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

Closing Statements

Success is the evidence

Dion Hinchcliffe

I believe that yesterday's Great Debate on the social enterprise clearly demonstrated several key points.

1. There are numerous success stories and clear evidence -- please see my ZDNet blog over the years for hard data from many sources -- today that social media is being used extensively both internally and externally in enterprises. There are also those that refuse to acknowledge the enormous progress that's been made.  My point that millions of businesses are currently using social media across the full spectrum of success is the take-away here.

2. Most of us readily appreciate point #1: The live voting feature of this Great Debate is certainly unscientific but it puts my argument squarely in the Fact column. The comments further confirm this point.

That's not to say I don't think this topic is worthy of further debate and discussion.  This always shines much needed light on what we can do to improve our work. I look forward to another debate with Dennis in a more interactive venue.

Mere marketing fodder

Dennis Howlett

Those who support the social enterprise as real have many problems to overcome in order to convince. Much as I respect Dion's practical application, he wasn't able to bring a demonstrable fact to the table. His blog cites examples for sure but even there it is easy to poke holes in the arguments as either 'early,' 'nascent' or 'failed.'

A fundamental difficulty comes in thinking of 'social' as being defined in the context of operational silos. I didn't hear anything in Dion's argument that adequately addressed this problem. Instead I saw two distinct arguments (internal/external) that serve to reinforce silos, which in turn goes right against the notion of flattened organisations.

Similarly, I didn't hear anything that persuades me this is little more than good marketing fodder for those who class themselves as social gurus, experts and consultants. In some cases, it is clear that Dion has swallowed what he has been told without questioning the veracity of the information provided.

In short I heard nothing new that persuades me we are at a place where social is correctly addressing the problems enterprises face in a manner that is transformational. It is when social acts as a transformational rather than emerging phenomenon that enterprise benefits in a sustainable manner. That has not been convincingly proven except via ad hoc projects and anecdotal statements. Regardless how 'good' social might appear, the C-Suite needs rather more than that.

The risk of inaction

Jason Hiner

I've never judged a Great Debate that was harder to call than this one, probably because the two sides are so far apart and I don't think either has the whole issue totally nailed. But both perspectives provide a lot of value that can help people make good decisions about the social enterprise.

Dion did a good job of summing up a lot of the conventional wisdom about the social enterprise, while Dennis gave us the solid business-focused angle that constantly reminds us not to get too caught up in the latest trends or waste resources chasing things that have dubious value.

In the end, I'm going to give the nod to Dion because the risk of inaction in this case is that your competitors could become faster than you and better connected to customers. But, I'd encourage everyone to heed the warnings from Dennis and be wise and disciplined about social.


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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