Are we over thinking enterprise social?


I attended a session at last week's Gilbane Conference in Boston called "From Collaboration to Business Transformation: Expanding the role of Enterprise Social Networks." As I listened to the two speakers, John Mancini and Mike Gotta--two guys who are very well informed in this area--I couldn't help feeling that perhaps we are over thinking this whole concept of enterprise social interactions. Maybe it's not as complicated as we make it out to be.

Gotta suggested that social networks inside the enterprise are a unique social ecosystem where social capital is an unusually important component. But I questioned whether these social interactions are really that different from our daily, offline social interactions.

When I suggested that there was little difference between how we interact offline and online, the speakers disagreed.

How different I wondered was the social capital I build up when I share a Word problem work-around on the company social network from when I lend my neighbor the proverbial cup of sugar. In both instances, I'm sharing because it's the proper social thing to do and because I likely believe the next time, that person might help me when I need it.

Actually, we probably don't think that much about it at all because we have developed social sharing mechanisms as part of our upbringing. From the earliest age, we instill in children the importance of sharing with others and when we grow up and work in corporations we carry those lessons with us.

So maybe it's not all that complicated. Maybe we are just doing what we've always been taught to do, to share and cooperate with one another. If we tap into these simple ideas, all enterprise social software is doing is taking advantage of the way most of us were brought up.

Gotta would argue, I think, that it's more complex than that because at work, our sharing instincts are actually secondary to our competitive/survival instincts, which tell us to hoard our information and make ourselves more valuable to the company.

Therefore, when we install social software in the enterprise we need to rethink our notions of sharing information. We need to stop thinking competitively and start thinking that building up social capital gives us a greater advantage than hoarding that information would give us.

Perhaps it's a personal thing, based on how you view the world and how comfortable you've grown using social software and being a good online citizen--sharing information and helping people.

What do you think? Is a work environment a unique social situation or do we have certain behaviors that we use regardless of where we are?

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