7 Ways That Social Business Advice is Wrong for Your Organization

by cv harquail on June 9, 2011

Social Business” is coming to your organization, whether you’re ready or not.

Social business tools, also known as enterprise social media or systems of engagement, are increasingly being advocated by vendors and consultants as tools that help any organization do its work better.


But, while the influx of social tools could really benefit your organization, the advice about how and why to use social tools could actually prevent your organization from using these tools to their full potential.

That’s because so much of what you’ll hear about why and how to incorporate social business tools into your organization, while well-intentioned, is fundamentally misguided.

7 Ways that Social Business Advice is Misguided

1. It’s Technology-driven

Misguided social business advice is driven by the availability of bright shiny new enterprise social media technology.

Wise social business advice is purpose-driven. It aims to tap into the pent-up desire of organizations, members, and stakeholders for deeper, richer and more authentic communication, communication that helps them achieve their collective purpose.

2. It’s Customer-centric

Misguided social business advice is driven by a focus on customers and customers’ needs. Employees and organizations either excluded, treated as afterthoughts, or seen as means to an end.

Wise social business advice is people-centric. It puts the organization and its members first, understanding that the organization and the people within it are the engines of authentic change and the source of true value.

3. It’s Reactionary

Misguided social business advice is reactionary. It takes the “Oh crap, here it comes, might as well figure out how to fit it in” approach.

Wise social business advice is visionary. It is energized by a vision of what the organization and its stakeholder system could be like, if authentic communication was fostered and supported.

4. It Extolls Efficiency201106091309.jpg

Misguided social business advice urges us to automate and digitize whatever we can that might make work more efficient.

It puts new digital architecture on top of old digital architecture. It tries to separate content from process, as though process were content-agnostic.

Wise social business advice has a generative orientation. It has a creative flavor.

Wise social business advice starts with the questions like: “What more can we contribute together, to each other?
What tools can we use to foster and support these contributions”?

Wise social media advice helps organizations flourish, by focusing on how to support the personal, interpersonal and collective systems that create value.

5. Adoption is driven by Vendors

Misguided social business advice is driven by vendors who want to sell more tools, more systems, more consulting, and more stuff. It preys on organizations’ fears that they must have the latest stuff in order to be competitive.

Wise social business advice takes the perspective of makers, right inside your organization. It begins by recognizing what we already have that’s working, what we already have that we value, what we already have that we can tweak. It helps us figure out what we really ‘need’ to support our collective purpose.

6. It’s Obsessed with Numbers

Misguided social business advice is obsessed with numbers. It is driven by the logic of ROI. It takes an investment-return, input-output approach to (over-)emphasize just a small part of what social media systems can do for us. Misguided social business advice tells us to count, to compete and to keep score.

Wise social business advice is driven by the logic of quality, by the search for real value. It invites us to make qualitative adjustments, to recognize the role of aesthetics, to appreciate emotion, to help experience working relationships as sources of delight, insight, joy, and fun.

Wise social business advice helps us use these tools to be more human, more “community“.

7. It’s All ‘Business’

Misguided social business advice intends to help you run a business, make stuff, deliver a service.

201106091307.jpgWise social business advice intends to nurture and sustain a flourishing organizational eco-system. It seeks to to help you build capacity in your organization, your members, and your stakeholders individually and as a system.

Well-intentioned and Misguided

There are many folks with great enthusiasm about social tools and great intentions about helping organizations.  Lots of their advice is useful, but very little of it is comprehensive, truly visionary, or deeply inspiring. It’s too much about ‘business as usual’. It’s not enough about ‘organizations as they could be’.

It’s not wise to focus on Social Business. Instead, focus on Social Organizations to really make a difference.

Misguided social business advice has got a lot of things bass-ackward. It treats the organization as a fresh site for selling new technologies, and organizational change strategies only matter because they’ll help us implement technology more efficiently.

Wise social business advice, in contrast, understands that social technology, systems, and tools matter only because they have the potential for enabling our collective purpose.

I’ve been composing a list of sources for wise social media advice, so if you have any links, blogs, or tweeters to recommend, please let me know. I’ll post the list in a few weeks.

See also:

Systems of Engagement: Technology for Social Organizations
Social Media for Social Change — Inside the Organization?

How Social Media Create Organizational Meaning
Social Organizations and IT Leadership: Resources

Note: The posts hyperlinked above are absolutely not intended as examples of misguided advice. They’re there for context, definitions, further ideas for you, etc.

Images: Graffiti showing frown on…from Horia Varlan
rhythm and blues
from iboy_daniel
blue green glass abstract from Brent 2.0


Bret Simmons June 9, 2011 at 8:26 pm

Love it, CV. I keep trying to tell my colleagues that 5 years from now courses in social business will be the norm. They look at me with a blank stare at best. Change is coming, and fast.

cv harquail June 10, 2011 at 11:36 am

Hey Bret –
As long as colleagues remain clueless, we have work to do. The shift that I really want to see (and help make) is the one from seeing organizational change as something we do to facilitate technology, to technology as something we do to facilitate authenticity in organizations.
I’m seeing how so much of your teaching work is related to helping students enjoy social media and then get beyond the BSO syndrome so they use is as another leadership tool. Any ideas for helping organizations make that transition? I’m all ears 😉

John Tropea June 12, 2011 at 10:04 pm

Superb post!

Tools as enablers always; once this takes hold, then we can derive other benefits such as serendipity, great awareness, silo bridging, etc…

But first focus on what are our pain points, how can we fix or enhance processes…then later on all the sharing stuff, etc… will cascade.

It’s my worry that social computing practitioners treat this space just like other tech deployments. ie. they are not mindful or respect what they are dealing with. When I read negative surveys about social computing in orgs to me the results don’t make apparent the lack of skill of practitioners…maybe that’s the sort of context that may reveal the reason for low adoption…I’m sure if you interrogated these practitioners you would most probably find they don’t come from an ethnographic, facilitative mindset. Actually that would be a good deeper survey ie. interview practitioners from firms that had low adoption…from here we may get some more insight into the “why” behind low figures

Here’s my addition (lots of links within as usual)

I mention in this link above that two things differ 1. without interactions that tools aren’t that useful ie. you need more than one person to make them work 2. we the users design the tool for our use case…in all this contextual collaboration helps ie. socialise traditional apps (horizontal integration) eg. a classic and most simple example is for documents in your DMS to have a comments stream

Vicky June 15, 2011 at 6:49 am

You know your business is going downhill if you don’t see the customer that buys your product or service, but instead profit and numbers. A successful business will always have that contact with the real world, social and in touch with their customers.

I was once like that, seeing profit in every customer, not an actual human being with a problem that I might have a solution for (in the form of product or service). I was trying to make profit, not actually help them. It worked at first, but there’s a peak that once you reach, you can only go downhill…and so it did.

Had lots of investments, business ideas, online businesses that went down in flames like that but what kept me motivated was reading about successful people like Zuckenberg, Rockefeller or even Yuri Mintskovsky. This helped me analyze my own mistakes, learn from them. It kept me motivated and inspired to always try again, each time doing it differently.

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