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6/24/2011
12:57 PM
Rob Preston
Rob Preston
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Language Of Social Sounds Too Soft To Business

Why is Enterprise 2.0 still considered more of a "movement" than a business imperative? Its evangelists speak more like Dr. Phil than Jack Welch.

Deutsche Bank managing director John Stepper, in describing his own missteps, sums up what's wrong with the social business movement. In a keynote address at this week's Enterprise 2.0 Conference in Boston, a UBM TechWeb event, Stepper related spending a good year trying to become the "social media guy" at the bank, culminating in a trip to London to persuade the powers-that-be to invest in a collaboration software platform.

When they asked him which specific business problems his "solution" would ostensibly solve, he didn't have much of an answer beyond the esoteric promise of enhancing engagement and promoting knowledge sharing. Worthy goals, but how would those things improve business performance?

Stepper learned his lesson, and he eventually got his approval for a collaboration platform that, come fall, will serve 5,000 employees across 20 role-based and other communities. Among the hard goals: Reduce superfluous emails and meetings by 25% and cut help desk calls by 50%, while also delivering the softer benefits Stepper outlined in his original proposal.

Part of the reason social networking tools still aren't mainstream at most organizations is because Enterprise 2.0 is still considered more of a "movement" than a business imperative. The movement's evangelists employ the kumbaya language of community engagement rather than the more precise language of increasing sales, slashing costs, and reducing customer complaints. They yearn to empower employees, crowdsource ideas, facilitate storytelling, nurture advocacy, and unleash passion. It sometimes feels like an episode of Dr. Phil.

In his BrainYard column "Hard And Soft Power In Enterprise 2.0," Venkatesh Rao also draws a contrast between the hard-edged reality of the business world and the kinder, gentler "win-win," "co-creation," and "delighting customers" specter of the social business movement. "Consider the words that are conspicuously absent: winning, losing, out-maneuvering, competition, fighting, deception, coercion, exploitation, weaknesses, penalty, lawsuit, perception management, spin, inter-tribal warfare," Rao writes.

Even the names of some Enterprise 2.0 software vendors convey a less than rigorous business purpose. Take microblogging software provider Yammer, whose catchy name was conceived to convey "persistent communications," says CEO David Sacks, but which literally means to whine or whimper. Or Jive, which can mean glib, deceptive, or foolish talk--B.S. And Twitter? A short burst of inconsequential information. What's next--a content management provider called Drivel and a reputation management software company called Sycophant? No wonder it's taking CEOs and CIOs so long to take social business seriously.

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All that said, there's a reason we're still talking about social business and why it's important. It's not the cases where the CEO and CIO have issued a mandate to use this platform or that tool. It's where grass roots user adoption (think Yammer) is solving real problems.

John Hagel, co-chairman of Deloitte's Center for the Edge, relates how a "bunch of old guys" in the Metropolitan Transit Authority's maintenance department took to a microblogging tool to help them solve a nagging problem: locating hard-to-find parts for buses. "It completely transformed their view of social software," Hagel said at the Enterprise 2.0 Conference. "They drilled down and saw they could use technology to affect operating performance."

The old guys at the MTA weren't and aren't Enterprise 2.0 groupies. They just wanted a better way to get important work done. The future of this "movement" hinges on it attracting many more like them.

Rob Preston,
VP and Editor in Chief, InformationWeek
rpreston@techweb.com

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John Thomson
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John Thomson,
User Rank: Apprentice
7/1/2011 | 4:02:00 AM
re: Language Of Social Sounds Too Soft To Business
This is a great article. The insight about the positioning of collaborative technologies to executives being crucial is spot on, and is not really limited to "soft" technologies like social media or collaboration tools. Executives are supposed to be tight with the wallet, and demand hard facts to support the business case, whether they're considering routers that handle tcp/ip traffic or software that routes collaborative messaging.

As such, the advice in this article is well taken for anyone trying to drive an initiative, but especially for those that may appear to be "soft" in nature. And challenges measuring benefit or ROI aren't limited to these soft technologies.

Maybe champions need to develop a vocabulary around adjectives like "lean," "light," or "streamlined" to position these initiatives. :)

Seriously, I think the bottom line is just that business initiatives have to be compelling and concrete to capture the passions of executives charged with meeting quarterly financial commitments. If we're going to problem solve, we have to choose specific and real problems and provide detailed and compelling proposals. Again, Mr. Preston's article is very insightful and applies more broadly than the title suggests. Well done!

John Thomson
tom.reeder
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tom.reeder,
User Rank: Apprentice
6/29/2011 | 9:48:30 PM
re: Language Of Social Sounds Too Soft To Business
Rob-

We have been working in this social/collaborative space as management consultants for nearly 3 years now. One of our early findings was not to focus on the technology, names, tools, etc., but rather focus on the "business outcomes" (use case I believe is the more technical jargon). I believe this is what John Stepper discovered by shifting his value proposition to focus on email reduction, etc. I believe this is the point you were making with Hagel's anecdote.

The art of driving adoption is stitching these point-solutions into a compelling reason for change... to fuel the leap of faith to achieve some of the softer benefits you brought up.

Thanks

Tom Reeder
EphraimJF
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EphraimJF,
User Rank: Apprentice
6/29/2011 | 9:46:34 PM
re: Language Of Social Sounds Too Soft To Business
The name "ThoughtFarmer" (http://www.thoughtfarmer.com) is a little more specific than some. It conveys the concept that by enabling collaboration, conversation, expertise location, and serendipitous connection on an intranet a company can increase the value of its knowledge (which sits within people's heads). But increasing that value and providing soil for innovation doesn't cater to clear metrics.

However, Executives should be interested in increasing employee engagement and building more human-centered environments, just for the sake of it. Not only because they're employing valuable human beings, but also because high employee engagement helps the bottom line.

Best Buy has "proven the value of a 0.1% increase in employee engagement is $100k" http://bit.ly/lxnjn1.
BilalJaffery
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BilalJaffery,
User Rank: Apprentice
6/29/2011 | 9:05:17 PM
re: Language Of Social Sounds Too Soft To Business
Great point and speaks the truth as well. Rest of the business world not operating at the cutting edge of the social business movement will need to see impact on Sales/Revenue/Growth to see the light.

It also helps to position such platforms as value-generating tools vs 'just plain ol'e engagement'. We all know the outcome but it's all about the positioning.
DBELDEN208
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DBELDEN208,
User Rank: Apprentice
6/27/2011 | 10:30:50 PM
re: Language Of Social Sounds Too Soft To Business
Actually, it is an advantage to all fluid, innovative, creative companies that traditional business is so slow to recognize the changing dynamic in today's marketplace. An emphasis on Clay Shirky's "cognitive surplus" is giving many new companies a competitive advantage. More power to them!
Alex Dunne
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Alex Dunne,
User Rank: Apprentice
6/27/2011 | 9:58:05 PM
re: Language Of Social Sounds Too Soft To Business
I never thought about the impression that product and company names can give in this market. Excellent point. Perhaps playful names are designed to appeal more to rank and file users, rather than management, since that's how many collaboration tools find their way into the enterprise these days.
Deb Donston-Miller
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Deb Donston-Miller,
User Rank: Apprentice
6/27/2011 | 12:11:55 PM
re: Language Of Social Sounds Too Soft To Business
I think there is a real need for balance, as there is no denying the importance of soft metrics when it comes to social media. We've faced the same issue with traditional Web platforms, though. For example, you can easily quantify the number of page views a particular piece of content gets, but it's much harder to qualify who viewed those pages and what their value is to the business.

Deb Donston-Miller
Contributing Editor, The BrainYard
mor_trisha
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mor_trisha,
User Rank: Apprentice
6/25/2011 | 4:49:36 PM
re: Language Of Social Sounds Too Soft To Business
This headline certainly grabbed my attention! As an attendee of the Enterprise 2.0 Conference in Boston this year, I was heartened to hear more keynote and session speakers focusing on the need to care about other people, empower employees, and build relationships. I guess that goes to show what camp I fall into. :)

Yes, being able to use business language (winning, losing, competition, out-maneuver) when trying to get executive buy-in is important. The Dr. Phil language of co-creation and delighting customers is also important. I think the third facet needed is how to connect business to the warm-and-fuzzy stuff. Explain in plain language precisely HOW delighted customers or empowered employees increase the bottom line, as is illustrated in the MTA example.
Deb Donston-Miller
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Deb Donston-Miller,
User Rank: Apprentice
6/24/2011 | 9:56:33 PM
re: Language Of Social Sounds Too Soft To Business
Great piece, Rob. I was just talking with someone today about "soft metrics," and how hard they are to measure with social media.

"Even the names of some Enterprise 2.0 software vendors convey a less than rigorous business purpose. ... No wonder it's taking CEOs and CIOs so long to take social business seriously."

Yammer, Jive, Twitter--let's not forget Chatter. A smart vendor will name its social collaboration platform BizTalk. Oh, wait--that's taken.

Deb Donston-Miller
Contributing Editor, The BrainYard
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