Summary : Everytime we talk about social media we focus on rich relationships and exchanges, conversations, community feeling, what are very heavy and complex things to make happen. That’s forgetting that there’s a lighter and at least as productive way to use social channels : a short, factual social signal that aims at informing hand helping people to visualize their environment without engaging too much. Social media can be awesome “business awareness” tools without needing strong interpersonnal relationships.
The assumption is easy to get : social tools bring more intensity and flexibility in the way people and information behave, get organizaed, interact and thats makes it easier to invent new way of collaborating within any organization or between a business and its ecosystem. Social networks that provide lots of tool to support interpersonal relationships has become the incarnation of these approaches to such an extent that they’re often shown as the solution to any problem.
But is the monolithic vision of social networking that comes with social media relevant.
1Â°) Does a social network need to be conversational
It started with a conversation I had with a friend about a general public tool on the web but it can also apply to enterprise tools. We were talking about foursquare and a friend told me : “why do you use foursquare ? xxxx is much better and more engaging”. My answer “Humm…I’m not convinced”. “Yes Bertrand, on foursquare people usually check in to say where they are while on XXXXX they say things, share their state of mind, share photos, have conversations”. “How to say…In fact I don’t care at all about all these things”.
Let me explain : what I like in such tools is that I can know who is where. Everything else ils superfluous and pollutes the signal. On Foursquqre I’m looking for location information and not digressions about moods or the state of mind of M. So-and-so. There are other channels for that.
These tools are “ambient awareness” tools : they have to send short and low signals (not aggressive or intrusive), coming from my ecosystem and too much information and conversation kills the signal, making it hard to hear.
That reminds me off the conversation I had years ago with Reid Hoffman about what he called “Business Intelligence for People”. Today, I’d rather say “business awarness”Â but the fact remains : being social does not always mean having lots of conversation and engaging a lot but receiving / sharing a clear and short signal in order to visualize / help others to visualize what is their informational context, what’s happening in their relational environment.
So there’s a wide part of the social activity that has not to be conversationnal, rich in terms of content and interaction, and where, in fact, interactions are rather the exception than the nom. What matters there is to improve people awareness about something (business in this case) with a a clear and not overloading signal.
2Â°) Do social networks need to be bijective and global ? No.
According to what I’m saying, we should need one channel by subject. Foursquare for location, Twitter for activities… Of course boundaries are not clear and twitter tends to be a receiver for all the channels…what is not incompatible with my idea.
There are people we like to be aware of where they are, others what they read, other what they’re listening to. We may need a full signal of some, a partial signal of others because only a part of their activities matter to us. Having separate channels and one that gathers everything makes sense.
I may also want to follow people that don’t follow me…and conversely. We are not in a relationship approach but rather a sourcing one. Relationship can follow…or not.
3Â°) What conclusion ?
We seem to be very far from the usual concepts of networks, conversations, communities…and that’s, in fact, not social at all. Maybe. But that does not change anything to the fact that a very large part of social media usage is overlooked and that trying to turn anything into conversations, relationships and exchanges, we don’t try to explore the full potential of social media for awareness purpose : a signal shared with who wants, the gathering of signals helping to visualize what’s happening in one’s environment according to the filters one wants.
Social channels can be used without any network, in a very light and not engaging way.
As for the enterprise, I’ve often been suprised by something. We can see very complex systems with heavy community management, where people are told to generate content and connect while employees are only asking for one thing : understand the moving business environment they’re in, the right signal at the right moment without verbiage or strong engagement. They seldom have neither the time nor the will to engage into relationships and rich conversations. In the other hand, starting with a lighter but as productive approach that can be called “ambient business awareness” can be a good thing. It improves the way people get light and useful business information, so their responsiveness, and can generate interactions and networking when needed.
Try to think about all the interesting things we find on social networks. How many come from a person with whom we have strong relationships, with whom we talked a lot ? And did this person intend to share this information with us, personally, or to share an information with anyone will find it useful ?
Twitter recently admited they were not a social network (rather a channel for social signals in my opinion). Once we understand what it means, we can start considering enterprise business awareness with new eyes and discover many new opportunities.