SmoothSpan Blog

For Executives, Entrepreneurs, and other Digerati who need to know about SaaS and Web 2.0.

Social Media Adoption in the Enterprise

Posted by Bob Warfield on April 7, 2009

Steve Gilmore’s post on the new FriendFeed UI has shaken loose a variety of responses.  Personally, I did not care for the post because it didn’t convey much information.  Rather, it is a breathless and somewhat florid love letter to Twitter:

We’re seeing a new Beatles emerging in this new morning of creativity, a series of devices and software constructs that empower us with both the personal meaning of our lives and the intuitive combinations of serendipity and found material and the sturdiness that only rigorous practice brings.

That was about as pragmatic as informative as the rambling piece got.  One could not take away any sense of what exactly this wondrous new innovation was, only that Gilmore was deeply moved by it.

TechCrunch and Scoble did a better job of saying just what this new FriendFeed did that was so great.  Scoble even went so far as to talk about what wasn’t so great in a second post.  Nick Carr, OTOH, took time out from writing his next book to pen a somewhat similarly obtuse ode to the mighty tweet.

Clearly there is something worth writing about to attract the attention of such Uber Bloggers, but just as clearly, there was something discordant about Gilmore’s note.  What seemed the most odd to me about Gilmore’s post was that it appeared under TechCrunchIT.  That’s right, it was in what is purportedly an IT-directed blog.  Yet it was just about the most un-IT sort of post imaginable.  The post came up in the private chat area of the Enterprise Irregulars not long after it went up, and I remarked after reading it that I had never talked to any Enterprise decision maker that sounded remotely like that post about anything, and hence I didn’t think the post had any value to such a person.  That’s not to say it wasn’t a well written and interesting post, just that it seemed inappropriate to that kind of audience.

Fellow Irregular Susan Scrupski went on to pen a post for RWWeb about the state of Enterprise 2.0 adoption being “Slow and Unsteady”.  Reading Susan’s post, I feel her angst.  She’s talking about the vast gulf between the giddy excitement of Gilmore for Twitter/Friendfeed, and the more usual reaction one sees across the Enterprise.  Susan sounds frustrated that the Enterprise world doesn’t see things a little bit more like Gilmore, though clearly she also sees him as a bit too frothy as well.  Reality is in the middle.

Stepping back from Susan’s post and reflecting, I think the issue we’re struggling with here is stage appropriateness.  I say this specifically with respect to Geoffrey Moore’s concept of the Chasm.  Gilmore and Carr write as pre-chasm early adopters.  They see Big Things ahead as they peer across the seething Niagara Falls that is the Chasm to be crossed for these ideas to become mainstream.  They write less about fact, logic, or (heaven forbid) ROI, and more to provoke.  Love it or hate it, just don’t ignore it because if it isn’t talked about everywhere, it’ll never make it across that Chasm.

The reason I think I find all of that sort of talk to be offputting is because a lot of Social Media has already made it across the Chasm.  That kind of tone, designed to provoke and fire up the emotional side is not necessary.  There are many in the Enterprise using Social tools every single day and loving it.  Likewise there are many Enterprises exposing their customers to Social Media, and those customers are loving it. 

Dell’s Ideastorm tirelessly crowdsources new ideas for the business every day.  Their forums tirelessly help Dell’s customers to solve problems they’re having.

-  Starbucks has a similar Ideastorm.

-  Wells Fargo bank lets customers ask service questions via Twitter.

Sure, Dell is a Tech company, but Starbucks isn’t, and Wells Fargo is a bank for crying out loud.  These are some public examples where anyone can see these companies pushing Social Media. 

There are many more such examples of external use by large companies, but the adoption for internal use is even more impressive.  Dion Hinchcliffe writes about how Microsoft Sharepoint is alive and well in one third of large companies.  Enterprise 2.0 true believers will hold their noses and cough to clear their lungs of the noxious odor of something so pedestrian as Sharepoint from a company as un-hip as Microsoft, but it is Social Media and it is being widely used.

Yes, there are still skeptics in large organizations.  But there are quiet forces driving adoption forward relentlessly.  They are doing so for two reasons that can’t be argued with.  First, and most importantly, it works.  Even if the big boss in the corner office won’t endorse it, others will.  It becomes like the argument that the PC can’t spread because managers don’t type–they have secretaries who do that for them.  Second, there are powerful demographic trends at work.  An entire generation and everyone younger grew up using this stuff.   It is no longer a passionate thing, Gilmore notwithstanding.  It is a normal part of day to day life, and they will not operate without it.  Whether that means your employees are driving you, or whether you hope to sell to customers from that younger demographic, you have little choice but to get with it.

I believe the problem with rantings like Steve Gilmore’s is not that Social Media has no value and no adoption, leaving him nothing to talk about but the sizzle.  Rather, it is that in many ways, the Chasm has already been crossed and such evangelism no longer seems appropriate.  Companies are quietly getting value from Social Media.  Their questions are not around whether to do it or not.  Rather, they are around quantifying the value and adopting the Best Practices that will maximize that value.  Frankly, some of them would rather the competition did not get too excited about what they already know works and gives them an advantage.  It’s about that stage immediately after the Chasm is Crossed.  The one where Geoff Moore says its time to make Social Media safe for the masses.

My own company, Helpstream, has done a series of ROI benchmarks that show spectacular results for Social Media in Customer Service.  Independent analysts are writing their own ROI studies as we speak and they will soon publish. 

Right when an idea or category is just across the Chasm is the hardest time.   There is a tug-of-war from either side.   The early adopter/visionaries like Gilmore and Nick Carr will wax even more elegantly with their florid prose.  The pragmatists will talk loudly of ROI.  And the vast unwashed masses will proclaim as loudly as ever that it is all experimentation and unproven.  You can see each element speaking out in this way on the comments associated with the posts I’ve linked to.  They’re all there and out in force.  This is the most polarized moment a new idea faces.  But that polarization drives interest, and that interest drives adoption further up the slope of normalcy, and one day we wake up and it’s done. 

On that day we will see that the stories and the language have shifted almost unnoticed in the fracus.  We’ll see people like Gilmore and Scoble battling the Social Media Curmudgeons for a little while longer, but then the romaticism of a post like Steve Gilmore’s will start to seem quaint, then dated, then kooky.  We will mourn the passing of the phenomenon.  The Beatles (Gilmore likened Twitter to the Beatles) will break up, and we’ll be left with bands that seem less meaningful, less heartfelt, and a lot more commercial. 

That’s bad for a band, but good for a business tool.  Please join us on the mainstream side of the Chasm where Social Media works quietly to deliver value every day.

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