The Problem with “Social” in Social Media (the case for ‘New Media’ and the semantics of 2.0)

The other day, I had an epiphany.

In one window, I’d been watching a series of tweets on how State CIO’s put collaborative tools at the bottom of their 2010 technology priority list, even though their top 3 strategic goals included better management of labor costs, workforce optimization, sharing of work .. in a nutshell: productivity.

In another window, I’d watched die hard SMCHAT members bemoan the boss who wouldn’t let them communicate via blogs, for fear they were wasting time. Forget the great ideas and potential innovations that were emerging.

Finally, the last straw: several high ranking execs were talking strategy, and one of them referred to the corporate adoption of SM, aka Enterprise 2.0 (#E20), as “Facebook behind the firewall.”

That’s when I snapped, so to speak.

From here out, I’m calling it facebook syndrome. You may know someone who has it too. It assumes social media is just about planning parties and swapping pictures, and it definitely doesn’t help with management buy-in.  In fact, there are two working definitions of social. One connotes entertainment, and another, the one we’re talking about for Government 2.0 (#GOV20) and E2.0 and any serious commercial application is about building new work groups; facilitating new engagement for problem-solving; driving better partnerships; enabling culture change; and, quite literally, unlocking innovation.

Let’s change the game. Let’s rally around a new name .. like “new media” perhaps? .. for commercial applications. And to sell it, let’s demonstrate a basis for measuring actual productivity gains, showcasing the people working closely together on shared problems that only recently had never met.

Watch people get excited about coming to work again.

It’s not social media that we’re chasing. It’s the networked learning organization. To get beyond images of wedding crashers, the solution language needs to reflect the mission.


10 thoughts on “The Problem with “Social” in Social Media (the case for ‘New Media’ and the semantics of 2.0)

  1. In my organisation due to this effect, I’ve used the phrase collaboration software which seems to get around that issue. I can’t use the phrase social media at all

  2. Brigid – I really like the concept of ‘collaboration software’ .. which opens the door of talking about process and culture changes first. If we lay a conceptual foundation for a collaborative approach .. the tools can follow along downstream.

    Andy – thanks for connecting the two conversations. I posted on GovLoop as well, with additional thoughts. I agree: our semantics are key, adapting to ‘local conditions’ that support communication w/ specific listeners.

    I say let’s keep an open mind. We can learn from what’s working and not working elsewhere.

    Great post just in from @OliverMarks on the topic of ‘Collaboration Technology’ and its relation to KM. I have cross posted a comment there, to inquire.

    Thanks so much guys for engaging in the dialog.

  3. I posted this Tweet in response to @sourcePOV’s post:

    Thinking out loud here, “Collaborative Media” neutralizes the internal vs. external yet hits heart of value prop.

    This phrase will resonate with C-level executives if it is closely tied to business results.

    The focus needs to move away from technology, and instead focus on what technology really is – the ability to do something useful.

    It also needs to move away from “Social” – business is not social, it’s business. And business is about serving customers, exceeding their expectations and generating growth and profits.

    Language matters. Connotations are powerful. I propose “Collaborative Media” as the most effective way to present the power of social media tools and platforms to senior executives, and especially, to CEOs.

    When I advise business leaders, board members, etc., and I mention Twitter or FB fan pages, etc. I usually see their body language communicate one or two things: dismissiveness and/or genuine deer-in-headlights paralysis.

    CEOs don’t care about technology the way technologists care about technology. They want concrete ways that an approach will get them results.

    So, if you present “Collaborative Media” to them and closely link it with results–you will have an open minded audience. But you must create this linkage quickly.

    Philip Hotchkiss

  4. The debate on fitness of the term “Social Media” continues ..

    The term ‘social media’ more than likely emerged from within the advertising, PR and journalism realm, to provide contrast with ‘print media’ and ‘web (1.0) media’. Any takers on my theory? If so, its no wonder trying to ‘peanut butter’ the same term across commercial (“E2.0”) and government (“Gov2.0”) contexts is a problem.

    I keep seeing posts on this, so it isn’t just me. I hope to keep track of the leading insights here. I think its an important debate. Maybe we can bring it to closure.

    My comments on the latest inputs I’ve seen ..

    Chris Dorobek (@cdorobek):
    on Federal News Radio
    Right on point. There is clearly a ‘social’ aspect to all this as Mark Drapeau (@cheekygeeky) says, but if the metaphor is detrimental to buy-in, that’s bad for growth & evolution of an important set of technologies.

    Nahum Gershon (@nahumg):
    I agree on all fronts.

    Andy K (@KrazyKriz):
    on Govloop
    Insightful ongoing debate within the Federal sector. Many options still in play. But some frustrations are growing too (“does it really matter”?). I say yes.

    Fred Wilson (@FredWilson):
    Interesting idea on 3-drivers, but the ‘social’ angle heralds back to Facebook Syndrome which I define above. I’m definitely with you on the “in between” aspect. Complexity science says, thats where the action is.

    Phil Hotchkiss (@philiphotchkiss):
    I’m warming up to his “Collaborative Tools” phrasing. Elsewhere I’ve seen “Collaborative Technology” too. Accurate. Simple.

    Truly, I’m the last one to beat a dead horse.

    It’s just this one’s not dead yet. I will soon post (and link here) on the topic of Semantics and Shifting Context. It might help. A little.

  5. Enterprise 2.0 is not social media, although social media can be a part of E2.0. Enterprise 2.0 is not collaborative technology, although collaborative technology can be a part of E2.0. True Enterprise 2.0 can only exist when it evolves Enterprise 1.0:

    Enterprise 1.0 can be considered the wide array of Custom off the shelf applications (ERP, Best of Breed, etc.) or Homegrown/Highly customized applications currently running the Enterprise of business. E2.0 is evolutionary upon this foundation and cannot ask business to abandon its centuries old yardstick of value: revenue and profit. If E2.0 wants to make its impact, and it is only a name by the way, it must make a direct contribution to either values.

    The only reason to spend time discussing whether or not social media or collaborative technology is the best name would seem to stem from the fact that business doesn’t see how anything social or technical is going to directly contribute to revenue or profit. Business is about productivity, quality and accuracy. Make any or all of those demonstrably better and you can call it anything you’d like.

    I like Enterprise 2.0 as a description of how and what the business Enterprise needs. Whether or not the name sticks is decided entirely upon how effective its true solutions are in protecting E1.0 investments and delivering measurable, real value before roll-out investment is required.

    • You’re quite right on one thing, the semantics can be all over the board in this space. That was the precise point of this post, but I also delve into semantics a bit deeper in my Semantics post.

      But since you’ve raised it, let’s tackle “2.0” semantics directly.

      Because Web 2.0 is about fostering change using social technologies (driving 1:1 engagement and leveraging rich media), the definitions of Enterprise 2.0 that resonate most are those that talk about corporate adoption of those same technologies. Namely, web-based blogs, microblogs, wikis, multi-media (video, podcasts), etc.

      Government 2.0 is a parallel discussion.

      In terms of your requirement to add business (or mission) value, I think there’s a clear answer: enabling employees to collaborate with each other and external stakeholders can only help drive productivity, which will lower costs. Measuring that will require rigor. For it to show up in the financials, we’d need to baseline current state, commit to and implement change organization wide, and give the benefit time to percolate.

      That’s a tall order. But I see it as not only possible but mandatory.

      But I believe there is also tangible value in letting information flow across silos. To me, this has the effect of unlocking innovation. Creating new possibilities. It’s the 2.0 foundation of ‘learning organizations’.

      In the context of productivity, we shouldn’t cling to ANY aspect of the 1.0 business model. It is rooted in the silos of scale and duplication from the Industrial Revolution. The model is over 100 years old. While tried and true for making reliable widgets, it is not helpful to enable orgs to be nimble and adaptable in the knowledge economy.

      Deming, Drucker, Kanter, Senge .. all have stories to tell on the need for diverse, cross-functional (“non 1.0”) teams. Call them “2.0” if you will. I do. But they have been sorely needed for several decades now.

      “2.0” semantics is only a barrier if we let it be.

      So I’ll agree on this too: let’s not get stuck on it. Let’s get to work on re-framing the future of business. And while we’re at it: government (see dialog w/ Lucas Cioffi, below).


  6. “Networked, learning organization” is the perfect framing for what the goal of open government can and should be. Thank you for this insight. Now I see this term has been around for over a decade.

    I read this article just a few days ago and the phrase stuck with me. I tested it in a meeting yesterday with an organization that works at the heart of open government and not only was the framing easily defensible, it was also highly effective.

    I sincerely hope this framing catches on to take the conversation about open government to the next level.

    • Lucas,

      Thanks much for the feedback. Glad the framing helped you get some traction.

      While notions of the ‘learning organization’ have been around awhile, implementing the vision (beyond pilot teams) can be daunting. Cultures in large organizations often align to resist change. A wholesale migration to a different paradigm (‘discovery’ vs. ‘protect the status quo’) can be a challenge.

      With new thinking on the dynamics within complex organizations, I’ve grown more optimistic .. and I’m fully behind embracing this notion for Open Government.

      It just means there’s much work to do.

      I’ll be writing more soon on Culture Change in Government here .. which will help frame a GovLoop based workshop I’m facilitating in March.

      Let’s stay in touch.


  7. Pingback: “Waiting for e2.0″ WEDS 2/29 1pET « #SMCHAT

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