Tag Archives: social_software

The Seven “C”s of Social Interaction

letter-cWith all the hoopla around social media and software these days, I thought it might be useful to remember that there are some basic tenets that apply to social interaction, whether it occurs online or in a face-to-face setting. I’ll label those principles “The Seven “C”s of Social Interaction. They include:

Conversations: All social interaction is a conversation between two or more individuals. One person may dominate the conversation by speaking more than listening, but the most useful conversations generally occur between participants that are engaged in both modes. The conversation can be a one-to-one or one-to-many exchange.

Continuum: Social interaction takes place at a specific point along a continuum of time and information flow. Some conversations occur over an extended period of time, while others are brief, isolated exchanges. We are not part of all conversations in the continuum; we move in and out of specific conversations and the flow in general.

Container: Social interaction happens within a container. That may be a physical place such as a convention hall or a friend’s house. The conversation might take place in a digital space such as a threaded discussion area or an instant messaging application. The container might even digitize elements of physical interaction in a digital realm, such as in a virtual world.

Community: Social interaction most often takes place in context of a specific community. That might be a community of interest (e.g skiers, nuclear physicists) or one of purpose (i.e. project team, supporters of a charity). Communities may be pre-defined or self-forming. Communities may host scheduled events that serve as the locus of conversation or the dialog may be distributed over time but within a specific space (see Continuum and Container above.)

Currency: Most social interaction takes place because one participant desires something that another has. In order to obtain the desired object, information, feeling, or whatever, the participant that wants it has to trade some form of currency with its holder. That currency may be actual or promised information, action, recognition, or money. The type and amount of currency traded is negotiated during one or more conversations.

Credibility: The ability to get what one wants as a result of a conversation depends, in part, on the level of credibility previously established with the other participants (as well as the currency offered.) The more successful social interactions one has, in which promises are fulfilled and the other participants’ expectations are met, the more credible one becomes. Greater credibility leads to improved capability to achieve desired outcomes in future interactions.

Connectivity: One of the results of social interaction is that new contacts are made and existing relationships are refreshed. The more interactions in which we participate, the more connections we form, and the larger and stronger our network becomes. Being well-connected leads to an increased ability to deliver what someone else wants, improved currency with which to barter, and enhanced credibility. There is also an additional meaning in the context of online interactions; one must have access to a good physical communication network in order to participate in the conversation.

This list is my first attempt at codifying what I believe are the most important elements of social interaction — online or physical — into a simple framework. The ideas presented here are synthesized from many sources, and I don’t pretend to be an expert on any of the individual components. However, I can attest to the power of each based on the number and quality of the physical and online social interactions that I have participated in over the course of my life.

I will continue to refine and expand the framework, but wanted to publish it now to generate discussion and feedback. Please let me know what you think by leaving a comment. I will be grateful for your constructive criticism and suggestions for refinements.

The Zen of Enterprise 2.0

With this post, I am doing something I’ve never before seriously considered — featuring content from another person’s blog. Not that I’m against such an endorsement in principle. The truth is, I don’t recall ever reading someone else’s take on a subject that I didn’t want to reshape. Until now.

I was led to this powerful post by Frederic Baud via a tweet from someone I follow on Twitter. Frederic absolutely nails why large organizations are not likely to succeed if and when they attempt to adopt social software — they haven’t (and probably won’t) make the shift in mindset that is the hallmark of Enterprise 2.0.

Enterprise 2.0 — like it’s mother, Web 2.0 — is more of a philosophy than a thing (i.e. software). It is a way of being for an organization. Until established companies adopting social software understand that, they are likely to fail in those efforts. Newly formed organizations are more likely to embrace and successfully demonstrate the Enterprise 2.0 model, disrupting legacy companies that are unable to make the paradigm shift so eloquently described by Frederic.

If you’re in charge of an Enterprise 2.0 project, do yourself a favor. Read Frederic’s post today and more than once, if possible. Then take it to heart.

Why We Struggle With Social Software ROI

money_bag_with_dollar_signOne of the prominent themes in any discussion of social software in the enterprise is Return on Investment (ROI). I opined in a previous post that all too often ROI is a hurdle put in place by opponents of a project to prevent it from happening or succeeding. I also said that organizations that have collaboration hardwired into their culture understand and accept the value of social software without a demonstration of ROI. Conversely, even a reasonable, positive ROI projection isn’t likely to get a proposed social software project approved in an organization that doesn’t “get” collaboration. I stand by those statements and have another observation to add:

The primary reason organizations are struggling with ROI in social software is because they have little or no idea what they want to accomplish by using it. There’s no link to business strategy and tactics.

To calculate ROI, one must define specific, measurable metrics, for which annual financial benefits can be projected out over 3-5 years. The rub is in developing the metrics. Defining appropriate metrics requires knowing what the organization wants to accomplish by making an investment. We all know this. Yet too many seem to forget this basic principle of ROI when contemplating an initial social software project. They get caught up in the hype of the newest fad and forget that technology must be deployed in support of a well-defined strategic goal or objective. They focus on the “soft” benefits of social software use that are widely communicated today instead of on how using social software in support of a specific business strategy or tactic can lead to revenue increases and cost reductions in the business.

Before you and your organization get too enamored with the shiny new toys presented by social software, or get caught up in the hype cycle, take a step back and ask questions like:

  • What specific strategic imperative(s) could be enabled by social software?
  • Where could social software help us increase revenue and/or reduce operating costs?
  • Why are some of our employees using social software despite our reservations about it?
  • Who might we be able to create new and valuable business relationships with by using social software?
  • What differentiation for our company and it’s offering(s) could be built using social software?
  • How could social software be used to increase trust inside and outside of our organization?

The answers provided by asking these kinds of questions will provide the purpose behind your social software project and investment. Knowing the purpose will make it possible to define metrics that can be quantified in dollars (or whatever currency your organization operates in) and demonstrate potential ROI.

Are you having trouble defining questions that reveal your organization’s purpose for investing in social software? Please contact me so we can discuss ways that I can help.

Gilbane 2008 Boston Observations


I had the pleasure of attending the Gilbane 2008 Conference in Boston this week. It was the first conference that I’ve participating in for quite some time, and I was strongly reminded of a salient reality of such events:

Conference attendees from end user organizations (not analysts, consultants, or vendors) are there because they seriously need guidance.

The Gilbane conference was advertised as being focused on the intersection of Enterprise Content Management (ECM) and Web/Enterprise 2.0. In reality, discussion of social software and social media nearly drowned out any talk about ECM. Many of the attendees had sound knowledge of, and experience with, ECM tools, but knew very little about social software and media. They were starved for education and strategic guidance. The conference provided some education, but more is needed, and there is a huge opportunity to help organizations figure out why and how they should be using social software and media.

Here are some other key observations I took away from the conference, in no particular order:

  • Most people don’t realize that they are users of social software nearly every day and express the opposite
  • The word “Twitter” is on nearly everyone’s lips, but most don’t understand the unique value produced by microstreaming
  • Social software and media vendors have sewn an incredible amount of confusion in the market, which will ultimately inhibit their success
  • A large majority of end user organizations don’t understand how social software and media can be used to support business strategy
  • Without a defined strategic purpose for using social software and media, most organizations don’t know which tools to use and why
  • Many organizations have not differentiated between internal and external use cases when developing collaboration strategy
  • Most attendees were very concerned about how to demonstrate ROI on social software and media, because it is an increasingly important checkpoint in these awful economic times

The implication of these observations should excite any analyst or consultant operating in the collaboration and KM arena — the current potential opportunity to assist end user organizations is HUGE! On the flip side, if you are involved in introducing social software or media to your organization and are feeling lost at sea, you’re not alone.

There are people out there who are beginning to understand the strategic use of these emergent tools, but they need to develop clear conceptual frameworks, adoption and use data, and strategic guidance so they can better assist the mainstream business world.

Social software and media are early in their life cycle. It’s up to all of us that are involved with it now to advance the market toward, and past, the tipping point. Onward, ho!

Social Software: The Unemployed Knowledge Worker’s Best Friend

layoff-headlineReading headline after headline announcing new job cuts has sparked some thought regarding what’s different between this nascent recession and the last economic slowdown of the early 1990s.  Several things, to be sure, but the most important one may be the ability of the unemployed knowledge worker to connect with others to mine employment and new business opportunities.

I predict that we will remember the the 2008-2009 recession as the time when the public availability of free social software proved to be the unemployed knowledge worker’s best friend and savior.  And, perhaps, the global economy’s as well.

When I was laid off in 2003, after the Internet bubble burst, I had several tools with which to stay connected with my professional and social networks.  Telephone and e-mail were the primary communication vehicles, of course.  Instant messaging wasn’t as pervasive then as it is today, but I used it to stay in touch with a few people in my network.  The best method to network was — and still is — by meeting with someone face-to-face.  In fact, it was an in-person conversation that triggered the chain of events that lead to my employment at IBM in 2004.

Knowledge workers in this economic downturn have all of those tools available, plus several more.  Online profiles (LinkedIn, Facebook, MySpace), blogs, microstreaming (Twitter, FriendFeed), content sharing (GoogleDocs, Box.net), bookmarking (Del.icio.us, Digg), and other species of social software have greatly increased our ability to stay connected and work with others in our professional and social networks.

As I’ve noted previously on this blog, we rely less and less on employers to provide the communication and collaboration tools needed to connect and work with others.  That’s great news for those who have, or are about to, become unemployed!  Knowledge workers in 2008 have so many more ways to mine their contacts to find regular or contract employment compared to those who lost jobs five years ago.  The ability of unemployed knowledge workers to explore business ideas and start new ventures has also been increased by the public availability of free social software.

I am optimistic that the current recession, as painful as it will be, will breed the kinds of opportunities that will leave all of us better off in the long run.  There is one caveat to my optimistic outlook though.  If you haven’t been maintaining and building your professional and social networks all along, your ability to leverage them to find employment or start a business will be very limited.  It’s not too late to start building networks now via social software, but don’t expect to harvest immediately from a plot that you’ve just sown.

Is Your Head in the Cloud?


We most often use the term “cloud computing” in the context of applications — Software as a Service (SaaS) if you will.  Venkatesh Rao of the Xerox Innovation Group has coined a new term, “cloudworker”, which humanizes our concept of the cloud.  On his blog, RibbonFarm.com, Venkatesh defines a cloudworker as:

“the prototypical information worker of tomorrow.  He overachieves or coasts remotely, collaborates or backstabs virtually, and delivers his gold or garbage to a shifting long-tail micro-market defined only by his own talents or lack thereof.  The cloudworker manages personal microbrand equity and network social capital rather than a career.  Over a lifetime, through recessions and bubbles, he navigates fluidly back and forth between traditional paycheck employment, slash-work and full, untethered-to-health-insurance free agency.”

Venkatesh’s vision of a cloudworker meshes nicely with my views on Work 2.0, the changed and continuously shifting contract between employees and employers.  I’m undecided on the vialibility of the term that he has minted — I think cloudworker is too strongly tied to the cloud computing fad of the moment — but I’m highly sympathetic to the notion of knowledge workers shifting between regular employment, freelance work, and anything in between.  I have made those shifts several times in the last ten years and anticipate doing so again during my career.

The piece of Venkatesh’s definition of a cloudworker that resonates most strongly with me is his statement that “the cloudworker manages personal microbrand equity and network social capital rather than a career.”  In other words, building a strong network of colleagues in your area of expertise, developing your reputation within that network, and leveraging those relationships and their perception of your reputation is more important to work success than trying to climb the career ladder in an organization.

As I said in the initial post on this blog, “I have reached a point where the benefits of being an employee of an organized, legal entity (a corporation) and my ability to collaborate with others to address business opportunities and issues — independent of my employment — have reached equilibrium.  My employer offers some very attractive compensations for my client-facing work, namely a salary and strong benefits package.  However, I no longer rely exclusively on IBM for channels through which I can collaborate with others.  I can work and innovate with, learn from, influence, and lead others without that organizational affiliation, largely thanks to the Internet and social software.”

So, to me, Work 2.0 is about more than just the cloud.  Yes, the Internet is a critical enabler of the emerging way of working, but it is not the primary one.  People are always more important than technology.  The key to Work 2.0 is collaboration — specifically, the building of a solid network of peers and interacting with them to identify and respond to business opportunities.

Culture Trumps ROI

Talk about signs of the times!  Lately, there’s been a rapidly growing number of posts declaring the need to demonstrate return on investment (ROI) in social software, but lamenting our inability to do so.  Just today, I read three posts on the topic and noted that a fellow IBMer has launched an internal virtual event to brainstorm the issue and potential solutions.

My take on ROI of social software is pretty much along the lines of Jon Mell’s and Gia Lyons’ — don’t bother!  Trying to demonstrate business value created by the deployment and use of collaboration tools, regardless of what label we use to describe them, is a misguided effort.  Too much of the evidence is anecdotal and difficult, if not impossible, to translate into credible and compelling currency amounts.

I spent too much time around the Millennium trying to devise clever ways to show ROI on investments in software that supported knowledge management.  I learned that it is fruitless to try to sell collaboration technology to an organization that does not want to collaborate — or is not ready to do so.  Those types of organizations are very likely to demand a detailed business case demonstrating ROI on social software, or any other collaboration technology.  It’s one of the ways they can maintain status quo and kill grassroots efforts to improve collaboration.

So let’s not spend countless manhours trying to develop metrics that will help us demonstrate ROI in social software.  Better to spend the time, energy, and money qualifying and quantifying potential customers’ willingness and readiness to collaborate.  Knowledge audits, Social Network Analysis, and other consulting services are what we should be selling to organizations that don’t understand the instrinsic value that collaboration software can produce.  No business case will sell social software to a firm that doesn’t already value collaboration in its culture.