Sunday rant: social business? I'm still not buying it

We're still banging on about social business. Why?
Written by Dennis Howlett, Contributor

from Gapingvoid

from Gapingvoid

My good friend David Terrar has another tilt at defining or should I say redefining 'social business?' It's a good effort but like so many beforehand, he fails to convince this cynical old fart. I give him plenty of kudos for acknowledging how, as I've said before:

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.

That is only one dimension. Last Friday I had the pleasure of joining a bunch of ZDNet'ers who were in central London. Over a few (I lost count so a few it is) beers, we had a wide ranging conversation which inevitably ended up diving into the weeds of this topic. My position is extreme but I said: "If social business meant anything then by rights, BP which you might recall spilled a load of oil into the Gulf of Mexico, should be out of business. But it isn't. Tesco (the UK's version of Wal-Mart) could probably poison the entire nation for a few days and in six months time we'd all have forgotten about it. Why? When push comes to shove, we act in our own self interest. Nobody cares."

When people talk to me about this topic I often sneer and call BS on what to me is a pointless exercise in flogging something that users only care about for as long as it serves their self interest. So when David says:

The reality is that every business solutions provider needs to be thinking about how to provide or link to this functionality to keep up with their competition. People need help and advice on this, and the social business term is the best we've got to describe the issues at the moment.

I smile patronisingly and ask - who says? Do we all have to behave like sheep? More to the point, do CIO's have Twitter handles they regularly use? Most have other more pressing things to think about then self promotion.

And can someone please explain to me how Mark Fidelman gets away with writing a binary argument entitled: Oracle Feeling the Pressure as SAP's New Social CMO Takes Charge without being taken to task for the gaping hole he leaves in his discussion? He argues something like: because Oracle doesn't have a perceptible social media strategy, it's in trouble compared to SAP which has social media oozing from every pore. He says:

Compared to the social transformation occurring at SAP, Oracle appears to be stuck in the old command-and-control management model – and it’s falling behind. One wonders if they can remain competitive in today’s customer-driven, constantly connected world.

and then

...the Dachis Group volunteered to measure the brands’ respective impacts in social media using their Social Business Index.  Here Oracle does slightly better because the measures are external and not internal. SAP’s external Social Business Score is 1048 while Oracle weighs in at 1132.

But here's the killer. Mark doesn't explain how Oracle's allegedly better 'score' parses against an alleged failing strategy. I dealt with the business reality over here. I don't mention social anything. Mark then goes on to make the astonishing leap of faith to argue:

So does SAP attribute part of its record-breaking success to becoming more of a social business?  At least, in part, I believe they do.

He then goes on to nail his argument by saying:

Minutes before a board meeting, Becher was watching the #SAP hashtag on Twitter and using SAP technology to filter sentiment when he, “saw a tweet from a guy in Utah that said, ‘I’m really pissed off at SAP.  I’ve been trying to buy software from them for weeks and I can’t get anybody to give my credit card to.’” Within seconds Becher responded, “Send me a DM (Twitter terminology for private message) and I’ll give you a call and I’ll solve the problem for you.”

A few tweets, a phone call and three days later, the man made a purchase with SAP.

For what it's worth, I don't know too many SAP buyers who would use their credit card to make a purchase. The company is normally interested in sealing multi-million dollar deals. Unless they've finally revv'd up the SAP AppStore. Which they haven't. Yet.

There is one point that I will partially concede:

Late last year, when SAP rolled out improved social and collaboration capabilities using Jive Software coupled with SAP’s own Streamwork app for SAP employees’ internal use, SAPs travel expenses dropped 10% year over year.  SAP launched a survey to understand why. It turns out people could now collaborate across the organization with these tools plus tele-presence and videoconferencing but without the time and expense of travel, and were also able to make a positive impact on the company’s strong commitment to sustainability.

In my world, telepresence and videoconferencing are having a much greater impact on business. The impact is immediate and direct to the bottom line. The notion of collaboration has been with us forever but it is the wider availability of broadband and investment in smart video related tools that has made that possible. Not social tools. Does Mark believe Oracle (IBM, Microsoft and pretty much everyone else) isn't doing exactly the same thing? It seems he didn't ask that question.

I take my hat off to folk like David and Mark for tilting at these windmills. It makes for good entertainment. Until someone can reliably demonstrate to me the cause and effect mechanisms in play that have lasting impact then this is one pot I am getting off. The very fact that David can say:

I'm dropping enterprise 2.0 from my vocabulary and running with social business.  That won't stop me triggering some debate and suggesting the amplified enterpriseterm might be better.

tells me all I need to know. Marketing buzzwords come and go. If it fails to convince the first time around, nuance and try again. After all, tech marketing is really an extension of Hollywood fashion. We should be used to it by now but that doesn't mean we should give every fashion statement a pass. As Larry Ellison, CEO Oracle might say: "Last year it was Fuschsia, this year it's Puce." It doesn't happen often but i'm with Larry on this one.

End of rant.

Endnote: the image at the top of this post comes courtesy of Hugh MacLeod. I have a copy hanging in my office.

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