SharePoint: Rebranding Enterprise Social Capabilities

This is the first in a series of posts dedicated to how we as an industry can address some of the challenges that we face in driving adoption & change. 

I believe that we need to rebrand the social capabilities that we as an industry are offering to our customers.  Starting from the SharePoint product group, down to every IT Pro working in & around SharePoint, we have a problem.   

It’s right there in the name.  Not only is social a word with an interpretation problem, it’s not even (fundamentally) what we’re talking about.  We can do better. We need to do better.  

Obviously, “SharePoint Social” now encompasses a variety of technologies outside of SharePoint but how the industry refers to this concept is (and will continue to be) problematic in driving adoption within real-world customer organizations (i.e. not simply those that make their way to the SharePoint Conference)The tools are great and they‘ll only get better & more intelligent (i.e. Office Graph), but mainstream customers aren’t there yet.  Most don’t get it and this lack of broad acceptance was not represented at SPC14.  

Clearly, there are plenty of forward-leaning, technology-minded organizations out there that are (or will) adopt an enterprise social strategy with open arms.  This crowd doesn’t care what it’s called… they either understand the value that it represents or are happy to take part in the experiment. Unfortunately, theres a larger population of organizations that aren’t nearly as open to the idea and I believe that its based almost entirely upon how we are positioning the capability.  

We say MySite, they hear MySpaceWe talk about introducing social tools, they hear loss of productivity.  The problem is the words that we’re using, their perception and the psychological effect that they have on business leadership.   

SocialActivities2

Whether we like it or not, the above are things that a lot of people associate with the word “Social” and I would argue that the percentages of those that do are statistically much higher in business leadership roles… the very same group that ultimately sets the tone for what the organization will and will not pursue. 

The often cited scapegoat here is an age or generational gap.   Sure… sometimes, this is true and it really is that simple.  However, I would wager that it’s a relatively insignificant data point in the scope of the real, underlying reasons why we hit the social wall. 

Many business leaders have sacrificed portions of their “social” universe to get where they are.  It’s seen by many as a necessary concession in the pursuit of great things.  It’s conflated with “fun”, and there’s rarely time for fun.  Granted, many of the same understand and welcome the ideas of employee welfare, work-life balance and all of the other fluffy ideas that we use to build our respective corporate cultures, but these are often quarantined in the brain, away from the “operations” side of how real work gets done.   It is this mental partition that I believe we can dissolve with a change in branding. 

If you do a quick image search on “people socializing”, you’ll see a return like the following:

People-Socializing

Now do a search on “people collaborating”… you’ll see a very different set of results: 

People-Collaborating

Let that sink in for a minute… in the vain of working like a network, this is how the network interprets the terms. 

One word triggers thoughts of play, the other triggers thoughts of work.  Even if it’s occurring on a subconscious level, the psychological implications of this word are playing a role in organizational unwillingness to have the social conversation.  These are the types of trends that we hope to expose by introducing these tools into the enterprise and yet we still fight against it.

I think we could all agree that IF there is a more universally agreeable lexicon, it would be pretty worthwhile to figure out what it is.  This is the conversation that I believe we need to have.  Microsoft’s “Work like a network” was a clear attempt to shift the conversation points, but I don’t think we’re there yet. 

Personally, my brain is stuck on some take on “collaboration”, because that’s really what we‘re talking about.  In fact, every social feature in the toolset is based (at their core) on the idea of facilitating collaborative interaction.   

Words matter.  Collaboration is a vastly more accepted term in the workplace… the interpretation problem isn’t there.  Decision makers may not always understand exactly what it means, but they “know” it’s a good thing.   

Express Collaboration Features 

Work Connectivity Features

“Connected Enterprise” – My Current favorite from AvePoint’s  Dux Raymond Sy 

Thoughts? What do you think?  What do you say when your customer or your company leadership pushes back on social capabilities?

One example of many over the last couple years:  In January of 2014, I worked with a customer that had set out to deploy SharePoint 2010.  When we got to talking and started to peel back the layers of the onion of how 2010 was selected, do you know what we found…

“SharePoint 2013 is all about social features and that doesn’t fit our culture”

That notion had been contorted and transformed into a variety of differently worded requirements and project drivers, obscuring the original thought.  In this particular case, we were able to have a really productive conversation and they eventually accepted 2013 as the platform with open arms and excitement.  There are way too many variables that all had to line up to prevent what would have been a outright bad and uninformed decision.  A different consultant may not have pushed quite so hard to find the origin of some of the requirements… a different customer may not have been swayed by the argument that’s its not about social… How many customers out there are forming these sort of base-level perceptions about where we’re going with the technology? 

In the field. when we’re talking about business-friendly ideas such as “collaboration” (or similar), we only have to explain how people can achieve it, not that they should want to achieve it.  Much like Jared Spataro’s concerns about moving too quickly with Oslo evolution, I believe that we’re limiting our overall success in driving this concept by using language that doesn’t (by default) align with non-tech business leadership before they’re ready for it.

Obviously, “social” is happening and the workplace will be transformed forever. Just kicking around ways to make it an easier roadtrip.

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