Excerpt from Transform: How Leading Companies are Winning with Disruptive Technology by Christopher Morace.
Social can seem like yet another distraction. People often dismiss the value of social in the enterprise because the way social is used in the consumer space can seem trivial and even ridiculous: Had a great sandwich today! George checked in at Madison Square Garden,etc. Regardless of a person’s interest in Foursquare or Facebook, however, social technology is unique and has several characteristics that distinguish it from any other communication technology we have ever seen.
Since the beginning of time, work has been social. Companies are social institutions because they consist of people. And people need to communicate. Many of the U.S.’s earliest businesses were general stores with prominent locations on a small town’s Main Street. The owner of that general store was in constant communication with his or her employees on the shop floor. If he wanted to give instructions to the stock boy or coworkers, he didn’t tack instructions on the wall. Instead, he tapped an employee on the shoulder and spoke to him. When the shop owner chatted with townspeople in the store, he found out which new products customers wanted and heard complaints or compliments. Communication was direct, simple, and ongoing.
Now that users are connected to one another all the time, we are more dependent on each other. We work in teams and across geographies. This radically increases the need for group productivity and social software. Not surprisingly, improvements to personal productivity (like a new version of Microsoft Office) have little impact on an enterprise’s overall productivity because they don’t impact how we work with each other.
One of Facebook’s biggest insights – now part of the definition of social – is that users have a need for passive versus active sharing. When people sent e-mails or shared photos over e-mail, it was understood that the recipient would open and reply to the message. This put a burden on the recipient. Facebook’s engineers, who built technologies like News Feed, realized that giving people an option to share in a way that doesn’t require a response is appealing to most people. Facebook allows users to “throw stuff out there” and other users to decide whether or not they want to view or respond to the information.
Social communication, similarly, lowers the bar for communication in the enterprise by making it acceptable to share information in less formal ways. Enterprise news feeds, for instance, are a simple and efficient way for people to share information in a company. They also encourage people within organizations to share information more readily. Companywide memos require a lot of work and must be perfect; because the bar is high, most organizations don’t produce many of them. When people post something on a social news feed, however, they understand that not everyone in the enterprise will read it and that viewers don’t expect postings to be highly detailed or perfectly composed. Differing expectations for this kind of communication means that people are more likely to share information frequently.