Well-written use cases presented by prospective customers is a fantastic sign that a new technology space is becoming less immature – and this is definitely happening in the Enterprise 2.0 market. I’m excited by the scenarios that our prospects are presenting to us. They have well-defined business problems that they want to utilize social software to address. It’s a great step forward from the generic “we want to get social inside our company” we heard a couple years ago.
The ability to assemble teams around a new business challenge is a use-case that has flourished the past year. Whether it’s a pitch team for an advertising RFP, a launch team for a new product introduction, a cross-functional team investigating new market opportunities, or a consulting team for a new client – all of these scenarios share some core, common questions:
- “Who has worked with this client or customer before?”
- “Who knows their industry issues?”
- “Who has expertise and experience in specific technical skill XYZ?”
- “Who is a well-regarded thought leader in issue XYZ?”
And so on.
Most people presume that using enterprise social networking to assemble teams inside a company would be based on a LinkedIn or Facebook type of model, but we don’t find that practical.
Let me explain why.
Facebook and LinkedIn are symmetric networks based on mutual “friending.” Symmetry in those social networks works because it strengthens intimacy and increases confidence to share. But because corporate social networks need to be transparent, you can see everyone that a colleague friends anyway, making this model less useful. It can cause corporate networks to devolve into what I call the “VP Trading Card collection game.” (See my post, Will you be my friend – yes or no?). In other words, you friend people for reasons of status; not because they’re the right people to help you get your work done and serve customers.
More importantly, most people logically assume that the way to make sure you can find people with the right attributes (answers to the above questions) is to ensure that their profiles are rich and thoroughly populated. Unfortunately, this relies on people filling out dozens of profile fields, most of which they might not update after their first day on the job. Consequently, what I do and what you say about me trumps what I say about myself.
Socialtext People, our profile capability, takes a different approach for some important philosophical and strategic reasons.
- What I say about myself (my profile) is really just an “opening bid.”
- What others say about me (Tags on my profile and how my colleagues interact with me in the Activity Stream) is much more interesting
- What I DO (my activity stream generated by my in-the-flow-of-work actions) is the MOST relevant set of information about me – what I do, what I say, who I work with, and on which topics
Vote with my attention, not my politics
Moreover, we’ve adopted an ASYMMETRIC social networking model (ie Twitter’s “follow” instead of Facebook’s “friend” model) – anyone can follow me, and I don’t need to “approve” them. And I can follow anyone. This leads to a much more scalable network for the transmission of signals with much less noise (See Tim O’Reilly’s excellent post Goodreads vs. Twitter: The Benefits of Asymmetric Follow). It also avoids funky unintended political behavior (see my post A different kind of social capital at work – Attention especially for a humor interlude from Geek ‘n Poke).
For example, if a VP of marketing limits his or her network to other VPs and senior directors, that person might miss out on some valuable information or knowledge held by someone lower in the organizational hierarchy. So if that marketing VP was working on, say, a strategy to reach new markets in Asia, they may want to start following someone in business development or the new sales rep based in China. These other colleagues may not be as “powerful” as the Marketing VP, but their updates may be far more relevant to what that VP is working on.
It’s these kinds of connections that can lead to the elimination of silos and true business transformation inside a company.