Tuesday, June 17, 2008


Even more untold perspectives on social networking within large enterprises

It is important to noodle the concept of social distance before embracing social networking...

Many folks who participate in social networking are intuitive thinkers who rely less on process and/or distillation and more on vibes they feel. Wiki's are great tools to harness the thinking of this demographic, but may be sub-optimal for those who prefer more structure or guidance.

Many people within large enterprises when running across an unfamilar concept especially when it is paradigm shifting can sometimes gather that it is important and even relevant, but may struggle to understand why it is relevant. In order to make social networking truly an enabler and not just another unmanaged repository, enterprises need to spend more time on understanding its own social computing architecture before thinking about how to leverage social networking technologies.

Enterprises have well-defined business processes that sometimes aren't well documented. Some would conclude that Wikis are great for this challenge. None, however take the time to understand the process of communication and how information is best shared. The answers to this question isn't something that can be known in advance and even differs amongst enterprises of the same size, business vertical and geographic region.

Let's acknowledge that enterprises do a great job of producing documentation that sits on shelves. Are we successful if we manage to get 100K pages of information onto a Wiki? Publishing is easy, consumption is the challenge. Likewise, enterprises are caught in the trap of analogies and best practices where they will attempt to leverage the phenonena of the blogosphere and twist it to fit their own needs. Reality says that what works on the consumer side doesn't necessarily fly as an internal corporate tool.

Have you noticed that when a project is in trouble from a perception management perspective, folks tend to blame their tools? Just as a poor mechanic may blame his/her tools, the problem with social networking in large enterprises is that the problem may not lie in technology but in the nature of the business. Some enterprisey architects will think they have the answer to this dilemma by stealing pages from the business process management folks and think about taxonomies, classification schemes, roadmaps and so on.

One worst practice in enabling social networking is emerge with something that feels top-down and hierarchical. If you haven't read the Cluetrain Manifesto then you may want to understand that hyperlinks subvert hierarchy. BPM attempts to organize people and their work hierarchically where consumers within your enterprise tend to be more organic and go about learning, sharing and collaborating bottom-up.

Process weenies the PMI crowd results in something that will further increase the likelyhood of mediocrity. Focus has to be less on keeping the project running on time than adjusting scope to deal with the real challenges. Social networking sometimes requires folks to rethink their game.

One of the biggest challenges is finding a politically correct way to account for generational differences without landing in HR. The enterprise is filled with folks in positions of power who grew up without computers and Gen Y works who have been connected since kindergartner. Are you going to leave it to chance that these two demographics figure it out on their own in a timely manner or should something more deliberate occur to enable the value proposition of social networking within large enterprises...

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