Tag Archives: War of Words

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.