Apr 3, 2012

Social in Business: The Technology of Being Social

In this installment of the social in Business we address the Technology of Social in business.

Rather than rattling off the current social tools market with my color commentary, I felt this topic is a good opportunity to talk about the “technology” of Social Technology. My main point is that there are many tools that fall into the social technology market category. The social capabilities that each tool supports are key to knowing which tools to deploy in the business. You've by now likely heard me preach about the perils of installing technology for technology’s sake (cue soapbox).  If you’ve been following this series by now hopefully you have caught on that social in business is not a " build it an they will come" scenario; that it takes time, forethought and concentrated effort to make social solutions a success in the business environment

It makes sense then to take a closer look, in technological terms, what social tools are really doing for users and the business. Deep down, at it’s core, social technology is about communications. How people connect and communicate using electronic devices and networks. The extremely short history of electronic communications goes like this (we’ll start around 1970):

·      First came e-mail, which has dominated electronic communications since the early 1970’s and still (according to a recent Ipsos/Reuters poll) supports more than 85% of communications worldwide. E-mail continues to make our working lives better and miserable all that the same time.
·      As productivity tools and networks improved, collaborative tools (e.g., Lotus Notes) emerged for doing interactive processes with groups of people.
·      Then, as networks expanded (corporate and Internet) and devices got "smarter" (e.g., mobile phones and laptops) we looked to better forms for real-time communication (e.g., chatting and conferencing) and collaboration. This movement helped to bring down organizational and operational barriers of time, device, and location.
·      As the Internet grew and improved security emerged, the consumerization of electronic communications exploded. The opportunity to re-design the interfaces for electronic communications allowed us to add on more nuanced personalization and interaction with our information and colleagues.

Social tools are essentially then next evolution of communications with a personalized perspective. I like to think of social as a re-skinning of our communications, giving users a more “ego-centric” view of all the events (e.g., messages, data, information) going on around us as they wish to see and interact with it.

Socially enabled interfaces come new technologies such as profiles, presence, streams/feeds, and “likes”. In essence, the purpose of social technology is to act as an aggregator and filter of communications. Whether it’s one to one conversations or broadcasting, text or audio, feeds or streams, social technology is there to help users to communicate in a wide range of modalities.

So what does that mean for social in business? It means that choosing social tools depends heavily on the way the business communicates and how that communication supports the business’ needs. Savvy companies take time to understand their environment and business needs, to identify specific use cases and purposes for the social tools and then assemble the tools accordingly. In other words, knowing the value of communications tools on the business and which ones are most appropriate for the firm is paramount to a successful social tools strategy.

The social business tools market is growing rapidly and, typical of new markets, the market is dynamic and volatile. It’s a complex equation to decide which tools to deploy. The gnarly set of options today include:

·      Cloud or in-house
·      Hosted (dedicated or shared)
·      Consumer (e.g., Facebook or Google+)
·      Traditional productivity vendors e.g., IBM (Notes+Samtime+Connections) or Microsoft (soupped-up SharePoint)
·      Cloud-based business solutions e.g., Yammer or Salesforce.com with add-ons
·      Social business solutions such as Jive or SocialText on/off premises

Buying or building depends on existing tools (read licenses), the firm’s IT environment, the goals for social, risk and business tolerance. These choices can't be made in a vacuum. Sound social tool decisions can only be made by understanding how social technology is supporting the business: electronic communication with a personal touch.

Social in Business Series

Part 1 - What we are talking about
Part 2 - Build it and they will come (?)
Part 3 - What are we doing here anyway?
Part 4 - Rubber Meet Road

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