What Social Business Needs Now

I have a lot of young friends. Many of them turn to me for both personal and professional advice. It’s kind of scary, actually, when you realize you’ve become the mentor rather than the mentored.

Because of that, I’ve been thinking a lot about the future and how to best prepare oneself for a world of rapid and constant change. It’s a difficult environment for good decision making and a reminder of why social collaboration is transforming the way we make decisions every day. It’s the only way to cope.

Of course we all try to make the best decisions possible. But I for one have found that the pace of change has obsoleted most of ways I made decisions in the past. In fact, I’m down to about 4 solid general purpose tools in my decision making toolbox:

  1. The Golden Rule (for basic survival)
  2. Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs (to better understand why people do what they do),
  3. Algebra (to help identify the most important variables in any situation), and
  4. Walter Gretzky’s admonition to “Skate where the puck’s going, not where it’s been.” (to keep yourself thinking ahead)

I’ve been using these tools quite a lot lately. They’re very powerful and easy to carry around with me all the time. I certainly had them with me as I attended the recent E 2.0 conference, and boy did they come in handy there.

By the end of the conference’s first day, I realized that something had fundamentally changed. The evangelical conferences of the past had given way to practical conversations about standards and best practices (watch this video where people talk about what they are doing today with Enterprise 2.0 tools that they weren’t doing a year ago). It appeared that the Social Business (aka E 2.0, Social CRM, etc) community had accurately predicted where the puck would be and was now in firm control of its destiny.

But it was equally clear that no one was celebrating quite yet. Some, oddly, were even declaring defeat. I found myself wondering what’s going on here? Surely everyone should be thrilled with the apparent progress—not moaning about it!

But as any hockey player will tell you, getting your stick on the puck doesn’t count for much. It just gives you a better chance of shaping your destiny. And perhaps that’s the challenge now facing the Social Business community. Collectively, we are in a great position to shape our destiny. We’ve successfully skated to where the puck would be. But now we face a conundrum:  where the heck is the net??

Being reflective for a moment, I think the Social Business community has done a poor job defining what success looks like. We talk transformation, but we don’t describe it in a way that gets anyone excited. We’re like a bunch of pioneers on our way to California who never talk about why any of us should want to go there in the first place. And that could be why some among us have been sounding so pessimistic lately.

That needs to change. And fortunately it is changing. But it’s not the vendors or consultants that are creating the change. It’s the users. Organizations are transforming the way they operate. They are deploying social business tools and techniques to great success. And they’re doing so because they have to. It’s the only way for them to cope. And the fact is that they are in control of the puck now, not the Social Business vendor and analyst community.  We skated to where the puck would be, but users—large enterprises in particular—are in control of the puck. They are the ones defining success now.

So all of us Social Business vendors and analysts should know exactly where the net is located. It’s right behind us. Our customers are backing us into the net. I know that sounds a bit ass-backward, but that’s how evolution works. Evolution is an exercise in ass-backwardness, and this market is evolving quite quickly now. We’re being pushed by our customers backward into the net. And frankly, we’re beginning to look like a bunch of dorks. It’s time we all turn around and face the net. It’s time for a fresh round of listening to our customers.

So what are users saying to the Social Business community?  A look at some of the newer attendees of the E 2.0 conference lends some interesting clues.

For one, all of the major Unified Communications folks had a major presence at the conference this year. Their message was quite simple: social business collaboration tools need to be deployed as part of an enterprise’s overall communications strategy and infrastructure. Unified Communications (UC) is giving way to Unified Communications and Collaboration (UC&C), with social business collaboration being a core component of the UC&C stack. How do you think these vendors came up with this idea? Yup, they heard it from their customers. They’ve been told that compliance and security requirements need to apply to social collaboration in the same way they apply to other communication and collaboration activities in the enterprise. For those with a lot of experience working with large enterprises, it’s a pretty obvious requirement and one we better get our heads around fast.

HR business process folks also had a major presence at the conference this year. Their message was also quite simple: communication and collaboration need to happen “in the flow of work”—a phrase first coined by the Social Business community’s own Michael Idinopulos a few years ago. Where do you think they heard that? The same place Michael did—from customers. People want and need to communicate and collaborate as they perform their work, which is usually in the context of a business task—automated or otherwise. At the conference, Geoffrey Moore referred to this as live session collaboration, which in his opinion is the next major opportunity and challenge for the Social Business community. Whether that’s true or not, it’s easy to understand the benefits of making real-time communication and collaboration tools seamlessly accessible from within business applications, email included.

Social CRM advocates and Community Managers also turned out to the conference in large numbers. Their messages, too, were clear: stop erecting barriers between internal and external collaboration, and recognize that there is a science behind maximizing the effectiveness of enterprise communication and collaboration. Ignore these realities at your own peril. And yes, they, too, having been hearing this from users.

So what are users telling the market?  Integrate with how we operate. Don’t interrupt. Become part of the fabric. Follow our lead. We’re in control of things now.

What will customer-driven success look like? I suspect that activity stream monitors will begin to be proudly displayed in the lobby of every business in America (I’m only half joking). Certainly the press will begin to talk about social businesses in the same way it talks about Web businesses—huge disruptors to old-style businesses. Social Business management consulting practices will become highly strategic to all the large consulting firms. Tightly integrated, cross-enterprise Social Business collaboration tools will be as accessible and easy to use as a telephone. Visionary investors will make billions of dollars feeding this mega-trend through wise investments in the ecosystem.  Entrepreneurs will make wads of cash and blow it all on exotic sports cars.  And the government will institute a Social Business tax because social businesses will be the only ones making any money.

So that’s my vision of success for the Social Business community. What’s yours? If nothing else, I hope you have your skates on!

– Anthony Nemelka, CEO of Teleplace

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