One of the key properties of social media that has set it uniquely apart from other ways of communicating is that it has a property sometimes referred to as "network effects by default." By this, I mean that the conversations within social media are generally and automatically visible to anyone who cares to go look at them. In this way, each new conversation enriches the entire social ecosystem for everyone, creating the maximum possible value.
This means that what I post on Twitter can be seen by anyone that follows me, and even anyone that just wants go and visit my user profile. The same is true of Facebook pages, online communities, blogs, wikis, and countless others forms of social media. In an enterprise social network, my posts may only be visible to the authorized users for some organizational domain, but it will typically be available to all of them.
In short, everything we do in the social world (unless we flip the switch to make it private) is generally public. In most prior communication systems, the opposite was true. You had to identify, with perfect foreknowledge, whom you needed to interact with, and those--and only those--people would be part of the conversation, or aware of its existence. The default was for discussion and engagement to be private. With social, this entire model has been, not coincidentally, inverted to ensure everyone who needs to be involved can be involved.
This column continues the discussion from Social Business By Design (2012, John Wiley and Sons), the book I recently co-authored with Peter Kim on the methods that organizations can use to better prepare strategically for social business.
More Social Business By Design columns
This simple yet profound change in visibility has a surprisingly large number of ramifications.
First, it makes possible a number of interesting, and as it turns out rather important, possibilities. These I'll get to shortly.
Second, it means that a whole lot more information is visible to everyone. By many orders of magnitude as it turns out, proving to be a challenge in its own right.
Third, it gives everyone that uses social media--whether they're on the public Internet or 'merely' inside a large company--an amazingly powerful voice that can reach the whole network at times, all at very little cost.
Finally, and certainly not least, there are significant and at times sobering implications for openness and transparency. It gets much harder to manipulate or conceal information, for example. Much more information is available in full context and the ground truth is easier to ascertain.
However, just like the early days of the Internet, when there were only a few crude directories to help us find things, we've had a similar set of growing pains in social media, and by extension, social business. Being able to collectively find, perceive, track, and in engage at scale in the myriad conversations across the countless social silos that exist today initially proved quite difficult. Even today, dealing with the vast ocean of conversation is still quite challenging. But this situation is now improving.