I recently pulled together some thoughts for the Social Business Edge conference "slam", and since I have not heard back (and in fact will be in Bay Area most of that week for our next social media roundtable), I figured I'd share and use this as a kick off to my new "mini" blog. As always, comments/thoughts/questions welcome! - Allen
Social media and Web 2.0 approaches have enabled some remarkable new online businesses like Facebook. And helped a growing number of organizations better share information, cultivate their brands and even support their customers. But if we take a step back, and take a more historical view on what we are seeing, a lot of what looks to be shiny and new is in fact an evolution of what has been transpiring in media and computing and business over the past several decades.
This broader perspective, and a renewed effort to see how the “new stuff” – channels, models and behaviors – can borrow from or force change on the “old stuff” is to me where we need to focus as a community. Or at least keep an eye on or risk missing the lessons of previous waves of technology adoption and substitution economics. Of course once we start to look at the impact of social on existing business models, and enterprise applications, and devices, and consumer expectations, and behavior, things can get a bit tricky. But this rigor is good – and necessary to truly tap the potential of social business models.
So where should we focus once we reject the “creationist view” of social media in favor of an evolutionary one?
First, we should question how much social alternatives will really change the long-term use and viability of existing channels. For example, if the costs of content production and distribution approach zero, are all traditional publishing businesses really dead? Or will some (many?) media companies evolve their models to leverage the new economics and emerge as more focused, innovative and profitable social businesses? We also need to factor the idea of “trust” into this equation as well. Who will consumers really trust to hold their data or provide their news and advice in this new world?
Second, the path from social media to Enterprise 2.0 will not be as smooth or direct as many pundits think. Using communities and social networking for customer facing processes seems like a slam dunk. But few companies are using Web 2.0 tools for core business processes like finance or purchasing, as many tools, data models and even trust models from the consumer world don’t fit the enterprise mindset and IT stack. Where will social business find its beachhead? And where will it be a tough sell?
Third, while it’s easy to get (initially) excited about the latest apps like Google Buzz and cross-over devices like the iPad, I fear we are losing the battle over style vs. substance. Good design serves up emotion and utility. For social business, utility must come first. The evolution from desktop computing to mobile devices to perhaps specialty “terminals” for the Cloud provides some lessons for the next social-enabled devices. Is location the missing piece? Or maybe voice? Or is it single purpose-ness and simplicity?
Looking forward to project the future of social business is essential. But so is looking back.