Simon Terry

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The social enterprise must be social

A rush of social enterprise technologies is happening led by start-ups and major technology vendors. Everyone is racing to capitalise on the application of social technology into their application or process. Businesses are starting to realise the opportunity of social business processes with their people, customers and other stakeholders. Suddenly ‘social business’, the ‘social enterprise’ and ‘the future of work’ are hot topics.

In this hype and rush, one thing might just get lost – the creation of real community. The social enterprise must be social.

If you think this is an exaggerated concern, remember that technology does not create value. The value comes from how we use it. I have spent a lot of my time working with customer relationship management systems. In too many cases around the world, these projects are often cited as classic examples of failed technology implementations. Why? Most customer relationship management implementations have little relevance to customers and customer relationship employees. The efforts of vendors and businesses to wrap customers in process, data, leads and insight misses the opportunity to manage customers in a real vibrant profitable relationship. Business objectives get in the way of customer objectives and these systems fail their objectives and their users.

So how do we ensure that the social enterprise remains social?

Here are three thoughts:

  • Encourage real interaction: Questions and answers, back chat, push back, small talk, sports conversation, rapport building, jokes, laughter, entertainment, cynicism and mischief making are all part of the interactions that we have every day. Attempts to build systems or encourage use that exclude this ‘noise’ will fail to engage users. This ‘waste’ often has a real social purpose of creating engagement, enhancing productivity, building trust, sharing insight into others and deepening relationships. These are the gains that most vendors and businesses are looking to achieve by adding social features to their applications. 
  • Embrace community (that means culture, two-way communication, creativity, concerns and occasional chaos): Successful social technologies are built on real community. Successful community is what draws in users and allows the sytem to create value. The community will reflect the common culture of the organisation, the common ways of interacting and doing things. Working with community and culture demands that communication is two-way, creativity in the users is encouraged, community concerns are promptly addressed and the community embraces diversity and occasional chaos. You can treat people like children and lock-out these things with features, policy and tight control. However you will get a community culture that is sterile, users who follow orders and the productivity & engagement of a dictatorship. It is far more powerful to treat the community as adults and guide the culture of your organisation to the benefit of the business and community. 
  • Be part of society and social concerns: The best & most engaging social activity connects to a broader purpose. We all live and work in a broader society that makes decisions on what they think of us and our business. One of the powers of social enterprise solutions is the ability to bring that conversation into the workplace. Make the social enterprise one that can deliver social value beyond the bottom line. The employees, customers and other stakeholders who use the system are looking for this opportunity. 

Social enterprise solutions will need to deliver to business goals to have a continuing role in business. However, ensuring that these solutions create community by remaining human and social is critical to their success.


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