The Value and Challenge of Engagement

by Chris Kenton on December 14, 2006

I had a long and interesting conversation with Gil Roberts from PodTech yesterday. I was down in Palo Alto to talk with PodTech about working together on a couple of podcasting projects. He asked an interesting question during our conversation that I thought was worth repeating and discussing here.

Do you see companies investing in social media platforms, and would those platforms really establish working communities within an enterprise?

There are a lot of important threads knotted up in that question. But the two that popped out for me were the problem enterprises would want to solve with social media platforms, and how they would operate them.

The value proposition for enteprise social media platforms seems to be about knowledge exchange and collaboration. Businesses have been addressing these issues for a long, long time. Lotus Notes. Document management. Knowledge bases. Intranets. Wikis. How many relevant product categories and platforms can you name? The question any procurement team would ask when assessing a new platform is what it would bring to the table that these other systems don’t address. Not just how is it different, but how does the difference deliver value?

The second question is how a social system would be managed and developed inside a business. The holy grail is a self-organizing network that delivers value by distilling and disseminating knowledge. But self-organizing networks tend to develop around passionate and exciting topics. Politics, sports, dating… When you put a social platform inside the four walls of a business, that doesn’t seem to change much. Most people don’t get passionately engaged and self-organizing about business processes, or innovation. Especially when there’s significant potential for political fallout.

At some point the current drive to develop enterprise platforms for social media tools is going to run into the lack of organizational knowledge of how to successfully cultivate engagement. Let’s be honest. How many companies can you name that have a culture of engagement offline? Will a social media platform fill in for a cultural deficiency? Not impossible. But not likely.

Not that this lesson is new for anyone, but technology is never a self-contained solution. There are real cultural and organizational challenges for bringing the kind of social platform that works on the wild Web successfully into the enterprise. Someone’s going to have to start dissecting and analyzing the techniques for developing engagement in the enterprise, beyond just the flipping of a product switch.

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