E L S U A ~ A KM Blog by Luis Suarez

From the blog

The State of Social Business – A State of Maturity?

Gran Canaria - Playa del Ingles - Maspalomas DunesIt’s been a bit over two weeks since the last blog post I put together over here, where I was celebrating “The Joy of Business Travelling“, and just as I got back from my next business trip, that, this time around, took me to Apeldoorn, Amsterdam, Brighton and Montpellier, I couldn’t help thinking that the sentiment behind that original entry is now even more accurate than ever! So much so that this time around I decided to keep quiet  on the blogging front on purpose and, instead, enjoy and get the most out of the face to face conversations I have been participating in with a wide range of Social Business evangelists and Social Collaboration enthusiasts, amongst several other people. And what a couple of weeks that have gone through so far! My goodness! 

My head is still spinning along, but I suppose now that I’m back at home, it’s time to pick things up again and keep up with the blogging mojo. And what a better resume than talking a little bit about one of the main conversations I have been having in the last few weeks: Has Social Business matured enough compared to, say, two to three years ago? Where are we? Have we made any progress? What’s the state of Social Business today? Is our job now done and dealt with and perhaps time to move on? While most people would think either way, that is, either direction, I tend to think we are somewhere in between. And here is why… 

There was a time when a business decided to embark on that fascinating and truly empowering Social Business journey that the conversation would usually start with something along these lines: “Yes, I want to have a Facebook for the Enterprise (running behind the firewall) and I want it yesterday!“, or, my favourite one: “What’s the ROI of Social Media? Show me the money, please, or stop bothering me with all of this social nonsense“. You know how it went; we, social computing evangelists, used to spend most of our time, energy, effort and hard work trying to set the right stage of how things may well get off to a good start. Perhaps you wouldn’t need to have a Facebook like solution in the first place, perhaps instead of focusing on the low hanging fruit of measuring the means to a goal, you should focus instead on that goal itself and how to improve your overall business performance, and so forth. You know the gist. I am sure we are all just too familiar with it. That used to be our day to day battle horse. And still is, perhaps, in some parts of the larger business world. However, the conversation is changing.

And it’s changing for the better, in my opinion. More than anything else, because apart from the long awaited promise of a better, more sustainable, healthy growth driven business world, it’s also starting to demonstrate the maturity of the industry and the quality level of the interactions themselves. Yes, we may still be suffering from a too heavy technology focus (Mostly due to our eternal tech fetishism that we have been having for decades), but the reality is that Social Business is finally way underway to enter the next level of maturity.

At least, if I judge from the recent sets of conversations on the topic that I have been having both online and offline. Take, for instance, the subject of Facebook, and how for a good number of years a bunch of us have been using Facebook as that easy way to convey across the power of networks, as that new model of conducting business, because everyone could relate to it. You know, it’s 1 billion users, after all. Well, that’s certainly changing and the current sentiment towards Facebook itself is inclining itself more towards acknowledging the huge damage it’s caused all along, more than the various benefits, on the conversation on becoming a successful social business, that it’s no longer pretty. Take a look into this superb blog post that my good friend Megan Murray, the one and only, has put together a little while ago under the rather thought provoking title “Why Facebook Is The Worst Thing That Ever Happened to Social Media“. Gran Canaria - Playa del Ingles - Maspalomas Dunes

Both the article and the excellent commentary are precious in helping set the stage of why we are, finally, breaking free from the Facebook copycat yoke and we are not coming back! Lucky enough, businesses, in general, have finally understood as well that they don’t need to have an exact copy to mimic Facebook’s behaviours behind the firewall. This Social Business journey is something bigger, something major, a huge business transformation of how work gets done. And, in most cases, people are realising they no longer need Facebook as a helping hand to deliver those messages. It’s down back into a culture shift, a new mindset, about inspiring a new wave of working habits where people become more open, public and transparent. Where trust, co-ownership and co-responsibility, along with engagement are key traits that would keep inspiring and driving that social business transformation and, finally, it’s happening at a time where we are looking away from Facebook. It’s no longer there for most of us. At least, in a business context… 

And then, further along on that Social Business maturity journey, we bump into the other theme that has also shown a huge transformation on its own to the point where I bet a couple of years ago it was the unthinkable and yet, fast forward to today, it’s happening all over the place, that is, that shift away from just questioning the business value of Social Business by asking the sempiternal “What’s the ROI of Social Media?” and progressing into the How do we do this? Indeed, moving away from the What? and Why? and diving straight through into the How do we make it happen? What business problems do we want to address and fix accordingly? How do we keep improving our overall business performance? How can we keep delighting our customers, our very own employees with that so-called engagement mantra? How do we, eventually, become more effective and productive at what we do by working smarter, not necessarily harder? 

My good friend, and fellow colleague, Peter Bejlerrup, shared with me one slide a little while ago that describes quite nicely such transition and transformation, specially, with one of the main challenge groups when the first initial round of conversations about Social Networking for Business kick in: Executive Management. Here it is, so you can have a look: 

Business Value of Social Business for Executives 

Indeed! Is that something that folks out there could relate to already? Do you reckon? I am not sure what you would think, but if I have to judge by the good number of conversations that I have been having in several of the business trips I have done this year, the conversation has matured, it’s evolved, it’s moved beyond the point of trying to come up, time and time again, with whatever the excuse, instead of exploring the full potential that it can unleash into transforming business as we know it today; it’s moved on from stopping by questioning everything into figuring out how it’s going to improve overall performance, increasing customer satisfaction, both employee and customer engagement, talent management, knowledge transfer, innovation, the bottom line, open collaboration, and whatever else your main business objective may well be. In short, the conversation has shifted from that technology focus into a business focus, what it should have had from the beginning, but that we are finally playing good catch-up with it. 

This is exactly the main same argument that other folks, like David Armano, have addressed just recently on where we are at the moment and how we may have witnessed the starting point of something bigger, much bigger. In a recent article under the heading “Technology Will Only Solve 1/3 of Your Social Business Problem” he quotes brilliantly: 

The dirty little secret in the technology world is that technology, even really good technology looks automated but in reality requires people to make it work

Spot on! In fact, David develops further what he calls The Three P’s of Social Business, which for those of us who have been doing Knowledge Management for a bit over a decade now, would sound far too familiar: Platforms (Technology), Process and People, as shown and illustrated on this graphic:

And this is when I am really excited about witnessing this giant leap forward, or, better said, giant leap backwards, because we are, once again, having that unique opportunity to get things right this time around, since we didn’t have much success with KM back then and it could mean that things may work out all right this time. I am very hopeful we will. In fact, I will be able to confirm that maturity level of Social Business moving away from just a technology focus next week when, for the first time ever, I will have the chance to attend the Knowledge Management event of events, KM World 2012, where, if you look into the programme itself, you will see more topics, conversations, dissertations, presentations, speeches, workshops and what not, around the world of Social than ever! To me, it’ll be a confirmation of whether both of my passions, KM and Social Business, would collide and destroy each other, or, instead, whether they would be capable of co-existing, learning from one another, build further up on each other’s strengths and eventually shake the business world into becoming what KM attempted once trying over 18 years ago. The stakes are high, for sure, but so is the passion and excitement about both worlds finally reuniting to strike for a common goal: improve our businesses’ overall performance through meaningful, purposeful, engaged, sustainable and responsible growth.

The one that matters. The one that will make this world a better place to live for everyone. Not just a few.

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  1. Hi Luis,
    Funny–I read this post just after reading about Attivio’s $34m funding round, which is a testament to KM’s perceived importance. While social business and KM have some independent values, it’s in their intersection that the real value, not to mention stickiness, is found. Most of the people we’ve talked to really do seem to want a centralized hub. Perhaps SharePoint + Yammer will become this, but I think Google Apps had an advantage out of the gate (if only they’d fix Sites!).
    Anyways, thanks for the insight, and looking forward to reading your KMWorld recaps!

  2. Terrific post, Luis. I wonder if only old school bloggers like you or me can realize how much damage Facebook popularity has done to social media. Blogger era was about knowledge, building reputation, strong ethics and a passion for linking. That really transformed people’s relationships which it also meant that work itself was transformed for the better. Blogging and blogging technologies actually empowered people, you owned your terms of service, you had no limits to write or link, no limits to choose your interfaces, it did enhace your skills no matter how annoying running your own CMS can be.

    Facebook accostumed people to share links and comments in “the wall”, where everything die in a few hours the same way old media did. Your posts and articles cannot be found on search engines, nor comments can be linked, old conversations cannot be retaken and so on. On the other hand, while in the good old times we were proud of the Cluetrain Manifesto and we asked corporations and their managers to behave like actual persons and reject traditional advertisement, now managers are crazy about facebooks ads, contests and every kind of promotional stuff dumped into facebook walls in a very close fashion to spam. It’s all about getting eyeballs.

    Maybe we should thank Facebook for making the very concept of social business popular despite of its limits and (negative) biases. I guess the time for something else is coming up.

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