I don’t want to talk about social media. I don’t want to talk about social business. I don’t want to talk about social enterprise. At least not in the context which many people seem to be using it these days. Businesses are not social. People are social. Supreme Court precedent aside, businesses are not people, at least when it comes to communication. But there is something going on that is disrupting traditional business communication.
Social, or Engagement?
When people talk about businesses needing to become more social, what do they really mean? I suggest they mean for them to be more attentive to the needs and actions of their ecosystem: customers, employees, partners, competitors, vendors…the list goes on. In the past this was done through surveys and focus groups, through phone calls and emails, and even the occasional note in the suggestion box. Was this social? I don’t know. Was this engagement? Absolutely. It was engagement using the tools — the media — available at the time. It boils down to communications. We’re living in an era where communication is ubiquitous. We have a generation of “hyper-connected” individuals with a new mind set; a paradigm shift.
To paraphrase my friend Phil Simon, “we have to raise the level of discourse.” Are we really looking to make businesses “social” or is it more about leveraging the latest communication tools? We are living in an era of pervasive communications. Social media — defined by many to include tools like Facebook, Twitter, Google+, Foursquare and LinkedIn, to name a few — is just one aspect of the innovations in communication technology. We have websites, email and blogs. How about mobile? SMS? VOIP? Video conferencing? These are all communication tools that can be leveraged to increase the level of engagement a business can have within it’s ecosystem.
The arrival of pervasive communication was disruptive. It threw a monkey wrench in traditional communication channels, and global concerns loomed larger than us or our businesses. We now have conversations occurring worldwide, no longer constrained by national or natural borders. We have adapted and learned to deal with it.
The challenge now is pervasive communication has become chaotic — the sprawl of communication mediums offer competing, yet similar functions. Conversations now leap among platforms and channels with an unprecedented fluidity — a Twitter update engenders an SMS text which leads to a phone conversation that informs a blog post that points to a web-site viewed on a mobile device which generates a sale in a brick-and-mortar venue — yes, chaotic, hyper-connected, ubiquitous and non-linear.
With this change comes both risk and reward. This disruption presents opportunity: to leverage a new communication paradigm, or be crushed under the weight of it.
Velocity of Information
“Over the next 10 years, the amount of both real-time and historical information available to a single person will have increased exponentially, as will the ability of a single person to instantaneously touch – and influence – a billion people in the time it takes to read this sentence.” – 2020F
Pervasive communication through the aforementioned abundance and diversity of channels puts enormous amounts of information and analytic power in the hands of the average person — without even having to know how to research. It’s not a fire hose of information, it’s fire hoses. Just think what accomplished researchers can now do to enrich their thinking via conversations made possible through a fluid web of agile collaboration. Instant. Pervasive. Extensive.
Pervasive communication is changing the way we do business. All business can now be local and global. Conversations among businesses and consumers are no longer bi-lateral. Consumers are talking to each other about brands. This is not news for many of you, but it’s important to recognize how it has added words like “listening,” “monitoring,” and “community” to the business lexicon. Most recognize that the impact is felt throughout traditional external facing aspects of business. This could include:
- Public Relations
- Customer Service
- Service Delivery
How many recognize the effect on internal facing aspects of business? Consider the impact on the following:
- Human Resources
- Product Development and R&D
- Project Management
- Supply Chain
Pervasive communication has redefined the nature of internal collaboration and broadened the value proposition of a distributed workforce. It allows collaboration at a high level, quickly.
New Rules For Risk and Reward
The very nature of pervasive communication enforces the requirement for businesses to present an unprecedented level of transparency — it’s tough to hide these days. If you want to see what not to do, Jeremiah Owyang has a great list: A Chronology of Brands the Got Punk’d by Social Media. This re-balances the risk/reward equation for business. Businesses face an intense level of scrutiny which requires new operating procedures and crisis management techniques, all this against the backdrop of an evolving legislative environment.
The Level of Discourse
For business, the conversation needs to be raised above the level of social media. It’s time to talk about more than Twitter monitoring and Facebook corporate pages. This is about strategic business objectives. We need to ask ourselves the big questions:
- What is the impact of pervasive communications on my business?
- How can I leverage these communication tools today?
- How can I protect my businesses from the inherent risks?
- How does this fit into my long range planning?