navigation experience and a wild west of content.They have no fear of this and an intuitive understanding of the underlying technologies.
    They often want to be involved in teh creation of the space and to get under the hood.

    Creative and business users expect an apple/facebook like suite of well thought out tools related to the purpose of their job. No exploring widgets for them. Interestingly this latter group are the ones generating revenue (creating games) but the IT/tech management own the collaborative environment. The creative business users got the short end of the stick when their requirements were considered and therefore their environment was the weakest part of the space.

    Ignore purpose and needs: no uptake.

    I'm seeing variants of this specific example playing out in other large enterprises frequently - I've noticed a marked difference between tech and non tech enterprise thought and approaches to collaboration and social media.

    The challenge therefore is identifying and strategizing social needs in the enterprise and then planning out tactics to achieve them.

    What seems to be happening a lot right now is ad hoc experimentation with light weight 'free' tools by mid rank folks to try and impress the execs. The froth around office 2.0 will inevitably go out of fashion and there are a lot of IT management types hovering ready to kill this relatively unfocused wave of experimentation off.

    You have another very interesting post - we are 'falling upstairs' in developing patterns that work with all this developing technology. CXO level people *know* there is great benefit in social networks within the enterprise but the devil is in the details.

    It's intriguing that some of the most impressive thinkers around this have experience in the advertising/marketing/pr space - Brian Solis, Sam Lawrence as you cite here for example - and a well rounded career with experience in other areas such as yourself with bean counting: this is renaissance man stuff which, when applied to specific goals requires evangelism, internal marketing and diplomacy to succeed.

    Engineering management is generally ill equipped to deal with this level of clear communication, goodwill building and diplomacy.

    I'm seeing a gap in senior enterprise management around this and believe it will ultimately evolve into a specific position to define strategy and tactics after gathering requirements from users, building consensus on where to collaborate (both internally and where appropriate with external partners/vendors)
    and most crucially picking appropriate technology to execute.

    This more formal role will take shape over time but right now this is the purview of consultants such as myself who have been in the trenches actually doing this work, rather than talking at 10,000 feet about how things could be and what could happen. There's way too much of this going on right now and it's muddying the waters for many people.
    • Sony Anecdote

      Did the creatives not use the collaborative environment? And then your analysis is that they didn't 'cuz it was not designed their needs?

      Sorry. I'm a bit dense.
    • Slightly confused

      @Oliver: excellent observations and thanks for sharing your experience. One point of confusion on my part:

      "This more formal role will take shape over time but right now this is the purview of consultants such as myself who have been in the trenches actually doing this work, rather than talking at 10,000 feet about how things could be and what could happen. There's way too much of this going on right now and it's muddying the waters for many people."

      Who are those you see as muddying the waters and why?
  • RE: The poverty of enterprise 2.0 and social media

    Frymaster: Correct, the system is skewed towards the technical rather than non technical audience.

    Typical result is a lack of uptake by people who aren't well catered for and/or don't understand the environment
  • RE: The poverty of enterprise 2.0 and social media

    I think most Enterprise 2.0 efforts that will end up as success stories, will start down in the trenches. You and Sam discussed two that received executive support. You also said this is going to be rare, which I agree. What we see is a lower level executives or manager adopting the technology for his/her team, and it takes off from there. I think this will be the more common way that E 2.0 takes hold.
    • I'd like to believe

      ...that you're right and I am sure that in many situations that will be true. That's not my point and in any event you HAVE to distinguish between outward and inward facing initiatives. That's why I recommend reading both Mike Gotta and Sam Lawrence. They are two solid perspectives but from different standpoints.

      I am much more concerned about the sustainability aspects and these require deeper roots than a marketing led initiative.
  • RE: The poverty of enterprise 2.0 and social media

    I agree with @OliverMarks when he says,

    "I'm seeing a gap in senior enterprise management around this and believe it will ultimately evolve into a specific position to define strategy and tactics after gathering requirements from users, building consensus on where to collaborate (both internally and where appropriate with external partners/vendors) and most crucially picking appropriate technology to execute."

    Long quote, but my context/experience is one coming from a military and current civil service background.

    Fact is that younger and/or better technically educated folks are more willing to go out on a limb. It isn't that the tech is new or untested...just different. We see it with OSes, application suites and just about anything that can change...which would be everything. Change causes pain.

    Open collaboration decentralizes control. Authority figures view this as anarchy (YEA!) and say, 'No Power the people....only Intel.' Seriously, the prevailing philosophy still includes too many cooks... etcetera. As long as Old Guard managers have control, strategic thinking will advance at dial-up speeds in some sectors.

    Regardless of provable TCO or ROI, the big stumbling blocks in many organizations are initial expense and training. Two things to be minimized or avoided at all cost. Moves to advance tech take time and money...even if only for training...and the accountants, lawyers and contract officials control the purse strings.
    Even in a perfect world where project management is flawless (pipedream) those problems will still exist.
  • RE: The poverty of enterprise 2.0 and social media

    Grass roots adoption doesn't necessarily survive during budget season. Sustainability is dependent on clear vision, purpose and direction understood from the top of an organization to the bottom.
  • Does the Emperor have no clothes or is he still wearing shorts?


    I hate to say it because I've been following Online Social
    Networks and such since 1990 (the BBS days) and I know
    their power, both potential and as currently being

    But the field has become crowded with snake oil salesmen,
    uh, I mean, thought leaders repeating the pattern we've
    seen many many times before: pwning n00bs (there's a
    n00b born every second). In this case, the n00bzors are
    clueless executives in big businesses, afraid of missing the
    NEXT BIG THING, and willing to throw cash at these self-
    styled experts of Social Media.

    All anyone in business needs to know is this: Listen to your
    customers. If this is a new idea for business rather than a
    common sense one, then we're all in trouble, and
    businesses deserve to get skint by the buzzword ladden
    con artists (sorry, I meant Thought Leaders). Social
    Network technology is just that: technology. It's a tool for
    listening to your customers.

    If your business hasn't already been listening to its
    customers, than you're not doing it right and I doubt any
    amount of "paradigm shifting" is going to help. You've
    been treating your customers like easy marks, and it's why
    you're such easy marks for the Thought Leaders (there, I
    got it right this time!).
    Marcos El Malo
  • Will be gathering information from financial sector on this

    This topic - here and in Twitter - has prompted me to schedule an interview with one of my IBM colleagues who regularly works with customers to figure out how to get social media more widely adopted within a specific organizational culture and hierarchy. She hails from IBM Human Capital Management background, is an extensive SNA practitioner, and has been focusing mostly on the financial sector in the Americas.

    My goal is to learn about the more common obstacles to adoption, what tactics these financial organizations are taking to overcome them, and any "lost cause" anecdotes, direct from the front lines.

    Any tips about the types of questions I should ask her are welcome.

    - Gia Lyons (@gialyons)
  • RE: The poverty of enterprise 2.0 and social media

    Hi --

    Social Networks and Social Network Analysis (SNA) offers a powerful academic tool for scholars and researchers. Network analysis in general is an important discipline for business as well. However, for business performance improvements, SNA only shows a small fraction of the picture. Key business processes, for example, are entirely left out of organizational SNA.

    A far more complete method for network analysis of business is value networks. See:

    Value networks and analysis (VNA) use the identical mathematical network analysis rigor of SNA. VNA also creates meaning and mappings of the critical process infrastructure. It furnishes visualization and optimization of entire business and economic ecosystems, including social relationships, knowledge pathways and key business process. See comparisons:

    Most value networks methods, tools, applications and technologies are open source, open content. This is the open gateway ???