The Next Social Media Challenges

Interesting insights re: Social Media and the Enterprise @ Enterprise 2.0. But, are there some new capabilities that the market needs for social media to work well for businesses? Tech is scaling here but people aren't.
Written by Brian Sommer, Contributor

The day of constrained IT is over. The time when throughput, processing windows, DASD shortages, memory constraints, slow processor speeds, etc. are effectively over. Even when companies experience short-term computing crunches, cloud services like Amazon's EC2/AWS are there to deal with spikes in demand.

This is a critical learning point as the lack of constraints mean that companies should now have the ability to crunch data from any number of data sources whether they are internally generated (e.g., RFID data, ERP data, point of sale data) or externally sourced (e.g., weather data, customer demand forecasts, government data, daily prescription data, etc.). Unfortunately, having the potential ability to do something isn't always the same as actually possessing this capability.

Social technologies may well fall into this conundrum especially as these technologies are targeted for businesses. Social technologies can trigger an avalanche of information from customers, users, business partners, channel partners, suppliers, etc. The problem is: who is going to read all of this input and who is going to make this into an asset of the firm?

Technologies scale, really well, but people do not - This axiom is why venture capitalists will value a tech company at 4-13X revenues while a people-based consultancy is lucky to be valued at 0.7X revenues.  People just don't scale. We need new generations of social media that do more than facilitate the conversation - we need products to help manage the deluge.

Social technologies only succeed in business when businesses listen to the commentary - Many businesses see social technology as a ‘place' to have a ‘presence'. Translated, this means a company will build a Facebook page, have a blog or post some self-serving tweets. These firms see social media as a one-direction media where they will push their message. This approach to social media will fail because the companies are not using and interacting with the content that customers and users are making available to them.

I loathe firms that sub-contract their call centers, social media and other functions to third parties. If I'm highlighting a product defect, experiencing a support issue, identifying a new product innovation that's  needed, etc., these suggestions are falling on deaf ears. Airlines are the worst with this. I've written them detailed, considered letters with suggestions for improvement. Did anyone read them? Rarely. Did anything happen because of them? No. So, as a consumer, why would I ever waste my time with them again? I don't and I have moved my airline business elsewhere. If your firm has a social presence, USE IT!

Communication is Commerce - One of the speakers at this week's Enterprise 2.0 conference made this remark. But, I'm not sure it's entirely correct.

When you look at social solutions as a commerce engine, you may create an environment that Sales & Marketing exploits for a time but people in your R&D, Warranty/Customer Support and other departments fail to use. The end result of this top line focus is often failure. Key product enhancements are never built into the product, customers get frustrated, innovation efforts go in the wrong direction, etc.  Commerce can't be the only reason your firm has a social presence.

Bottom line: I'm not sure automation can solve the social data tsunami. Some of the best insights I've ever gotten come from my personal interaction with another individual. I need to take time and really probe their position. The real insights are rarely in their explicit writings but in the subtle nuances of really understanding what's bugging or exciting them. That only happens when one person really engages with another. A semantic text analyzer may give you some insights but the really good stuff, in my opinion, only happens 1 on 1.

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