How do you ‘sell’ social tools to the enterprise?

This blog post from Cecil Dijoux at Social Computing Journal  sets out some guidance on how to introduce the concept of social media tools into an organisation (in the Enterprise 2.0 sense). It references another post by Bertrand Duperrin that cautions against using 7 specific web 2.0 words with business managers.  Both authors posit that the words ‘conversation’ and ‘social’, among others, will very likely scare managers, creating visions of endless chats and online surfing.

Our suggestion: Use business language.

While we often lament the nature and extent of meetings, meetings are essentially conversations. But they’re not defined that way, because whether they are well run or not their primary purpose is to provide an outcome. We remarked in a previous post that you wouldn’t find ‘conversations’ as a line item on a project plan, even when they might be a necessary part of changing the culture or the context.  That’s because business works hard to define activities, and a conversation is an activity in search of an outcome.

So if I was still in line management and someone tried to sell me a tool on the basis that it would improve, encourage or facilitate internal conversations, I’d give them a look too.

We organise ourselves into social groups defined by interest, interaction and function. Business relies on people working together, talking together and making decisions together. We are social beings, and so at the purest level the word ‘social’ in ‘social media’ shouldn’t put us off.  But I suspect also that the word itself might have inhibited the leap into the enterprise. We use it colloquially (as in ‘my social life’), and it is seen in a highly visible form online in what are primarily friendship and connection sites like Facebook.

So facilitating or improving conversations is not the business outcome. That’s part of the benefit, but what’s needed is establishing exactly what conversations will do for the business. Will they facilitate decision making and so speed up time to market? Will they strengthen the corporate culture by communicating and embedding core values? Will they aid compliance through greater knowledge, gained from the ability to discuss and question? Will they help a business manage risk through improved transparency?

Put simply:

Collaboration tools → One output is conversation → Outcome=?

It seems to me that there is a whole lexicon not yet created around web 2.0 tools in the enterprise. We still talk in terms of social media marketing outcomes, externally to customers, when within the organisation it is about decision making, information management and culture.

The use of web 2.0 tools is a more complex transaction within an organisation. Perhaps this is because the relationships are more complex or multi-faceted. The tools themselves are so flexible that one size does often fit all, and are all the more meaningless because of it. You need to articulate the business case for business people, and to do that you need to speak business language and understand its outcomes.

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