Does the Social Web Benefit any Organization? Absolutely - If they are Smart

John Brunswick

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Keywords: enterprise 2.0, social web, open innovation, innovation

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Can any organization, regardless of their business vertical, benefit from the adoption of social technologies? Absolutely.

Peter Evans-Greenwood recently authored a thought-provoking post entitled "The myth of the inevitability of social organisations", proposing that the majority of organizations will only gain marginal benefits from social technologies. Peter makes a series of insightful observations, but misses an opportunity to expand the examination of how Enterprise 2.0 can be used to enable benefits for even seemingly mundane business verticals.

Peter states that "Today’s business are built around the concept of managing a central asset. This asset might be a factory, it might be a fleet of trucks, the deposits from a community of investors, it might be the methodology and tools a skilled team use, or it might be a brand.... the nature of many businesses that exist today will limit the utility of these tools. Until we change that we can expect E2.0 etc to provide a lot of benefit to a few companies, but little benefit to the majority."

Facebook and Twitter may garner the attention of popular media, but an entire world of Enterprise 2.0 platforms are enabling businesses to succeed behind the scenes.

Take the Social Web Inward
Thinking of social technologies exclusively in the realm of customer service within popular commercial web networks definitely limits the utility that is available for any business. If most business have a single central asset, they can benefit from

  1. refining the delivery of that asset to their respective customers / interactions with business partners
  2. delegating non-core functions to experts to allow them to maintain focus on their core processes

Open Innovation and Crowdsourcing excel in helping businesses, regardless of size or vertical. They are examples of creative thinking powered by Enterprise 2.0 strategies that can supply value to any organization. They can have a significant, sometimes even breakthrough impact, in some of what might be considered to be the least social business verticals.

Many now speculate about the real value of these newfound approaches to providing services to business, but after a wave of initial hype (Wikinomics: How Mass Collaboration Changes Everything & McKinsey's The next step in open innovation), a few concrete examples of success stand out. Organizations like 99 Designs and Innocentive leverage Enterprise 2.0 strategies and have broadened access to skills unavailable at certain organizations prior.

99 Designs is an example of services via Enterprise 2.0 strategy, whereas Innocentive offers potentially game-changing breakthroughts through an Enterprise 2.0 strategy. It is critical to note that neither of these approaches require any sort of "new new" technology either. Access to them simply requires an awareness of innovative socially-powered offerings and perspective on how each one can be leveraged - even to an organization that may never find itself within the pages of Facebook.

Even Trucks and Factories Benefit
How does this relate to a factory or truck fleet? These business always have room for improvement and Open Innovation / Crowdsourcing facilitated by Enterprise 2.0 technologies can provide them access to world class talent to solve incredibly difficult issues that have the potential, once solved to drastically accelerate their businesses.

Let's consider the relationship of Zappos (a industry legend in the area of using social technologies to create an excellent customer experience) with some of their suppliers and how they both can benefit from social technology

"Think of the contract manufacturers who make the clothing that Zappos sells, or the outsourcers who run the supply chains to and from Zappos’ warehouse. These companies are trying to sweat an asset – the factory or a fleet of trucks and planes – and are usually chasing costs, often by moving to second or third world countries where wages are lower, or by automating first world jobs."

This is actually exactly where and why additional capabilities of Enterprise 2.0 can supply benefits to enable organizations searching for cost reduction in manufacturing processes, supply chain and automation to reach talent that would otherwise be too costly or not provide a diverse enough range of abilities to creatively solve a problem.

If an organization has 100 employees, all focused on tending a central asset, it will be difficult to grow by way of new perspectives and or deliver on projects outside of their core competency (marketing, branding, etc) - Enterprise 2.0 broadens their capabilities, enabling them to hedge against competitors and drive up margin in their business.

Enterprise 2.0 Expands the Boards of any Company
E2.0 is not in and of itself a solution. It simply provides a series of collaborative and communicative constructs to act as an enabler. This enabler can benefit any type of organization, specifically focusing on enhancing their core capabilities, regardless of industry vertical. Crowd Sourcing and Open Innovation are two examples of Enterprise 2.0 capabilities being effectively leveraged outside of the realm of social networking.

The Social Web gave birth to Enterprise 2.0, now Enterprise 2.0 is giving back to the social web in the form of innovative business services, born from a social heritage.


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Stewart Higgins

The power of professional networking cannot be underestimated, both internally and externally. In my experience, the further 'up the ladder' you go towards C-level execs, the more benefit those individuals can get from sites such as LinkedIn that allow people to build networks and groups for knowledge sharing. With the popularisation of FB, MySpace etc etc, it seems crazy to me that any company would not want to allow it's staff to network with each other, if for no other reason than to create a more friendly working environment, not to mention the benefits of your staff knowing what their colleagues do and who they can call on if they need information!

Stewart Higgins
Intranet Expert
Intranet Software
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John Brunswick


Excellent point regarding LinkedIn. It would be interesting to look at how many businesses that do not face the general population directly are currently engaged there. It is an excellent opportunity for them to benefit from working with potential business partners and generally community within their vertical.

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Peter Evans-Greenwood


Thanks for the kind reference!

It's funny, but folk think that I see no value in E2.0 when it's actually the opposite. However, I am pouring cold water of the idea of E2.0 "inverting the business norms" as an "inevitable tsunami rushing through business." Though you make a good point that I missed "an opportunity to expand the examination of how Enterprise 2.0 can be used to enable benefits for even seemingly mundane business verticals", though that was due to time more than desire.

So, hitting the last point first, I agree that there's many situations where E2.0 can add a lot of value by improving communication in business. A great example is plugging E2.0 into LEAN, which already promotes a bottom-up problem solving attitude (check out my post on people embracing change if you want the story). I also like your example of using E2.0 (and social media in general) to leverage your team's extended network and crowd source ideas. As Sun was want to say, statistically, the smartest people don't work for your business.

One of the main points I was trying to get across in the article you referenced was the idea that these point solutions – while good and definitely worthwhile – do no constitute the social business revolution that many E2.0 and social business design pundit claim is inevitable. Rather than provide insight, it seems like they're just trying to scare your average business person in order to drum up business. "The world is ending, but if you listen to me then you will be saved!". The reality of many business is that they won't "transform their business into a social business": they don't need to nor will the nature of their business let them. Improving communication and organisational culture is one thing – inverting the power structure of your business is another.

That said, I do think that a big change is coming. This will be the result of a change in regulation that will remove the need for a company to be managed around (and valued by) a central asset. From an earlier post:

The most likely new foundation for business is the ability to mobilise stakeholders – from employees, through partners to customers and the market in general. Your value will be defined by your ability to make things happen, rather than the assets you own. This would be world where all costs are operationalized, and our businesses look more like World of Warcraft than the hierarchal command-and-control structures of old. You, as an organisation, will be measured on the strength of your organisation’s social graph. Social business design will be the first port of call when designing your new business, rather than the last.

However, this requires a major shift in the way we regulate and measure companies, so it's a big deal and will be some while coming.

All of the problems in this space seem to stem from the fact that the world many of the E2.0 pundits live in is not the real world. The reality of E2.0 is that it's being used to remove cost from businesses by delayering the org chart and eliminating people. The white collar office workers E2.0 was supposed to empower are being eliminated as E2.0 allows the c-suite to talk directly to the task workers at the front line. The big winners in this will be the task workers, if companies can actually realise that task workers can offer so much more to the business.


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