Some organisations see the implementation of a social business strategy and having a Facebook page as being two sides of the same coin. In situations where you are not working for a business-to-consumer organisation you might therefore ask yourself why having a presence on Facebook is a useful proposition for time and money to be invested in. Thinking this way is to confuse Social Media with Social Business.
Social Media is all around us. It’s Twitter, Facebook, 4Square, Klout and all those other systems which proliferate at present. Some will succeed, most will fail. Most of these systems are seen by people over the age of 40 as being “so what” systems. As Douglas Adams so wryly pointed out in The HitchHiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, anything invented after you’ve reached the age of 40 seems to be against the natural order of things.
Social Business, however, is about breaking down the barriers which every organisation has, to foster a culture of openness and sharing. People narrating their work through micro blogging or by contributing to forums and idea blogs is not them wasting their time but in fact is them pulling that tacit knowledge they walk out the door with every night into explicit which the rest of the organisation can share.
Andrew McAfee at last week’s IBM LoLA conference reminded us what Lew Platt at HP said “If only we knew what we know at HP”. He realised what many other managers are beginning to realise – that inside their organisation lies unknown and untapped a vast treasure of knowledge, know-how and best practice. If tapped, this information could drop millions to the bottom line and yield huge gains in speed, customer satisfaction and organisational competence.
Many have implemented intranets to try to address this need. Intranets are like email – vast siloes of information which is poorly indexed, often out of date, has little context and is often structured in a way which made sense to the HR department because they had an organisation tree which they based the structure on.
A Social Business system, however, encourages and rewards the freewill sharing of information through business processes and the usual run of work. By integrating your organisation’s business practices, knowledge capture, file sharing and day to day operations you make the collection of what you “know” an automatic process. That tacit information – the individual pieces of the corporate jigsaw we all hold which, if we all got together to put them together would mean we would all see the big picture – gets turned into explicit information just by us doing our jobs. It doesn’t take data evangelists or heroes to religiously share and collaborate – you just make the process of working and collaborating part of every day life at work and reward the end user by them discovering things they didn’t already know without them havign to go hunting.
At Seric Systems we have embraced this approach. IBM Connections is now the core and hub of our organisation. It’s the go-to place for any information. We “gamify” the pursuit of knowledge capture and enjoy the discoveries our colleagues bring us on a daily basis. We’re just taking the next step along the road, however: bringing our customers and business partners into the system.
Many folks reading this would think it a risk thing to do. In fact, it has begun paying dividends for us. We encourage our customers and partners to comment on the same information we comment on ourselves. We seek feedback and their experiences with technologies and situations we are debating internally. Do you know what the result is? Some absolutely brilliant and insightful feedback and tacit knowledge has been shared by a sphere of users who were previously external to our organisation. Fresh ideas, fresh perspectives and a greatly strengthened bond with our customers and partners is the result.
Sure we still have some “Seric only” areas for “personal” stuff, but the business-as-usual stuff is open for our friends to participate in.
Let me finish with an anecdote. When I was young I used to take a short ferry trip across the River Clyde in Glasgow to visit my grandparents. The highlight of the ten minute ride was a trip to the viewing gallery of the engine room. The huge pistons and workings of the engines of the ferry were a constant source of amazement and awe to an eight-year-old boy. Why did they make the engine room visible? So that people could understand and appreciate how the ferry worked. Imaging making your engine room visible and better still encourage participation with your trusted partners. How much more would they understand of your business and how much better would working with them be?
Social Business, therefore, is not about the latest social media buzz system or fad. Its about a fundamental change in your organisation to let your customers and partners participate in your engine room for better business outcomes.