Social silly season

I'm often asked whether getting into the fashion for all things social is something enterprises should contemplate. Given the volume of noise coming from the likes of Jeremiah Owyang, Forrester analyst and other social media/brand mavens, it's hardly a surprise.
Written by Dennis Howlett, Contributor

I'm often asked whether getting into the fashion for all things social is something enterprises should contemplate. Given the volume of noise coming from the likes of Jeremiah Owyang, Forrester analyst and other social media/brand mavens, it's hardly a surprise. Enterprise reality though is an altogether different thing from the consumer led web.

Current enterprise management thinking emphasizes the Soviet command and control mechanisms with which Oliver Marks is very familiar but which are increasingly being questioned. Taking just one angle, security, Oliver says:

Modern collaboration often entails complicated cross pollination between many business entities, whether multiple divisions of the same company, the result of mergers and acquisitions or international partners. The astonishing power and productivity efficiency released by this interconnectivity is often severely restricted by coming up against the cold stone walls of IT fortresses.

You could just as readily generalize that to other areas of business. But does the alternative transparency offer a better model? Unconventional thinking says yes but then look at what Mike Krigsman had to say about confidentiality and Twitter:

I’m personally aware of confidential meetings where participants innocently twittered sensitive information that thousands of recipients may have read. However, even without malicious intent, Twitter can open undesirable windows into an organization’s private plans and strategies.

The obvious answer is to apply a little common sense to these media but that raises a problem: common sense isn't that...err...common.

There is no doubt in my mind we are entering a period where the religious nature of technology wars is being more openly expressed than at any time in the past. This has particular resonance in social computing where the diehard proponents not only shout but are increasingly coming over as angry and frustrated. Check this exchange between The Register's Andrew Orlowski and The Guardian's Paul Carr. (note: some of Paul's language is NSFW.)

Orlowski is the curmudgeon's curmedgeon. He makes me look like a pussycat:

Writing about Twitter is the journalistic equivalent of eating the fluff from your navel. The posh papers love it. Menopausal middle-aged hacks love it. The BBC is obsessed with it. Instead of telling us something we didn't know before, Twitter makes churnalism so easy, it practically automates the entire job.

The rest of the world, however, completely ignores it. But with the journalists' attention fixed firmly on each others' navels, they don't seem to realise what a fringe activity Twitter is.

Carr was extremely miffed, especially as he was mentioned anonymously in Orlowski's post. He bites back:

I emailed you as a professional courtesy because I wanted to give you a chance to say, “yeah, s*%t, I suppose I was a little hasty. I just don’t like Twitter very much, but taking a pop at a successful charity event to make my point was a bit lame. I’ll edit the piece to clarity that the total raised was much higher.”

But instead you accused me of being unable to read, and then lumped all Twitter users together into one idiotic herd-like mass who are inferior to all of the Register readers who - as one mass - understood the brilliance of your piece and commented accordingly.

Far be it for me to poke my nose into this particular fray but Orlowski is broadly speaking correct in the general sense that Twitter may be wildly popular among the Silicon Valley fashionistas (I like it too) but that's a far cry from mainstream business.

When we demonstrated ESME (an enterprise class Twitter) in Las Vegas, Berlin and Bangalore I'm guessing that 95% of the audiences had no clue what they heck we were talking about. My Irregular colleague Susan Scrupski has been scouring the earth for social computing success stories. She says that for a variety of reasons, it's an uphill struggle. Some of my Irregular colleagues think services such as Twitter are a shocking time sink. I can guarantee that 99% of my professional colleagues feel the same way. All that despite TechCrunch and other media's obsession with the topic.

The fashionista diehards brand dissent with the same religious zeal that got Martin Luther into so much trouble while enterprise management looks on bemused. When you see open warfare of the kind expressed in the Orlowski Letters as Carr dubbed it, I'm hardly surprised that companies run scared. After all, there are battles aplenty inside boardrooms I'm sure that most business leaders would prefer stayed firmly within those cloistered walls.

And then to compound the more obvious behavioral problems, Facebook does it again by jumping into a bucket of controversy over its revised Terms of Service. The upshot? my fellow SAP Mentor Anne Petteroe starts a People Against the News Terms of Service (TOS) Facebook Group the other day and wham! 40,000+ members. And old time bloggers thought that Jeff Jarvis's very public Dell Hell was an aberration that only a rockstar hack could amplify with any degree of success? Ferget it dudes - even the least of 'us' now has a voice.

All of which must be giving the likes of SAP a real headache. Especially when my sometimes partner in enterprise grime (some might also say crime) Vinnie Mirchandani spells out a customer's charter for revised maintenance terms. I can already here the cry: 'Why oh why do you have to say such things Vinnie?' But then SAP wants it all ways. Yesterday, SAPListens on Twitter said:

Have you taken the SAP Facebook Survey yet? » link to SAP Interest Survey we're juicing up our presence on FB in the next few weeks. we want input!

I questioned the wisdom of that, given the new FB TOS, the reply to which was:

@dahowlett 2pts: 1. how many besides us geeks read TOS? and 2, if ppl get pissed, they'll do something about it » link to Incompatible Browser | Facebook ~SM

I won't go into the exquisite irony of that statement, given the rumbling skirmishes going on in the background about SAP's own legalese but I'm sure by now enterprise decision makers are getting the picture. Confusing, irreverent, indiscrete, insecure and hey: we own you body and soul.

Who in their right mind would subscribe to that particular brand of chaotic madness? Is it any surprise that despite the cries for openness that managements shrink away, except of course when it suits them? And does anyone see the paradox between Apple, a company more secret than the US Secret Service and the love that Silicon Valley pours upon it?

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