I have a feeling that Wendy Lea is responding to the cacaphony of companies claiming to be social, perhaps egged on by the appearance of the Dachis Group’s Social Business Index, and she uses a wonderful term: social washing. I presume this is based on greenwashing, where companies try to make themselves seem more green than they actually are.
Wendy Lea, Social Business: You’re Doing It All Wrong
The distinction between being social and socialwashing isn’t academic – it’s the difference between gaining and losing value. With everyone clamoring to embrace social, it’s easy to get caught up in the excitement of the next big thing. Social business can have a tremendous effect on all aspects of a company: it can lower support costs and call volume, act as a powerful customer acquisition tool, and inform the product team, helping to align them with what customers really want.
But most companies won’t see these results overnight. They aren’t structured in a way that enables them to benefit from social across operational functions, and most enterprise software applications aren’t built to process unstructured customer conversations and integrate them into traditional enterprise back-end systems.
If anything, Lea doesn’t go far enough. Business will require a rethink from the ground up to become social, not just a few tweaks and new hires in PR and customer support organizations.
Lea touches on the real barriers to adoption of social business thinking when she says that ‘most businesses aren’t structured in a way that enables them to benefit from social across operational functions’, which means in practice that the communication paths in most businesses — who says what to whom — have been devised around business processes not social networks.
Stowe Boyd, The Rise Of Networks, The End Of Process
Today, the social web is happening, and acting like a solvent on these business constructs: not just superficially, or metaphorically, but at the very core of industrial beliefs. Note: this isn’t just a bunch of humanist rhetoric: the social society is exploding, and new ways of interaction that were unaffordable or impossible before are not only cheap and possible but being adopted widely because of a long list of reasons, not the least of which is simplicity and effectiveness. People are thronging on social sites like Facebook and Twitter because they are a straightforward way to stay connected with others, and this in turn shapes our worldview.
As these new realities percolate in the open web and in the new web-influenced culture, people carry these experiences into the world of business. Indirectly, based on their experience in the open web, which leads them to consider how the social tools could work in the business context. And more directly, some pioneers are dragging social tools into the business context, and seeing where it all goes.
And some, a few, are trying to think through a new model for business, reconstructed around what we have learned in the open web, balanced with what we know about the conduct of business. A new hybrid, intentionally devised to keep the best of the old (or at least the parts that will still work) and fuse that with the new, social models that dominate the web revolution.
From a social viewpoint, the architecture of business seems all wrong. People aren’t really designed to do one thing, like a cog in a watch. They have various relationships with other people, and through these relationships they have influence on the work going on all around them. They are not alone, like a moth in a bell jar. We are not alone, in our work. Even the most repetitive of work — screwing bolts on an assembly line, or delivering the mail — happens in the context of other people, and is made more valuable by their exertions.
Increasingly, people’s work is being viewed as a shared aspect of social relations. Time is a shared space, where we cooperate toward shared ends.
One casualty of this large-scale shift in business doctrine may be the hallowed business process. The notion of a process — a defined series of steps in the production of goods or the delivery of services — subordinates individuals to the their roles in the process.
For decades, business planners have made a distinction between repetitive, lock-step processes, where very little variability is involved (think pharmacy), and more free-form, unstructured processes where a higher degree of variability is expected (think emergency room). Taking the abstraction of a process out of the world of chemistry, manufacturing, and logistics, and treating the people involved as so many chemicals, gears, or trucks seemed like a good idea in the past, but is not going to be workable, going forward.
We will have to devise a new, richer way to think about people’s interactions — via social networks — and our connection to mechanical processes and devices. In effect, we will need to model work with two layers, one where people are communicating with each other in a very fluid and flexible way, and another where machinery communicates with us and other machinery in less fluid ways. […]
More importantly, the customers in the emerging social world will have new expectations about their role in business ‘processes’ and may be significantly less willing to be treated like pigeons pecking at levers in exchange for pellets.
So, I agree with Lea that businesses have a long way to go, and more companies will be involved in socialwashing: building a veneer of social networks over a process-oriented organization. However superficial that may seem, however, it may be a necessary first step. It might be like the joke about getting directions in Maine, where the local tells the tourist, ‘There’s no way to get there from here: you have to go somewhere else, first’.
It might be necessary to experiment with sociality at a superficial level to allow people to bend their minds around the profound difference of loosely connected networks as opposed to tightly connected processes. So we should accept the socialwashing as inevitable and formative, like living through your teenage years.
- Jumping On The Bandwagon, Or Just Cashing In? (stoweboyd.com)