There was a an article in the Australian CIO magazine a couple of days ago, and I can’t help but write a comment.
The article reports on a study carried out by Altimeter group named “Making the Business Case for Enterprise Social Networking”. The study was widely retweeted; it claims that a lack of planning of social networking initiatives is behind a lack of success in many organisations. The article states that “[to] improve their chances of success, organisations need to define clear objectives for using ESN software, and once it’s implemented, they must monitor and analyse usage in a way that gives them an idea of whether these goals are being met.”
Charlene Li, author of the study and founder of Altimeter group is cited in the study saying the following:
“What is the pain point? What is the problem you’re trying to solve? If that’s not clear, then you shouldn’t be using [ESN] (…) This isn’t easy. There is no magic bullet to it. It requires a rethinking of the relationships inside your organization, and therefore a rethinking of your culture.”
Well, this is – frankly – nonsense. Let me explain.
First of all, social networking cannot be planned. I have argued numerous times that social media are open, flexible platforms that need to be made part of a work practice before we can even know what exactly they will become, what their role in a concrete work practice will be. Countless very different cases are testimony to the fact that the outcomes, while most often beneficial, are quite unpredictable. How then will you plan this? It doesn’t make sense and it doesn’t really work. I have argued that we need to rethink systems management and approach it as a series of experiments. Our SNEP study has further shown how such networks evolve.
Second, if you cannot foresee what social networking might become in your organisation, how do you define meaningful goals and how will you measure them? I understand that this might be unsettling from a management point of view, but if we have learned one thing from three years research on ESN then that there is a fundamental difference between E2.0 platforms and traditional IT in the way they are undefined from the onset (btw, in my view they are not even that different really, they appear different; goal setting and measurement of success didn’t work all that well in the ‘old’ world either, but it was easier to ignore, because the IT department was in charge).
Finally, I want to say that this does not mean that you cannot sensibly guide the user sense making process in nudging adoption in the right direction. But this has more to do with leadership, improvisation, tinkering, than with planning, execution and measurement. Sure, there are a few things we can do to drive adoption, but the feeling remains that Altimeter Group is trying to push an agenda with their study rather than to propagate good understanding of the subject matter.
As a final highlight, think about the quote above: “It requires a rethinking of the relationships inside your organization, and therefore a rethinking of your culture.” What does that even mean? “Rethinking the relationships? Rethinking the culture?” How do you do that? Rethink your culture, then plan and execute it? If anyone understands what that means, let me know. Otherwise, I’ll stick to what we’ve learned from our research.