Understanding “Social” in the Enterprise

As social media platforms continue to expand on the internet … with record numbers flocking to places like FaceBook, YouTube and Twitter … many are still trying to figure out what it all means to the enterprise.

Marketing, Sales and Customer Service organizations are exploring possibilities in terms of customer contact.

But what can social technology do for employees, those working inside the firewall?

Unpacking this is no small task. Even grasping the concept of social media can be challenging. The example of a “virtual cocktail party” is still sometimes used to explain the interactive dynamic, but if you’re a CIO, you’ll need more than that to get traction with the Executive team.

In two recent posts, I introduced notion of the Connected Organization and talked about a concept popularized by Gossieaux (2010) called the knowledge network. In both posts, we touched on McAfee’s thought process in Enterprise 2.0 (2009) and our need to shift the traditional discussion of knowledge as a static “thing” (to be captured, stored, and managed) to a more organic vision, built around fostering the flow of insights.

To make social work in the enterprise, we need a viable operational model for social, one that’s embedded as part of our day to day. To me, it’s about

  • creating opportunities for new conversations to spark
  • creating places where new relationships can form and grow
  • fostering the flow of insights
  • connecting people across organizational silos

Ultimately, it’s about generating new ideas to advance projects, expand professional interests, and improve how work gets done across the enterprise.

Fundamentally, it’s about unlocking collaboration.

One challenge social technologies face in the enterprise is the required cultural shift, changing our mindset from the structured and controlled exchange of information to an approach that’s more fluid and organic. Most companies still live by the industrial factory model approach, with its hierarchies, silos of experts, and rigid prescriptions on how work gets done. This model is good for many things, especially if you’re manufacturing widgets, but it can close the door on new ideas.

Some see “social business” as a way to describe the future. It’s not a bad frame, but the social reference may keep causing friction with C-Levels when we need it least … during the early stages of adoption. To me, if business must speak “social” we’re better served discussing new collaborative capabilities and the technologies needed to support them, creating a roadmap for the integration of social platforms.

We’ll continue to explore these key challenges here.

Meantime, as leaders, we need to find better ways to let people to do what people do best … connect, organize, learn … and innovate.

As I said in my last post, Ciber sees a coming convergence between the practice of Knowledge Management (KM) and enterprise social networking, focusing on new levels of collaborative capability. We need workspaces for working together that are better integrated.

It’s time for CIO’s to take a hard look at what’s possible with social technologies inside the firewall. Leave the party planning on FaceBook. It’s the 21st century. We’ve got work to do.


Gossieaux, Francois and Ed Moran (2010) The Hyper-Social Organization New York: McGraw Hill McAfee, Andrew (2009). Enterprise 2.0. Boston: HBS Publishing

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