Social Media in Enterprises: my take on a broadbased discussion

There was a fascinating event this week, Social Media in Enterprises – the Elephant in the Ecosystem. The organisers – Alan Patrick and David Terrar (and apologies to others who must have also been involved!) – reckoned that there wasn’t much about the use and adoption of social media by enterprises in social media week, and they decided to rectify that.

In the space of a week or so, they got together a series of eight speakers (it was meant to be ten, I think, but a couple couldn’t make it), who were each given ten minutes to talk about – well, social media in enterprise.

They had lots of different things to say, but there was a lot of agreement, too. The strict time limit meant that there wasn’t too much detail (useful in an area that could potentially get quite technical) but there were lots of ideas and experience. I would love to write about what each speaker said in detail, but that wouldn’t really add anything. In summary, though, here’s what I heard them say:

  • Alan Patrick talked about the challenges in implementing social media in businesses, and where the value could come from
  • Sue Black discussed the use of Twitter in the campaign to save Bletchley Park
  • Benjamin Ellis covered practicalities of social media in organisations, and the effect of, and on, organisation culture (amongst all sorts of other stuff!)
  • Umair Haque looked at some fairly fundamental assumptions about how organisations work, and how we ask the wrong questions about them; he reckoned the current organisation structures are doomed
  • Adriana Lukas explained why she thought any attempts the successfully implement social media in businesses are probably doomed
  • Mat Morrison looked at the structures of the networks in organisations he’d successfully implemented
  • Euan Semple spoke freeform – without slides – about the disruptive nature of social media and the need to model new behaviours and ways of working
  • David Terrar summed up with a couple of cases studies – his own work with Swiss Re, John Chambers and his work at Cisco [YouTube] and Pete Fields at Wachovia

That’s what they talked about; what I took away was possibly different: the common links for me were all about corporate culture and the way people work – the way they share, collaborate and behave; the way they create and utilise communities. There was a discussion at last year’s Edinburgh BarCamp on the same topic. Are there some organisations which will take to new ways of collaborative working using social media tools better than others?

Perhaps there are some parts of organisations that will do so – that are more open, flexible and able to adapt to these tools. Adriana talked about the need to work below the radar – to try to work outside the prevalent culture and outside the usual organisation processes – in order to achieve a beachhead from which broaden an implementation. I have been in a similar situation, where using blogs and wikis in a large corporation had to be hosted externally and the whole process felt so counter-cultural to be revolutionary. The tools didn’t stick, either.

Adriana reckoned the main pitfall was the behaviour of middle managers; Euan reminded us that people in organisations get rewarded for their knowledge, so they will be wary of giving it away. To change the culture and behaviour in organisations, we need to look at all aspects of working – including the processes and the reward structure. If we don’t tackle these aspects of organisation life, we will have little success: people will work to the outcome they are rewarded for and by which they are managed.

The move to flatter, less hierarchical organisations – even, perhaps, the fabled “virtual” organisations where almost all aspects of business are outsourced – may be the most fertile ground for social media in enterprises: they can be nimble, and they rely on effective communication to function properly. Here, use of social media could provide a real business advantage – and maybe this is where the real value of social media in business will be found.

(You can read David’s take on the evening here.)


3 thoughts on “Social Media in Enterprises: my take on a broadbased discussion

  1. Pingback: One more thought on “Social Media in Enterprises” « Patrick’s Blog

  2. Pingback: broadstuff

  3. Pingback: Social Media in the Enterprise – event report pt 2 of 2

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