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“Social” - What’s in a name?

“Social” - What’s in a name?

In some ways, the Social Collaboration and Social Business Software industry has not helped itself by adopting the “Social” epithet. It has to some extent given these powerful and effective tools a bad name. We often find during the education process that we must overcome barriers to adoption caused by the various negative business connotations and perceptions this word conjures up.  

Often the word “Social” can paint tools such as Enterprise Social Networks (ESNs) with the brush of “fluffy” or “fun” that degrades the extent to which they are taken seriously, at least initially. Take for instance this recent comment in The Register about Salesforce.com’s Chatter from Ted Pretty, CEO of Hills:

"The social stuff is nice but at the end of the day all I care about is making our number."

Literal definitions of “Social” - i.e. words such as “friendly”, “companionship”, “community” or “society - seem a long way away from words more at the forefront of business leaders, such as performance, results and “making your number”.

Traditionally in the workplace the word “Social” has been used to describe the more cultural aspects of corporate life such as networking events and team-building. These activities mainly dwell in the domain of HR and don’t feature prominently in discussion about the more “pointy” end of the business.

More recently of course, “Social” has come to bring Facebook and Twitter to mind, which are tools many business leaders might regard as unproductive, time-wasting or detracting from core business function.

But we should remember the genesis of this term in a business context:  

  • Originally, these tools came out of the Enterprise 2.0 movement which looked at ways that web-based features could facilitate and foster better collaboration and knowledge management across an organisation.  It was defined by Andrew McAfee in 2006
  • When used in the context of technology, Social tools are described as designed for the purposes of the “capturing, storing and presentation of communication” and focus on “establishing and maintaining a connection among users, facilitating the mechanics of conversation and talk”  (according to wikipedia).
  • In terms of what these Social tools deliver, they are described as making “...collaborative behaviour, the organisation and moulding of communities, self-expression, social interaction and feedback possible for individuals.”

“Social” in a business context is less about fun or friends or Facebook than it is about collective communication and collaboration. These are factors fundamentally critical to whether an organisation is successful or not and whether sales teams make their number. Few business people would disagree with that.

It is therefore important for Business leaders to focus on the true meanings of what Social Business is about, and not be led astray by the perceptions about what the word “Social” means in other contexts.

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