Tag Archives: It’s not about technology

To reach mainstream, we need to talk mainstream

As a communications professional, I’m intrigued by the ongoing discussion on “Enterprise 2.0″ versus “Social Business”. The battlegrounds in this  war of words are Twitter, the blogosphere, and more recently the  2.0 Adoption Council and Quora.

When I first came across the discussion last year (while following tweets from the Enterprise 2.0 – sic! – Conference in Santa Clara), I immediately took the side of Enterprise 2.0. That’s because I am very familiar with the existing definition of Social Business by Mohammad Yunus. At the moment this definition is still the only one published in Wikipedia – although there were discussions to include the new one.

From a communications point of view, it’s a bad idea to use the label of phenomonon A to also describe phenomenon B – especially if those two can appear in a similar context. However, it’s not unheard of. All languages I know are full of homonyms.

After a closer look into the discussions, I realized that familiarity with the “traditional” meaning of social business is not as ubiqitous as I thought. Maybe I just know it because BASF was the first chemical company to set up a social business with Mohammad Yunnus’ Grameen Bank. The term also seems to be more widely used in Europe than in the U.S. This would explain why I heard objections to using it for “the thing formerly known as Enterprise 2.0″ from French thought leaders Isabelle Ayel and Bertrand Duperrin.

What if we can ignore ignore the possible confusion of ideas? Let me contribute my communications expertise to the #e20 vs. #socbiz discussion. One of my mantras in communication is “first consider your target group, then set your objective – and you’ll know what to do”.

In my opion, the current discussion – fascinating as it is – may be irrelevant because it is lead by the experts.

They were crucial for establishing the term Enterprise 2.0 (which I still passionately love, don’t get me wrong). However, now the beautiful movement we help to create is aiming at mainstream – and therefore the experts are no longer the main target group. If we want to reach mainstream, we need to talk mainstream.

And for this, the term “Enterprise 2.0″ is just not good enough. Yes, to us #e20/#socbiz evangelists, it conveys the full concept: Using social software internally (and in a more advanced stage also externally) as an enabler for transforming an organization to a more open, networked, sharing, collaborative, innovative, agile and successful enterprise.

However, that’s not what happens in our main target group: When Joe Average – and Tony Top-Executive – hear “Enterprise 2.0″, they think of IT. Or, even worse, they imagine something that may be hip, but is also technical, nerdy, difficult to understand. This does not help to drive adoption. And it’s misleading because, as I blogged earlier, it’s not about technology.

So, first recommendation from a communications (and biological) perspective: allow the term “Enterprise 2.0″ to be slowly overtaken by evolution.

Does that mean a recommendation to – from now on – start using the term “Social Business” for what we are doing? I can’t say I immediately took to the new term. I find it rather fuzzy (just look at the various definitions of social on the web). Therefore, I would have preferred something like Connected Enterprise, Networked Organization. On the other hand, the fuzziness could even help  because it gives us the freedom to position the term as we see fit.

Here comes the second communications recommendation: We should decide for one new term worldwide, consider it as empty container and fill it with substance.

Basically, you can do this with any term – if you put enough effort into it. In the Quora discussion, Estaban Kolsky suggested “Sally”.  If you consider that impossible – just think about “Apple”. But since we do not have Steve Job’s marketing department at our hands, why not make our lives easier and go for Social Business?

There are some very good ideas how to fill this term with content that will help to drive change in the mainstream. Just check out these excellent blog entries by Graham Hill, Jay Deragon, Rawn Shah, Luis Suarez, Oscar Berg, and Ray Wang. To get a taste of real mainstream, I recommend this CIO article by Heidi Ambler.

But before we all get carried away, be warned: No matter how well we fill the term “Social Business” with content, it’s no the silver bullet for every audience. It will indeed be helpful for a broad audience. If you work for a company and want to facilitate your colleagues’ transition to “what-we-are-getting-to-know-as-social-business”, even the new term will not be good enough.

Third communications recommendation: With all the content of Social Business in mind, tailor your wording to your audience – and their position in the adoption lifecycle. This might involve coming up with new, more specific terms.

Take my company BASF as an example. Internally, we never talked about “Enterprise 2.0″. I only use this term when presenting at conferences. To stress the business value, we even avoided the adjective “social”. Our global, internal platform is an “Online Business Network”. It’s known under the name “connect.BASF” – because that’s exactly what it does.

It’s not about technology – it’s about doing it the Enterprise 2.0 way

Yesterday I followed the live stream of the Enterprise 2.0 Conference in Santa Clara. I could not help comparing the event with the recent Enterprise 2.0 Summit in Frankfurt. I realize why many people had raved about the Summit as “so different from the American conferences – more a management conference than a vendor event”.

In Santa Clara, I was surprised to see that Tony Zingale, CEO of Jive Software, started his key note with an advertising clip. Generally speaking, I was a bit disappointed by the key notes shown on the live stream. Most of them came from software vendors (I missed the first one from the U. S. State Department). IMHO, these talks were a bit like sales presentations – and focused too much on their respective platforms.

Yes, I admit it, one of my mantras is “It’s not about technology”. At the Summit, I learned that T-Systems’ Frank Schoenefeld considers this as one of the seven pitfalls of Enterprise 2.0. He advised us to carefully select the technology, integrate it into the existing software stack,  teach and educate employees how to use the social software stack.

I agree, this is important. Still, for me technology is a “conditio sine qua non” – indispensable, but not enough! Or – as Oscar Berg put it – technology is the obstacle between the user and his goals.

I am very happy that the Enterprise 2.0 Summit covered all those aspects that matter much more than technology. For instance, take the first day’s key notes  on “Manager 2.0 – Key Elements of Leadership Concepts in an Enterprise 2.0“. Richard Collin started his speech with a very powerful statement: Enterprise 2.0 is not about applying Social Software to the enterprise. It’s a new model of doing business and managing a company.

In Enterprise 2.0, technology is merely an enabler for a cultural evolution. It can change the way we connect with our colleagues, share information, collaborate, manage projects, innovate, lead, create value. Ah, here’s one thing I liked in yesterday’s Jive clip: It helps us move from “me” to “us”.

When introducing “2.0″ to the Enterprise, we should position it as “a better way we work”. Better for the company, because it’s more efficient, opens new business opportunities and creates more value. And – even more attractive to our audience – better for YOU because it will make your tasks easier, help you feel appreciated and connected to your colleagues.

When planning communication for Enterprise 2.0, try to work out why your colleagues will FEEL GOOD when working in this new way. And don’t listen to anyone saying “they would feel good if they didn’t have to work”. You only need to know an unemployed person to understand that’s not true. We are social beings, and we want that the things we do make sense. That’s why “working the enterprise 2.0 way” appeals to us.

Last week, I learned that this can happen without any technology. I was invited to a workshop, together with 11 colleagues from very different units. Although most of us had no direct stakes in the workshop topic (“not in my target agreement”), and many of us had not met before, we managed to work out a great result and even committed to doing a follow-up. The success factors may sound familiar to you:

  • At the beginning, we worked out why the topic is vital for our company – and why we personally feel passionate about it
  • The organizers made it clear that we were picked not because of our job description, but because of our experiences and diverse approaches to the topic
  • The moderator created a collaborative spirit

At the end, we realized that we had worked “the Enterprise 2.0 way” – without ever logging into our platform.