Social Enterprise, Social Computing, Social Technology and All That Jazz


Over the past several weeks I have had the pleasure of speaking with and hearing from many people passionate and experienced in the social computing world. The message everyone is giving from the general public, to the successful corporations and competitors to the companies who specialize in this emerging/growing field of Social Computing seems to be pretty consistent.

If you don’t learn it, understand it, and begin taking part in more social computing. You will fall behind and lose competitive advantage/ability.

My goal with this post is to hopefully communicate certain simple concepts that every business individual can use and grow from. I really do believe that all of the new social platforms and technologies are a wonderful thing and love them dearly, but I also know how hard it is to take these concepts and apply them to our professional thinking.

Let’s talk about the above bolded statement for a moment. Every company I have ever worked with, for, or heard of already uses Social Computing, Social Enterprise and all that jazz. This is not a new concept. However in recent times new technology innovations (or software applications if you would prefer) have allowed us to consume and share information in different ways then was previously possible. More importantly it has allowed us to share information at higher levels (chronologically relevant, and simply more, more, more) than previously possible.

So really what I believe all the recent discussion seems to stem from is simply that we need to understand how historically have we generated/dispersed information and consumed it, and what is changing. Once we understand that we should be able to take advantage of the changes right?

If we think about communicating as a method, how is it being effected by new technologies and social cultures? How can we plan and take advantage of these changes and trends?

The technology is less important than the changes in process/methods for communicating.

The reason I am putting emphasis on the fact we need to understand the new ways of communicating and NOT the new technology is because I often hear people talking about how important the new technology is when in reality it’s not the new technology but the new methods or possibilities that technology enables or makes easier that matters.

Communication is at the base of almost all new technology (software).

Let’s face it. The code in which new technology (software) is based on is in itself a more effective means of communicating with the machines that help us accomplish our goals. The invention of this changed the way we communicate with machines. Further enhancements to the methodology we develop this machine code/machine language has allowed us to further evolve and change the ways we communicate effectively with machines. We now have hundreds of products and solutions as a result and based upon this.

Now think about the software that is the end result of much of this code. Every Microsoft product pretty much focuses on improving communication. Microsoft Word allows us to write information in an easier to digest way and then emailing it using Outlook, Hotmail, or Gmail is going to allow another person to receive that information. It also helps us retain information from database systems like SQL to the more obvious systems like VOIP or Live Messenger. Systems that enable better collaboration such as SharePoint or even the blogging software I am using allows us to collaborate, share, and respond to information faster and in ways we never could before. All of these things help us communicate more effectively.

The new and exciting social communication technologies that are popular right now such as Facebook, Youtube Twitter, LinkedIn, MySpace, etc are all further examples of technology enabling more effective communication. Each one focuses on a different area of improvement. Some are right for certain situations, some are just targeting different audiences and as such communicate differently.

Let’s take the example of how LinkedIn is oriented around professional networking and development where as Facebook is much more oriented around personal networking and development. In both cases we could do some of the same things from a business standpoint. We could search for talent in either of these social/professional networking systems, but LinkedIn would probably make it a bit easier to sort through if your looking for specific information.

At that same level though, doing a quick search on a new hire is becoming (from what I hear) the norm. This way you can learn a bit more about the possible candidate. In several situations this has turned out poorly for the new hire and they might not have had the same opportunity. So it’s important to note not only the DIRECT implications such as someone finding your profile/resume on LinkedIn to the indirect ones such as all your Facebook pictures of you being arrested (true story).

So how do you choose the right mediums to grow professionally or in a corporate setting? How should Marketing use some of these new mediums? Or Human Resources?

Communication at its core is not changing. It’s still about getting a message from one person to another, or many others. But the message is now a much more active thing.

The message is still created and dispersed and then received and digested by other people. The difference now is that the message is no longer a simple/single generate, distribute and consume process. It is now almost organic. I cannot remember the last time I have had a simple one way flow for information in my professional or personal life.

This could be due to greater retention than historically we were able to have (databases, versioning, etc), or perhaps it was always there and was just much harder to identify/facilitate previously. Regardless of the reason it is a definite change in understanding/application of communication technology and things that revolve around it.

Think about how commenting on a complete document can change how the document is consumed. It now is also consumed with the comments, and in many cases the document is updated as a result of the comments. We now have revision and information that is never static (realistically it never was static, but we could not keep the changes/information connected to the document effectively in the past). We also can probably rate it, saying how ‘helpful’ we thought it was. We can tie categories and metadata to the document so that it can be easily found.

Let’s take that and apply it to twitter messages. Just replace document with ‘message of 140 characters or less’ and you pretty much have most of the twitter features such as favorites, categories which improve search, who created the message, replies to tweets (messages in twitter) etc etc.

Now on to the big points or the biggest changes.

Chronological Relevance, and More More More are the most important aspects of ‘Social Enterprise’ or Social Anything 2.0, or 3.0 etc

The first is fairly easy to break down. It represents that we need to know when something was said/written/documented/or distributed. This allows us to find out how relevant it is. Historically this wasn’t as important because there just wasn’t the same levels of information available to us, or being distributed to us. The amount of information we receive and consume has increased enormously over the past years.

This could be a result of globalization, the internet, and many technology innovations which have changed how we communicate effectively/competitively (can I use that like this?). The important thing is to accept this and obey it.

One of the main reasons Twitter is so successful as an example is because it is always chronologically relevant. The reason Facebook groups and events are so effective is because they are chronologically relevant.

If you write an article as an organization you MUST time stamp it. If you decide to start a blog or newsletter, or series of articles, or twitter you MUST consistently add information. You must be committed to Chronological Relevance or you will not be as effective as you could be. Windows dates documents/files as they are changed (last modified date, created date etc). Collaboration platforms like SharePoint allow us to also have this behavior, as does our email systems like Gmail, live mail, or whatever else you might use.

It is a common user expectation and personally I believe it is a requirement for pushing information out. Yet still I receive and find information being released without this simple very important item which increases the worth of the information greatly.

The second point of “More more more” is simply illustrating that we have such an enormous amount of information that we must digest each day. We need this to be easy, friendly, and effective. This is where the technology mediums have a much greater play. We use things like RSS (Really Simple Syndication), email subscriptions, groups, forums, twitter following, and plenty of other things to help us organize and retrieve information in a way that works for the individual at a personal level.

It’s no longer enough to simply make information available in one way, or along one medium. It is now expected that a new press release for a new product be made available across a wealth of mediums. The community, audience and users expect to find information on it on your website, in your newsletters, in your blog, announced on twitter, if there’s a video that it should also be on YouTube etc.

You can’t ignore the demands of those users, because if you don’t do it, someone else will. And when they do the message will be more easily understood and digested by everyone and that message will be better received and be received by more people.

So join in and start using all these technologies, with a full understanding of why you are doing it. And realize this isn’t the typical and historical method of communicating where its start and end. It’s an ongoing active process that requires commitment, and dedication to keep that chronological relevance.

Hope this helps,
Richard Harbridge

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