Social enterprise: Is it dead or alive?

Moderated by Lawrence Dignan | February 18, 2013 -- 07:00 GMT (23:00 PST)

Summary: Dion Hinchcliffe and Brian Sommer face-off on the role of social media in business.

Brian Sommer

Brian Sommer

Dead

or

Alive

Dion Hinchcliffe

Dion Hinchcliffe

Best Argument: Dead

48%
52%

Audience Favored: Alive (52%)

Closing Statements

Some traction, mutation ahead

Brian Sommer

I get it. I get the power and potential of these social technologies and I've even worked for a firm that really embraced what a social business/enterprise could be. But, I've also seen the dark side. I've seen firms that won't or can't embrace the concept. They lack knowledge workers and enlightened executives. Oh, some of them will embrace the social enterprise concept years from now when a competitor, customer or supplier dictates that they join the modern world.

But, for now, adoption of the social enterprise concept is not anywhere as brisk as social adoption is with consumers, teens and other non-B2B demographics.

I suspect we'll see the social enterprise not as much "dead" but something that's slowly, steadily gaining traction. But, along the way, I also suspect it's going to mutate a time or two.

We need the tools landscape to sort itself out some. We need more visible proof points emerge from businesses. But, what's really needed is a new perspective. Too many firms see social as a bolt-on to their ERP-centric world view.

WRONG!

The promoters of social enterprise see a universe of different constituents and users plugging into a boundary-less social fabric while the old-guard is still seeing the world from an internal ERP-centric perspective. There's the problem. The universe doesn't revolve around the Earth anymore than business information revolves around ERP. It's this flawed and nostalgic view of management and systems that's holding back social enterprise.

If the fan-boys behind social enterprise want to see it take off, help people get their heads around the other users of information, where they get their information and how they like to engage.

Huge and inevitable

Dion Hinchcliffe

Frankly, the path of social media through the enterprise has been a convoluted and interesting one. Even though we've tried hard to adapt its new methods and technologies to the enterprise, social media stubbornly remains its own unique creature. In fact, however, it's really just a mirror of who we are and what we do, all visible on the Internet or at work. Unfortunately, this rich yet unpolished public narrative is not always what we're prepared to unleash when it comes to how we operate in the workplace.

That said, all the data today show that social media is inexorably moving into our organizations. Even Gartner, that oft-quoted barometer of IT trends, thinks that most organizations will come to rely on social networks as a primary tool of communication within three years or so.

My erstwhile debate partner has made a few good points, however. One is that the CEO can push social media into the organization faster than any other role, even though it often quickly devolves onto the shoulders of CIOs ad CMOs. He's also right that change is hard and we often only pay lip service to the process. The social way of life, working out loud and narrating what we do while we invite as many people as possible into the process, isn't for everyone, even as it becomes the norm for many of us.

However, I would quibble with a couple of Brian's points. First, we do now in fact see that a few clear social leaders are emerging. IBM, Jive, and even Microsoft, have risen above the sea of literally hundreds of social enterprise solutions that exist today. While there's no doubt the market will remain fluid as social technology continues its fast pace of evolution, we can point to leaders in social analytics, security, and other categories as well.

Second, social technology is huge, even if it's NOT the most important aspect of being a social business. Many traditional business thinkers are not savvy about digital networks and what makes them special. Without a basic appreciation of how social media taps into the intrinsic power of today's global interactive online medium, it's a long, long road to getting ROI out of social. A major shortcut is to apply the technology that already does this. I've said before, you can be a social business without social technology, but it has rather limited utility. Do yourself a favor, and build a great organization on top of a strong social media foundation.

 

 

Could go either way

Lawrence Dignan

The social enterprise debate was among our best in my view. Both sides were presented well and, frankly, this debate could go either way. And something tells me that this debate will continue. In the end, I have to go with Brian's argument that the social enterprise is dead. Like a veteran of way too many enterprise software implementations and negotiations, Brian outlined why the social enterprise rap falls flat and needs to go well beyond the underlying technology. In a large part, Dion agreed. People and processes are key to the social argument. I'll give the win to Brian in a squeaker. My personal belief is that the social enterprise will be widely adopted with one catch: We'll be calling the category something else in the future.

Talkback

21 comments
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  • Social Media = Narcissism

    Multiple researches show that happy pictures and stories bring negative reactions in people. Maybe it's jealousy - not sure. But friends feel obligated to "like" friend's photos and stories and then they post their photos to show they have a life too.

    All business can bring into this unhealthy environment is advertisement - the ultimate reason for being there in a first place. What's the point? Do you like feeling kind of jealous and be advertised on at the same time?
    -nihilist-
    Reply 5 Votes I'm for Dead
  • Perhaps in certain types of businesses.

    Perhaps in certain types of businesses, this may make sense. ZDNet would likely benefit, as it's essentially a group of bloggers who like to share things and don't live in the same office.

    But there are also businesses where it would be more of a distraction than a help.

    This is one of those things where it depends on what you do and what your corporate culture is. It's certainly not a cure-all.

    In fact, it rather bothers me that ZDNet sees a lot of things as a magic bullet, a cure-all-solution that is supposedly right for every business, everywhere. Personally, I think that's far from the truth: Some things aren't right for all businesses, everywhere.

    Things like BYOD and Big Data and yes, even "the cloud" fall under "it's not right for everybody." Maybe helpful to some businesses, but not helpful to all businesses.
    CobraA1
    Reply 2 Votes I'm Undecided
  • ALIVE...and well. Some just don't "get it".

    I think the biggest challenge is around the meaning and it's meaning for each Enterprise. Most large enterprises could eaisly benefit from more Social connectivity.
    smfrazz
    Reply Vote I'm for Alive
    • Not quite dead yet...

      but I think the idea that it was going to create this vast transformative process in business is pretty well dead. It has it uses, and they are mostly niche uses.

      The basic premise, that businesses can benefit from increased inter-communication, doesn't work that well in theory. The amount of information I already have to know to keep myself running in my own space is VAST. I don't have time to trawl around learning things outside my own area. When I need something I go to an expert in that domain and sort it out.

      In fact, generally speaking, for myself and almost everyone I work with, the trick is getting LESS information. Getting the right informational filters up so that you aren't stuck dredging through useless information and can focus in on what is needed.
      SlithyTove
      Reply 1 Vote I'm Undecided
    • Hmmm ...

      Most forms of social media, whether personal or business focused, are a big time waster. They should not be confused, in the main, with true communication.

      The landscape of electronic social interaction is buried in mounds of sludge, dross and banal banter, back-slapping ... and a huge amount of HYPE. All the "recommends", "follows", "likes" prove very little about a company. Do we all really believe it? "You recommend me and I'll recommend you". It mostly means diddly-squat.

      Most real business comes from direct referrals from existing clients and from real-life face-to-face networking. Do a great job ... better than expected ... the best advertising you could ever do.
      Integratefulness
      Reply 1 Vote I'm Undecided
  • It is a process, that's why it's alive.

    Opening statements are neither contradicting nor opposing each other.

    Social Enterprise is the one that encourages and benefits from collaboration and openness. Be it higher rate of knowledge sharing and re-utilisation, new ideas or just sheer speed of cross-matrix communication.

    Moreover, most enterprises are bound to get 'social' as their employees and customer are becoming increasingly 'social' in their communication habits. It's a strong wind and spitting against it can only last for so long. A bolt-stamping factory is usually quick to become social-aware once it discovers it's former employees started a group 'ACME boss should die in pain'. You get the idea.

    Social Enterprise is indeed an evolutionary step. Viewed as such it can be either redundant or essential to survival. My take is it's essential since 'businesses are people' as the saying goes.

    I'd say the only thing dying is buzz word, the concept itself is alive and well. It just turned out that the biggest problem is not in the technical means, but in corporate culture and business processes.
    Pavel R.
    Reply 1 Vote I'm for Alive
    • thoughts

      @"pavel@..."

      "Social Enterprise is the one that encourages and benefits from collaboration and openness."

      So does walking across the office and saying "hi." You know, the way we've been doing it since the dawn of time. Of course, it will depend on how the business is structured. A business where not everybody shares a single office will benefit more from social enterprise than a business where everybody's pretty much within walking distance.

      "Be it higher rate of knowledge sharing and re-utilisation, new ideas or just sheer speed of cross-matrix communication."

      When one uses phrases "cross-matrix communication," I have to wonder if one is actually trying to sound intelligent or just pulling random words out of a dictionary.

      Basically "communication" is what the real meaning of this sentence is. So many words for a single concept.

      "It's a strong wind and spitting against it can only last for so long."

      Eh, whatever. It's a business decision, not an irresistible trend. In fact, I'm pretty much cynical of this attitude that everything everywhere is an irresistible trend.

      "A bolt-stamping factory is usually quick to become social-aware once it discovers it's former employees started a group 'ACME boss should die in pain'. You get the idea."

      A business should certainly be aware of what's happening in the social space, but that's different from "social enterprise," where every employee is given access to some sort of social tool.

      My take is it's certainly useful in the right business, but needs will vary from business to business.
      CobraA1
      Reply Vote I'm Undecided
      • why do I need a subject in a comment?!

        "So does walking across the office and saying "hi."

        — Business benefits beyond HR of that aren't clear to me. Saying "hi" doesn't communicate any information and has nothing to do with openness. Even when so, knowledge transferred face-to-face is explicit or tacit thus is not a tangible asset.

        "When one uses phrases "cross-matrix communication," I have to wonder if one is actually trying to sound intelligent or just pulling random words out of a dictionary."

        — Should I apologize for using dictionary words? What I meant was not just communication as mentioned casual "Hi", but actually cross-functional, cross-disciplinary communication. You know, when engineers are able to talk to artists and all.

        "Eh, whatever. It's a business decision, not an irresistible trend."

        — I believe customers and employees becoming deeply engaged in social media practices IS an irresistible trend.

        "A business should certainly be aware of what's happening in the social space, but that's different from "social enterprise," where every employee is given access to some sort of social tool."

        — Definition is where it gets vague. Social Media monitoring, devising and enforcing policies — those are all efforts I take as enterprises becoming 'more social'.

        Communication habits of absolute majority of employees and customers in _any business in 10 years_ will require some major shift.
        Pavel R.
        Reply Vote I'm Undecided
        • Missing the point a bit . . .

          "Saying 'hi' doesn't communicate any information and has nothing to do with openness."

          Missing the point a bit. I'm basically talking about in-person communication in general, not just the word "hi."

          "Even when so, knowledge transferred face-to-face is explicit or tacit thus is not a tangible asset."

          Communication is not always meant to be a tangible asset. In fact, doing so can often be counterproductive, as it opens up issues such as privacy and security. A lot of people may be less open if they know their communications are being recorded. And sometimes people just want to talk about the weather or whatnot. It would be rather wasteful to treat all communication everywhere as a tangible asset.

          "Should I apologize for using dictionary words?"

          Which dictionary?

          http://dictionary.reference.com/browse/cross-matrix?s=t

          Actually, you invented that phrase "cross-matrix", from what I can tell, as it's not actually in the dictionary.

          "You know, when engineers are able to talk to artists and all."

          This has never been an issue. All types of communication are "cross-matrix" by this definition. I've never had troubles using any form of communication with people outside my field.

          It's not as if my phone or email stops working just because I've called or emailed an artist. Whether phone, email, facebook, instant messenger, or whatever, it works regardless of whoever I'm talking to.

          "I believe customers and employees becoming deeply engaged in social media practices IS an irresistible trend."

          You're entitled to your own personal beliefs, I suppose. As is everybody else.

          "Definition is where it gets vague."

          Too vague. I'm not fond of overly vague statements. They're not useful. Often they can be twisted to mean anything.

          "Communication habits of absolute majority of employees and customers in _any business in 10 years_ will require some major shift."

          I'm hoping this means an increase in communications between the lowest levels and highest levels of the organization. It's amazing to me how little the CXOs communicate with the lowest levels of the organization. Frankly, I want to see the ivory towers go away.

          . . . but IMO that's a bit of a pipe dream. I don't think it's the tools that are the problem - after all, email has allowed this for a long time. I think it's because they *want* to be ivory towers, and no amount of "social" is gonna fix a refusal to communicate.
          CobraA1
          Reply Vote I'm Undecided
          • My point exactly

            Too many words and too much prickiness for so little entropy. ;)

            Last paragraph of my first comment: "It just turned out that the biggest problem is not in the technical means, but in corporate culture and business processes."

            So I guess I agree with your argument after all.
            Pavel R.
            Reply 1 Vote I'm Undecided