Social enterprise: Real or fiction?

Moderated by Jason Hiner | February 27, 2012 -- 07:00 GMT (23:00 PST)

Summary: Dion Hinchcliffe calls social media in the workplace "viable and valuable", while Dennis Howlett dismisses it as laughable, even ridiculous. Join the debate!

Dion Hinchcliffe

Dion Hinchcliffe




Dennis Howlett

Dennis Howlett

Best Argument: Real

The moderator has delivered a final verdict.

Opening Statements

Viable and valuable

Dion Hinchcliffe: Social media began as a consumer phenomenon and has gone on to become one of the great communication and cultural shifts of our time. It's now clear that this revolution has moved into the workplace, affecting everything that companies do, from product development and customer support to marketing and sales.  The numbers bear out that this is indeed happening: About half of enterprises employ social tools for their workforce. Data from McKinsey and others show that the numbers of large global firms that are socially networked inside and out is in the low hundreds. 

The story about the benefits that are realized by better, more open, and participative business methods has emerged as well. The very real value proposition of the social enterprise are numerous and varied but notably include significantly higher revenue and profit for those that make the transition. Ultimately, it is these bottom line factors that will be convincing for the remaining companies that have not made the transition. There's little question now that the social enterprise is a viable and valuable model, the only real debate is whether some companies can or will make the transition.

Laughable, even ridiculous

Dennis Howlett: The notion of a social enterprise is at best laughable and at worst ridiculous.

Enterprises are artificial constructs designed with one purpose - the creation of wealth for the benefit of shareholders. The fact that such enterprises may employ people doesn't distract from the primary purpose. That's why we have hierarchies, rules, command and control. They serve to constrain people into behaving rationally and only for the benefit of the enterprise.

Some argue that the very fact enterprises require people makes them social. That is a logical fallacy. The notion of a social enterprise is merely the latest in a long line of fashion-driven management constructs designed to make employees believe that the enterprise cares. Which of course it doesn't. Instead it wants to suck more out of its employees. That's anti-social and makes the whole notion of a social enterprise impossible to achieve.


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  • The Social Enterprise is REAL!

    While Dennis is right about the intent of organizations, he downplays THE key point. Companies are ultimately composed of people. People with their own perspectives, talents and approaches to problems. The Social Enterprise embraces this fact to help companies deliver more bottom line for their shareholders.

    Look at how rapidly social media has overtaken email usage. Chances are employees in your company spend more time on Facebook, Twitter, YouTube and the like than on email. And when your employees are online, is it on their PCs, or on mobile devices (company provided OR personal)? So shouldn't companies recognize and embrace this? Shouldn't productivity transition to methods and technologies that employees - and customers - are more comfortable with? And if so, wouldn't it be better if the tools to enable this allowed users to reach broader and deeper in their company than before to find people who can help solve problems or address customer issues?

    This is just the start of what the Social Enterprise is all about. It is not just a "management construct", it is a recognition that our fundamental work processes, communication and collaboration methods and even technology have changed.

    There is far more to the argument for the reality of the Social Enterprise... relationship development for salespeople, aiding customers who no longer consider contacting the manufacturer when they have a product question/concern/problem/complaint. Taking advantage of social technology to provide access to company info in productive ways never possible before. Managing a brand in the world of Social media (when a brand today is not what your COMPANY says it is, but what your CUSTOMERS do). Even socially enabling products so users get more benefit from them.

    The Social Enterprise is all this and more. It is Real. It is Here. It is Now.
    Reply Vote I'm for Real
    • Facts?

      You make the classic mistake so many others do - not bringing facts to the table and especially not facts related to the enterprise. Precision matters.
      Reply Vote I'm for Fiction
      • Interesting response

        I found your "argument" to be a loosely-connected stream of alternatively anecdotal and oversimplistic vagueness. Your overall thesis seems to be "I don't see how this can work" which of course is evidence of nothing. Nary a fact in sight.

        Social media are conduits for conversation. They are increasingly-important conduits that people throughout the enterprise need to learn how to master for the simple reason that their customers want them to do so. Soon that this is even a question will seem as stupid as asking if people really need to know how to use a telephone.
        Reply Vote I'm for Real
      • Responding to RationalGuy

        No one is debating the social channels, just how business support those.

        Social Business is not real, nor will it ever be, since you cannot base a business decision (and move the entire business to work in a different way) based on a set of channels (unless you have a new product that relies on those channels, 900-numbers come to mind).

        Bring arguments about the value of Facebook and Social Channels and we can talk, else you are just pushing the hype that "customers want it thus we have to do it". Customers want everything faster, cheaper (if not free), and easier -- your job in business (if you want to remain in business) is to make the decisions between what they want and what brings value to everyone (customer and organization).

        Show me value, not "this is the same as the telephone" arguments. If you are saying that you have to build your business around social channels as we have built it around the telephone -- i don't know any business that simply operates because of a telephone is there --- it is just a tool. Same as email, sharepoint (or similar) and many others. Businesses have not been doomed for not having them as long as the basics of business remain.

        Businesses are about inventing, designing, building, marketing, selling, delivering, and supporting products and services -- nothing more (maybe I forgot a couple, you get the idea). Show me any one business that cannot do any of those functions without the new social channels and I will concede that they are mandatory.

        I will show you, in exchange, that any business today can do what they do without social channels and if they choose to implement them it is not because "they will perish without them" but rather because it makes business sense (regardless of whether customers want them or not).
        Reply Vote I'm for Fiction
      • Evolution


        Take two identical companies, one with a vibrant and active social media strategy and one without. All things being equal, the social business (so long as the effort is not too costly -- and social media activity is dirt cheap) will do better in the marketplace than the anti-social business.

        Nobody is saying that it is impossible for a business to exist unless is does all of its business over social media channels (or any of its business). The point is not that it's possible for businesses to exist even today without telephones. It's that all things being equal, the business that has better means and strategies to reach out to its customers and suppliers will outcompete those that don't.

        The same arguments you make against the need for social media were made in the 90s against the need for e-commerce on the web. There are plenty of examples of businesses that thrive even today without a basic web presence let alone a social media one. But pointing to those examples doesn't give you license to dismiss the general necessity of the web in modern business. In how many industries did its equivalent to Gateway get crushed under the heel of its Dell? Or its Borders under its Amazon?

        Social connections between businesses and customers is more vital than ever. Who can deny that the crux of the success of Apple stores is in the fact that their new approach to retail provides such intimate social contact between the business and its customers? Keep the store setup with the same product interaction, but remove the greeters, floor workers and Geniuses and you get Best Buy with nice marble floors.

        It's plain to see that social media channels offer cheap and effective interaction with customers and all things being equal, the businesses that master them will outcompete the businesses that don't.
        Reply Vote I'm for Real
    • I would call email a form of social media, in fact . . .

      "Look at how rapidly social media has overtaken email usage."

      And to be honest, I'd say email is one of the first forms of social media.
      Reply Vote I'm for Real
  • Hummm . . .

    One thing I would like to see in all businesses is better communication, especially with the top levels of the organization. Often there's so many layers in the hierarchy that it's baffling how they make decisions.

    Not to mention the top of many organizations focuses too much on technological toys rather than the situation on the ground. Dashboards and "big data" are interesting from a technology standpoint, but TV shows like "Undercover Boss" show the real dangers of staying in an ivory tower and not paying attention to the ground level.

    Technology can be used to create the ivory tower or break it down. I vote break it down - I want managers to be online, communicating, and engaged with the rest of the organization and its customers. I don't want to see them hiding behind dashboards and widgets and statistics and "big data."

    That being said - is "social media" the solution to the communications problems to businesses? Maybe, maybe not. Maybe there's another solution out there. So I think I'll stay undecided for this one.
    Reply Vote I'm Undecided
    • Communication is King

      CobraA1, your are absolutely right. What I've seen is that when the C-Suite gets involved with Social Enterprise, the organization flattens. Check out what has happened at companies like Dell, Symantec, and even Salesforce itself. CEO involvement has allowed for information to flow MORE freely, and break down the walls.
      Reply Vote I'm for Real
      • But least in the case of Dell (the most recent I've seen) it hasn't helped the bottom line. Unless someone can tell me it has defended what's left of it? That's what matters. The rest is fluff.
        Reply Vote I'm for Fiction
      • re: dahowlett

        " least in the case of Dell (the most recent I've seen) it hasn't helped the bottom line."

        I'm unaware of Dell's exact situation, but I will say that we're in a pretty early stage at this point. I don't think we've quite figured it out yet.

        "Unless someone can tell me it has defended what's left of it?"

        Uh, what? I'm not sure I follow what you are saying here. The first use of the word "it" seems to have no context, and the sentence structure seems to be missing something.
        Reply Vote I'm for Real