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A contract for the social enterprise

In the exceedingly important field of social media, the social enterprise is learning it's not about the tools -- it's about how you use them.

Readers who have longed to read the words of 17th-century English philosopher Thomas Hobbes in the pages of Business Information, this is your opportunity.

In this issue, IT analyst and columnist Joshua Greenbaum cites Hobbes in his discussion of "social collaboration," or using social networking technology to share information and work together. Not that Hobbes ever considered the notion of AIM, Twitter or the like, but he did discuss the way people use social tools and collaborate. Sort of.

Greenbaum echoes Hobbes, arguing "that ruthless competition, not congenial cooperation, was the dominant behavioral paradigm of an innately selfish species." This is true, and because of that, the philosopher said, society needed a strong central authority to survive.

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Similarly, today's "social enterprise," Greenbaum writes, "craves a centralizing governing force." There are two ways to look at this point. First, social tools have historically become mainstream through grass-roots means. No IT manager decided it was time to install AOL Instant Messenger on desktops -- until users made AIM a de facto standard tool by downloading it themselves and making it an essential office tool.

But second, no business can fully harness the power of collaboration by letting users decide for themselves what tools they can use willy-nilly, especially if the success of the business is at stake. So that "centralizing governing force" has to work with the users to find tools they will use, and, more quietly, set policies for that use and create the means to measure how the collaboration effort is delivering value both to the business and its customers.

Then, the process requires patience. "When you're connecting with people, building relationships, you have to invest for quite a while to see return," says Rachel Happe of the Community Roundtable, a consultancy that helps organizations create social media strategies, in this issue's feature story on how organizations are cashing in on social media initiatives.

More to the point, writes executive editor Lauren Horwitz, a successful social enterprise collaboration strategy requires the organization itself to work more collaboratively by bringing all relevant departments to the table in the development phase, meeting early and often and ensuring that social media strategies align with business needs.

"It's about having all the stakeholders in the room to collaborate and design that strategy together across the organization," says Victor Gaxiola, social media director at Actiance, an integrated social networking platform provider.

So Hobbes was right, at least in this case. In the end, successful enterprises are the sum of the cooperation between their leaders and their employees, partners and customers. If your organization is deficient in that? "In such condition there is no place for industry, because the fruit thereof is uncertain."

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