Technology is about expansion. And when new technology is introduced, it doesn’t go away. It stays. Some tech is meaningful for huge amounts of people. Some for just a few. All new technology finds it’s way along that spectrum.

It’s pretty easy to spot tech that will be widespread vs specialized. A hammer is immediately big. A Doctor’s hammer, immediately small. Both are really valuable.

SmurfsUnless you’ve lived it, it’s hard for most people to imagine just how desperate Enterprises are for something that saves them from cliche. It’s universally shitty being employee number 46,193. You quickly don’t care and you certainly don’t think you can change anything any more than you believe you can fix the government. It’s a globally understood, generalized pain that’s the very engine that drives Dilbert, The Office, and countless satire everywhere. The truth is, worker bees, managers and execs are bored reaching for the same tools the last 15 years. They’re sick of waking up and going into a real-world scenario filled with TPS Reports and the guy with the red Swingline stapler. They’re sick of being productivity integrators in the same way that as consumers we were sick of being system integrators during the reign of PC Economics. It’s not too funny when 80% of your day is spent in the Dilbert pool.

Given the enormity of this problem, enterprises are subconsciously kicking and screaming for the next big thing that gives some relief from all this and comes closer to making their work-life contemporary, as powerful and as fluid as the high-velocity consumer web they love at home. Do I think Social Business Software will flush Dilbert out of business? No way. Do I think it’s the next big thing Businesses will have on their desks everyday? Absolutely.  Unlike consumer tech that iterates so unbelievably quickly that it doesn’t even have a chance to Cross the Chasm wave, Enterprise tech won’t skip generations (from blogging to microblogging) because Social Business Software is a big enough macro-category that solves a big enough pain that it can host all sorts of innovation that lives within it.

To say that Enterprises won’t embrace this change, is ridiculously short-sighted. To say Enterprises will change as fast (or the way we want them to) is insanely selfish. A lot of pivoting and stalling occurs along the road to discovering how to chiropractically align people and product. But once that vibration is achieved everything seems like a foregone conclusion. Do you need CRM? It’s “duh” now, and was “maybe” ten years ago.

For some of you, this future feels like it will never come. If that’s you, look at how the world has responded to Apple, Wikipedia, and Google the last 10 years. Do you really think we’re talking about a long time? The toothpaste is out of the tube.

“What’s it for?” The Social Business Sinkhole says it’s Pivot Time.

The bigger question at the heart of all this is: What’s Social Business Software for? The industry has been aptly struggling to clearly answer this for years now. When early majority businesses outside of Silicon Valley look at this space, they see a lot of stuff that screams “don’t buy” because none of it clearly fits into their world and/or urgently solves the big problems that matter. And don’t forget, they’re still trying to learn the basics while a ton of us are already burnt out on the same old stories. We make it  hard on ourselves.

The longer it takes for us to communicate “what it’s for,” the longer it will take for Social Business to be on everyone’s desk. The longer we don’t match the pragmatism of the workplace– from what and how we sell, to the way customers want to buy, to the way they want to try it– the longer it will take for the required herds to form that pull the rest of the market forward. And, most importantly, this is a category that REQUIRES enterprises to understand and embrace an extremely significant change in their behavior (“so, how I DO Social Business?).”

We’re are deep in the sinkhole and it’s time to re-aim our efforts from geeks to golfers.  It’s pivot time. Time to climb the ladder: From targets, to messaging, to offerings, to pricing now is the time to re-focus, simplify and solve, solve, solve. There’s a big smelly delta between the sinkhole and a big, voracious market of customers. And there’s not much time.

Off the bat, here are some things that need to change:

  • Language: No matter how much we love it, the word “social” does not mean business. And what’s with the focus on “conversations?” It sounds like a self-help group.
  • Specific Targets: Pick some and understand how what you’re doing changes their everyday work life in a meaningful and measurable way.
  • Actions: Stop focusing on building destination silos and start focusing on building actions that match people’s jobs. Answer the question, “what do I do with it?” in a meaningful way that maps to department’s existing budgets.
  • Evangelism: This is your customer’s job now, not yours. Invest heavily in getting customer advocates. No one listens to you.
  • Radical Simplicity: If I see another vendor’s website trying to hit me over their head with their feature stick, I’m going to ralph. Can you imagine Apple spilling out a datasheet on the iPhone4? Get your engineers out of the way. I don’t want to hear what ingredients you have.
  • Elegance: When is the last time you tested your product to see how crazy-simple it was to use? To see how much people used the word LOVE when they used it? You have to be 10 times better than what they have today. Be immediately loved and immediately available or don’t be.
  • Envy: Create it.
  • Education: Who’s out there teaching Old School Companies how to be Social Businesses? Get granular.

I am out of the country for Enterprise 2.0 this year but I hope that this is the year that the industry pivots and quickly gets a playbook in place to go from geeks to golfers.

  • Chris Almond

    Hi Sam. Thanks for teeing up this great smack-upside-the-head for all the e2.0 astronauts converging on Boston this week :-)

    “this is a category that REQUIRES enterprises to understand and embrace an extremely significant change in their behavior”

    The CIO might love the ideals of e2.0. But I’m guessing after hearing a rep say something like that, the CIO would probably respond w/something like… “So for this to be worth it I need to give my company a lobotomy?”

    Meaningful e2.0 projects get off the ground in larger enterprises only after sponsors & management have some comfort level in knowing that the changes will be incremental, manageable – that they will complimentary to the “the pragmatism of the workplace”.

    The “extremely significant change” mantra is part of the secret sauce that I would keep under my hat – and draw inspiration from every day.

  • Pingback: Go Big Always – Social Business isn’t going anywhere. (What’s it for?) #E20 #E2Conf « My Thoughts Enclosed…

  • Ric

    Welcome back, Sam – good to hear your voice again!

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  • Jay Batson

    One of the issues that faces companies doing this, though, is that the initial step is pretty high. The leading social business software provider (your ex-employer) is riding high on a proprietary business model. To date, that’s been enterprises’ only choice.

    Proprietary business models, however, are highly vulnerable to strong open source projects. Until now, the Drupal project is a strong project – but has lacked a social software OOTB solution. But, that has changed.

    Drupal Commons is now an OOTB social community solution that’s functionally equivalent to the leading contenders. This provides a strong open source alternative – along with all the freedoms that come along with open source.

    I’d be interested in your thoughts as to how this can change enterprise adoption of social business software – whether it will speed it, etc.