...for those drunk on the hype
Social media in Enterprise - Elephant in the ecosystem
Cass Business School #smwlnd
London, February 2, 2010
First, social media is an elusive term in itself. Never mind its application to the enterprise. I notice that the meaning of the term to each
person depends on when and how they came to it. To someone like me, blogging since 2002, the Eureka moment is connected with blogging,
with upstarts like Facebook and Twitter playing a secondary role. To most people they _are_ social media with an assortment of web apps
that involve interactions and scale to high heaven. What about the enterprise? Is it the same tools used within enterprise but with sensible
restrictions? Is it creating the same magic within the enterprise for the benefit of the employees, customers and eventually for the business?
Or is it looking at the technology and tools, using them to enhance the cumbersome, expensive and ossified IT? I have worked with
companies since 2003 and have noticed a recognisable life cycle of social media in enterprise.
First a brief background on what has happened to the wine industry globally in the last 30 years. Before 1970s French wine used to be
considered the pinnacle of all wines. It was the great French tradition, the noble grapes, but mainly it was the unrivalled terroirs of Bordeaux
and Burgundy. (Loosely translated as “a sense of place” which is embodied in certain qualities, and the sum of the effects that the local
environment has had on the manufacture of the product).
In 1976, the (in)famous wine tasting of Californian wines next to top French wines in Paris has shifted that world view*. This is because the
Californian wines beat the French ones in a blind tasting on their own territory and in their own game – by tasting the way it was believed
impossible to achieve without the magic of the terroir. The fallout over the next few decades was profound – once wine-makers all over the
world realised that it is possible to produce wine a la Bordeaux or Burgundy in other countries, the experimentation and eventually
production of quality wines from other countries has exploded. Thanks to that we now have some superb Californian, Argentinian, Italian,
Spanish, Australian, Chilean, South African and Lebanese wines capable of matching the French ones in quality. There are purists who’d
disagree and for a long time I have been amongst them but I am not enough of a wine snob to persist in that view in the face of considerable
(and very enjoyable) evidence.
Wine making: Before 1976 tasting, there seemed no point in producing quality wine aimed at the same market that the French wine-makers
so successfully monopolised for centuries. Even if you had the same grapes and same techniques, you couldn’t replace the terroir… or could
you? A few mad wine aficionados, with burning love of wine, innovator’s zeal, insane persistence and a big dose of luck spend years
experimenting with wine-making techniques that would bring their brews close to their beloved Grand Crus. They have changed the balance
between the three elements that makes wine – soil, grape and wine-making – and demonstrated that it is possible to compensate for the lack
of the terroir magic with carefully applied wine-making techniques. It was no longer imitation of the ingredients or methods but an entirely
new mix of components still designed to produce the same highly desirable outcome.
And this is how it is with social media. There is no point in planting the vines of social web in the enterprise and expecting them to produce
the same as they do outside in the open web. The soil is not the same, the terroir wildly different. If you want to achieve an outcome of
similar quality and impact – better communication, more transparency, faster information exchange, more skilled and engaged employees,
more and rewarding involvement with the outside world – you will have to take the grapes (the social media tools) and make sure that your
‘wine-making’ balances out what your environment lacks.
Clash of two worlds!
Don’t try to change the system from
A few tips for those who find themselves in a situation where the organisation is their worst enemy:
Don’t try to change the system from within – i.e. trying to bring a change by going through established and outdated processes.
Find those who understand...
how important change is, and
the original reason behind processes
Find people inside the organisation who understand both how important and good such change is and the original reason behind processes
that are stopping it.
Connect them with what you are trying
Increase their knowledge and understanding of what you are trying to bring about, share tools, passion, ideas, frustrations.
Create networks ‘under the radar’
Gradually connect these people in a network that will amplify their ability to make things happen ‘under the radar’, i.e. bypassing the
dysfunctional processes and in effect creating alternative ways of doing things.
Support them with technology & tools
independent on IT
Don’t get dragged into IT compliance and technology that goes against user-autonomy and brings it back to organisation’s
Find alternative ways and keep them
away from existing processes
Make sure the ‘alternative ways’ are not grabbed by the system’s people and turned into their version of inflexible and ossified processes.
Lather, Rinse & Repeat
Rinse, lather and repeat – 2 or 3 times helps but once already feels good.
Wave ‘good-bye’ to business cases
Say ‘hello’ to case studies
Wave good bye to ‘business cases’ and say hello to ‘case studies’ i.e. ‘this is how we have done it and all we want is to enable everyone else
to do something similar if they wish’.
The ﬁnal frontier
The most important things missing from the enterprise terroir is the individual autonomy. It is a sad and indisputable fact that anyone can do
a lot more online outside their work than in the office and that office life is not dissimilar to medieval serfdom. If companies want to get close
to the social web magic, they will need to include this crucial ingredient into their approach. Treating their employees with respect and trust.
Giving them space to play and experiment. And this is where it all falls down...
Allow me to continue my medieval analogy - introducing social media tools to an enterprise is like dropping a fashion magazine in the middle
of people governed by Sumptuary Laws (these laws restricted ordinary people in their expenditure including money spent on clothes and
were used to control behaviour and ensure that a specific class structure was maintained.) Not going to work, is it, without blowing
Who is building
Who is Building the Barricades? From experience I believe that existing systems don’t give up without resistance. The good news is that for
the first time in history the internet is a place where we can create viable alternatives without having to blow up the existing ways. The
internet has provided a relatively undisturbed environment in which people can play and build stuff that works – for them as well as others.
They don’t have to waste time undermining or dismantling an already dysfunctional system to show how new ways could work. They can
experiment instead of having to ‘fight for the cause’. They can get on with chatting, connecting, networking, squabbling, playing with ideas
and technology that are now scaring the media and businesses. Bypassing a system by building a better one elsewhere is proving to be far
more powerful than blowing it up. Doesn’t help the old system a bit but makes the rest of us nicer and happier people. In many ways, if this is
a revolution, it is a revolution turned upside down. For start it’s not those who want the change that are building the barricades…
Until the organisation structure changes, social media and its magic are not going to happen within the enterprise
the Mine! project
self-analytics & personal informatics
Much more effective (and fun!) is working outside the enterprise, on projects that are ﬁrmly
rooted in the demand side. It is my easier to empower users and have impact on individual
sphere than it is to change businesses. So I have put my focus, my time and resources where
my mouth is. The Mine! project is about building tool(s) to increase individual’s autonomy
online. VRM is about redressing the balance of power between vendors and customers. And
self-analytics is about adding personal data, its ownership, management and understanding
to individual’s literacy.