Social Business is doomed, and other ZDnet ridiculousness.

Social Business is doomed, and other ZDnet ridiculousness.
SideraWorks - Social Business Is Doomed

The Trigger

Where to start? I suppose let’s track back to the source, a Cowen & Co. analyst named Peter Goldmacher had this to say recently about Salesforce.com in a research note:

“Despite making a big splash around Social at its user conference in October, conversations with the CRM ecosystem around weak “Social” pipeline conversion, a lack of customer traction around Social Marketing and accelerating declines in sales productivity lead us to believe that Salesforce’s latest marketing gambit isn’t paying off.”

The Bizarre Logic

Larry Dignan, editor in chief over at ZDnet, then writes a piece entitled “Is Salesforce pivoting from its social enterprise rap?” with the tagline summary of “The social enterprise movement may be running into a wall of culture, management and process. It’s not about software“.  The article follows with “Now what? Like most technologies, social is following a familiar path. First there’s the argument that the software will change everything. Then there’s the realization that the latest tech won’t magically cure your enterprise. Then there’s the blowback. Quietly—and just as everyone writes it off—something else comes along as an enabler. The social enterprise may follow a similar route, but for now it’s disillusionment time.”

Never one to let the opportunity for drama pass by, Dennis Howlett decided to expand on Larry’s piece with one of his own entitled “Is it all over for social? Clues are everywhere“.  He summarized Larry’s points and that of discussions over at Enterprise Irregulars as follows:

  • The social enterprise is about culture, management and process. It’s not about software.
  • If that culture and process point sounds familiar that’s because social software may be ERP in a new wrapper. ERP software changed companies fundamentally, but also led to spectacular IT disasters largely due to people, process and culture. Social with business process integration won’t work.
  • Internal collaboration also creates social mojo. Collaboration goes well beyond software and frankly is difficult

A little background that should be provided here for context. There is a lot of confusion in this space as far as naming goes (and by confusion I often mean pointless arguing). Social Enterprise, Social Business, Enterprise 2.0, The Social Blendomatic 2000, you name it.  Notice I did *not* say Social Media however, this is not about the Facebook and Twitter’s of the world.  Everyone has their own angles on that (for full disclosure, here at SideraWorks we’re not actually huge fans of the term ‘social business’ but it’s the word the majority of the marketplace currently associates with. So, for now at least, it’s what we use. I make the point simply to demonstrate that we are not emotionally tied to any one specific term).

Arrogant Blindness

But here’s where I think these folks need to be taken to task for their limited view of the world and what is frankly an incredible arrogance in my opinion.  Peter Goldmacher is an analyst, his job is to form educated opinions on specific organizations (in this case Salesforce) that will have a material impact on investors.  He did his job. Whether I, or anyone else, agrees with his conclusions is irrelevant.

But then things break down.  Suddenly Larry Dignan, Dennis Howlett, and others jump onto this Salesforce specific note and use it as a proxy for the entire concept of social business.  Apparently it’s not ‘Salesforce failing’, it’s ‘social business failing’.  Like a group of gleefully self-referential sharks they both create this chum ball of nonsense while tearing chunks out of it and patting each other on the fin for how insightful they are.

Social Business is doomed, and other ZDnet ridiculousness.   SideraWorksThese two seemingly intelligent people looked at all the discussions and saw a few common conclusions jump out at them.  Namely, “it’s not about software” and “it’s about culture, management, and process”.  But this is where the blinders were put on.  “It’s not about software” simply isn’t an acceptable answer to them.  If it’s not about software, something they actually know a bit about, then it doesn’t exist.  If it’s not about software, then the concept of social business itself is a failure.

Priorities

Technology is important.  But for gods sake what kind of a narrow viewpoint determines that without it there is no way to improve?  Here’s what that same logic looks like when applied to other areas in our companies “Collaboration is useless. Why? Because email isn’t as effective as when two people are actually in the room together.”. Huh?

Yes, social business is more about ‘culture, management, and process’ than it is any specific set of technologies. Should we apologize for that? Sorry?  Why is that a bad thing? Because you have less to write about?  Because those things don’t fit neatly into your world view? What?

IBM, arguably the strongest proponent of social business and seller of enabling software for the space, not only would agree with that people-centric focus…they preach it.  It’s ok to just be a secondary enabler of core business improvements. Really. I promise.  But IBM is *not* social business.  If they have a bad quarter, ‘social business’ didn’t have a bad quarter.  If they overcommit to projections of their softwares role in social business movements, then they overcommitted, social business didn’t fail.

Stop Ignoring The Hard Stuff

Do you want to know why CRM, ERP, and the like had such a ridiculous failure rates of deployment?  Because people thought tech alone was the saving grace.  They ignored the fact that without a supporting culture (and the change management efforts to shift that) the best technology in the world won’t be adopted by the workforce properly.  They ignored behavioral dynamics and associated motivators.  They ignored individual productivity in favor of consolidating data for insight analysis.  If you ask me, it is precisely the fact that there has to be a focus on culture, organizational structures, and process that makes social business one of the most exciting areas of business at moment.

People are messy, technology is clean.  Changing behavior is difficult to budget for, technology has a simplistic price tag and only requires a few people for due diligence during acquisition.  Software becomes a trophy to be held up as a marker of progress, “Look at us, we are a progressive company”, “Look at the important stuff I’m doing as CIO”, etc.  But you actually need the *progress* part of that equation at some point, not just the appearance of movement.  This messy stuff is what I do, this is why SideraWorks was formed, so when you come pissing on my lawn with some half-baked logic, I’m going to take it personally.

What I would say to Dennis and Larry is this; Perhaps the reason you keep seeing words like ‘culture, management, and process’ pop up is because social business is about trying to actually make that progress…by whatever means necessary, even if it requires dealing with the hard stuff.  Perhaps we are finally learning from our past mistakes that some things, such as those messy people, cannot be ignored or shortcutted.  Perhaps, just perhaps, it is the goal of business improvement that defines the movement of social business and not the technology.  Shocking, I know.

Matt Ridings – @techguerilla

CEO, SideraWorks


Matt is the CEO of SideraWorks and a veteran of business strategy and organizational change. His endeavors have included startups, professional services organizations and Fortune 500 companies, and many roles as a business owner, advisor, and investor. View his full bio here or his other posts here. You can find him on twitter at @techguerilla.
  • http://www.andyandtrout.com/ David Murray

    As long as people have the desire to communicate, and as long as businesses focus on the tools and continuously fail to communicate with people; Social Media professionals will always have a job regardless of what title pundits attribute to it.

    • http://www.sideraworks.com/ Matt Ridings – Techguerilla

      You’re absolutely correct, tools are enablers, very rarely are they solutions in and of themselves.

    • http://www.sideraworks.com/ Matt Ridings – Techguerilla

      You’re absolutely correct, tools are enablers, very rarely are they solutions in and of themselves.

  • http://ernohannink.com/ ernohannink

    Good points Matt.
    I like these :)
    “Collaboration is useless. Why? Because email isn’t as effective as when two people are actually in the room together.”. Huh?” and this one
    “Do you want to know why CRM, ERP, and the like had such a ridiculous failure rates of deployment? Because people thought tech alone was the saving grace.”

    • http://www.sideraworks.com/ Matt Ridings – Techguerilla

      Much appreciated. People often avoid complex, holistic pictures so I’m glad to see folks like you resonating with the ones that require a broader view.

      Cheers

    • http://occamsrazr.com Ike Pigott

      Social technologies are still “scary,” because there isn’t an instant formula to make them work.

      Every time I am asked about whether social is “worth the investment” of time, I reply with a question of my own: “What is the ROI of your involvement in the weekly Rotary Club lunches?”

      Fact is, BOTH can (and should) be computed in at least a rudimentary form. But I do laugh at the notion that social must prove something with a metric to an organization that does virtually no baseline metrics for anything else.

  • http://ernohannink.com/ ernohannink

    Good points Matt.
    I like these :)
    “Collaboration is useless. Why? Because email isn’t as effective as when two people are actually in the room together.”. Huh?” and this one
    “Do you want to know why CRM, ERP, and the like had such a ridiculous failure rates of deployment? Because people thought tech alone was the saving grace.”

    • http://www.sideraworks.com/ Matt Ridings – Techguerilla

      Much appreciated. People often avoid complex, holistic pictures so I’m glad to see folks like you resonating with the ones that require a broader view.

      Cheers

  • http://twitter.com/mpace101 Michael Pace

    Thanks Matt for an intriguing article. I also think part of the problem here is the expectation on rate of return. Social returns do not impact top/bottom lines such as specific call to action traditional marketing campaigns or implementation of new technology. I’ve used the garden analogy with many, and I believe it really helps them understand the speed, rate, value of the return. You spend much more time nurturing the garden early on (seeded with content, weeded for trolls, etc…) but eventually you create a renewable and trusted resource. Using return metrics like 2-4 year NPV or Customer LifeTime Value is a better methodology of understanding value, because it’s long term.

    • http://www.sideraworks.com/ Matt Ridings – Techguerilla

      So without question you’re right (we even use the garden/field metaphor in other contexts). However, there are also realities we have to deal with in this space, like the fact that companies will not act on something that is too far distant in the future regardless of its supposed impact. It’s the primary driver of why we spent so much time, energy, and research into developing a method of auditing culture in a repeatable way so that a company can track what’s working and what’s not in regards to shifting towards their desired traits. They can’t afford to wait years before making the decision “is this working?”. So we’ve turned culture initiatives into something that can be approached with long term goals, but short term agile measurements that allow for pivots along the way.

      Appreciate the thoughtful comment.

    • Pingback: Social business isn’t technology - social business is cultural change | BLOOM Social Business

  • Michael Pace

    Thanks Matt for an intriguing article. I also think part of the problem here is the expectation on rate of return. Social returns do not impact top/bottom lines such as specific call to action traditional marketing campaigns or implementation of new technology. I’ve used the garden analogy with many, and I believe it really helps them understand the speed, rate, value of the return. You spend much more time nurturing the garden early on (seeded with content, weeded for trolls, etc…) but eventually you create a renewable and trusted resource. Using return metrics like 2-4 year NPV or Customer LifeTime Value is a better methodology of understanding value, because it’s long term.

    • http://www.sideraworks.com/ Matt Ridings – Techguerilla

      So without question you’re right (we even use the garden/field metaphor in other contexts). However, there are also realities we have to deal with in this space, like the fact that companies will not act on something that is too far distant in the future regardless of its supposed impact. It’s the primary driver of why we spent so much time, energy, and research into developing a method of auditing culture in a repeatable way so that a company can track what’s working and what’s not in regards to shifting towards their desired traits. They can’t afford to wait years before making the decision “is this working?”. So we’ve turned culture initiatives into something that can be approached with long term goals, but short term agile measurements that allow for pivots along the way.

      Appreciate the thoughtful comment.

  • http://occamsrazr.com Ike Pigott

    Social technologies are still “scary,” because there isn’t an instant formula to make them work.

    Every time I am asked about whether social is “worth the investment” of time, I reply with a question of my own: “What is the ROI of your involvement in the weekly Rotary Club lunches?”

    Fact is, BOTH can (and should) be computed in at least a rudimentary form. But I do laugh at the notion that social must prove something with a metric to an organization that does virtually no baseline metrics for anything else.