Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Argument for Social Networking

Since I wrote about lack of enterprise social networking adoption compared to general public, there was one lingering question in my mind a last couple of days. And that is 'what is the business problem that social network can solve?' If skeptics of social network were to ask me why they should adopt social network in their enterprise, what would be my elevator pitch to them?

So today I want to make a case for adopting social network in enterprise. Why the heck should social network be a part of enterprise communication platform? Isn't it yet another time sink for employees, and platform where employees can goof off with each other?

Seeing typical user behavior on Facebook, my short answer is 'yes, social network can be abused as time sink.' But that should not be the reason to throw baby out with the bathwater. If you look at email, you see similar misuse and productivity loss. Spams, frivolous email forwarding, and email with infected attachment all cost enterprise good deal amount of time and resources to maintain. Ferris research estimated that spamming alone costed staggering $130 billion to combat last year. Yet email has become indispensable messaging backbone of enterprise (more than 900 million business users estimated for 2010).

Ok, that may be enough reason to give the second look to social network. But what is the business problem that it solves?

To answer this question, I want talk about Steve Johnson and Daniel Pink. If you haven't watched their talk I encourage you to do so. In nutshell, Steve Johnson's observation is that cool idea is not created in vacuum. Most, if not all, innovative ideas are created in highly interactive and collaborative environment like cafe, he argues. He is not alone in advocating collaboration fostering innovation. Matthew Fraser gives similar account of success of Huddle. If you look back at how you came up with cool idea, you can recall instances of conceiving new ideas when you have a sounding board. Ideas are created in exchange of information, not in vacuum.

Let's talk about Daniel Pink. He looked at the challenge of motivating people, and found that money is not the right way to foster creative thinking. Instead he argues that giving sense of autonomy, mastery, and purpose is the right way to motivate creative thinkers. He's not alone. Google has long adopted Google Friday where employees are encouraged to work on their own project and share the progress with the team. TechCrunch is throwing Hackathon as part of Disrupt to gather group of developers to exchange ideas and build a product onsite (Groupme actually started out this way and got funding). And there are number of other companies are following suit. But enough of all these hearsay evidences. Wouldn't you care more about your work if it were your own project (autonomy), something you do well (mastery), and believe that your work has chance of changing the world or cause that's greater than yourself (purpose)?

Social network is best at addressing these needs. It's enabler for collaborative work environment where ideas can be exchanged and created among autonomous knowledge worker participants.

So you still ask why bother with social network? Well, then your industry can afford to run a business maintaining the status quo. Just make sure you stay clear of any industry with innovators. And yes, that includes mom-and-pop food truck business (check out Kogi Korean BBQ, aka Twitter Taco Truck).


  1. I agree Social Network is a great marketing tool. But, I'm a skeptic of Enterprise Social Networking -- the non-customer facing part. I think most Social Network is great at making connections and spreading information in 1-n manner, but I can't think of an example where people used Facebook (for instance) as a collaboration tool in truly bazaar (n-n) fashion. Conversations in the hall way and in cafes are still the best way. Google Wave was a decent attempt at replicating that environment in the web, but too bad it failed to get any traction. Enterprise Social Network is not a panacea for driving innovation. Deeper cultural change is more important and more relevant.

  2. Marketing tool, yes. I think enterprise see the value of using Facebook/YouTube/Twitter as marketing tool (check out this marketing campaign on YouTube).

    What enterprise has not embraced yet is social network as corporate culture changing agent. I am almost thinking of social network as one of the means to achieve greater good, which is embracing the new working environment where everyone is sharing ideas openly. Now this may not make sense for all business functions. But it has a place in every enterprises today. Certainly whiteboarding and in-person meeting will be one critical building block to this, yet our distributed global work environment demands massive asynchronous means of communication. I see enterprise social network playing that role.

  3. I think you'll like this

  4. Absolutely! In fact a coworker of mine forwarded me this link before I saw Steve and Daniel's clip. I just wish I had the whiteboard marker penmanship. I bet the guy doesn't use Powerpoint to get his points across...