When I heard Cheryl Hardy say at the Social Media for the Public Sector Conference that “creating your own social media forum is not as effective as playing in the existing ones” it set my mind racing.

She was referring to the internal forum set up by Information Victoria as part of the eGOV Resource Centre of the Government of Victoria, and she noted under “lessons learned” that the forum was “not where people want to be”.

We often have conversations about the issue of internal versus external forums. And the answer isn’t one or the other. Each has a role within a total social business strategy, which we often characterise as the forums furthest from your own control being about building relationships and those closest about helping enable business objectives.

But that was a passing thought; it wasn’t what my mind was racing about. I was thinking about two broader issues which get to the root cause of why “your own social media forum” is not likely to be effective, which are:

  1. the misconception that social is just another channel, and is in fact nothing new; and,
  2. the misconception that social is a destination – an enhanced Sharepoint portal for example.

Social is not just another channel

It is oft repeated, as it was at this conference, that social is “just another channel”. And furthermore, that it is actually nothing new – that business has always been “between people”.

Those assertions always make me wriggle in my seat, kind of like I want to get up and yell out NOOOOOOOO! Let’s deal with them one at a time.

If the social business era we are now entering is nothing new then how can it also be transformational, which I believe it is? If it’s nothing new then at best it is incremental. But it is not incremental, because in many market sectors the integration of social will be life and death, and in others it will transform competitive advantage, talent advantage, cost structures, corporate power structures etc etc. Careers WILL be won and lost! That’s not business as usual.

For sure, bits of social media have been around for quite a long time, but the social business fabric that we now have at our disposal to deploy “social everywhere” is new. And it’s only just beginning. And, combined with the revolution of cloud computing and mobile these together are certainly transformational for all businesses in competitive markets, and beyond e.g. many aspects of government.

But is there any harm in thinking about social as “just another channel”? Yes I think that there is, and it is because pigeon-holing social in that way most often reflects a mindset which isn’t expansive enough in the consideration of social across the enterprise. This envisaging requires a different mental model and a different evaluation of the business value.

Perhaps surprisingly, there is one aspect of treating social as just another channel with which I agree. That is when it is used in the context of being something which everybody should have access to as a business tool – like the phone, fax and email. In that case the phrase is conveying a very broad cross-organisational use, which is a good vantage point from where to construct specific business cases and priorities for the deployment of social.

Socializing ApplicationsSocial is not a destination

The idea that social is a place to go e.g. an enhanced Sharepoint portal or a wiki, is also still widely perceived to be the purpose of, say, an internal “community”. We’ve all heard many cases of “we built the community site but no one came”. Having taken that approach in the past, using the technology then available e.g. forum building technology, was probably a reasonable try. But today is not the time to be thinking of building your own “social media forum” or your own enhanced Sharepoint portal.

This thinking is often misguided by misunderstanding the idea of building “a Facebook for the enterprise”. Don’t get me wrong, this is a useful catch-phrase or elevator pitch for the C-level. However I believe that when C-level execs say that they are actually making two points – the first they know they are making, and the second they don’t know that they are making.


The first point that the C-level know that they are making is about value. They want something where the effort getting “stuff” in and shared is less than the value the participants receive in return. For previous “knowledge management” and collaboration systems this has not been the case. So this point is about ease of use and value = benefits – cost.

Social as a platform

The second point, which they do not know that they are making, is about social as a platform. Platforms are the powerhouse – for example there have been a few tweetstorms lately around the idea that “we built Facebook” and how dare Facebook go public and the owners and employees make all that money for themselves. That’s a complete load of BS. We didn’t build Facebook any more than the construction workers “built this country” as their TV ads tell us. They are commodities, we are commodities. Facebook build a platform and an ecosystem and won. MySpace build an online application and lost. We didn’t destroy MySpace, MySpace did.

Adding social functionality to business applications brings productivity to a whole new level right across all areas of the business, and, referring to my first point, this is not social as just another channel. It’s social as innovation, as product support, as marketing support, as sales support, as employee communication, as partner communication and as customer communication etc.

Social needs platforms which are capable of extending social everywhere, and especially into the everyday work processes and systems that people are already using. This revelation is nothing new. SAP know this, as do Salesforce, Oracle, Microsoft and IBM and every other enterprise system vendor. In fact this was known back in 2006 as expressed by Andrew McAfee. We ourselves are a Telligent partner and their long-standing vision of social as a platform was one of the key attractions for us in representing them in APAC.

The application vendors know, for sure, that if they do not facilitate open socialization of their applications then they will be risking oblivion. While their public profiles on the topic may not be so dramatic, that’s more a function of marketing and their need to balance installed base, cash balance, cash flow and delivery capability.

The ideas of socialization of applications and “social everywhere” in a business are of course strongly linked (but not necessarily intimately linked at this time due to differences between technology cycles and cultural adaption).

Social everywhere is coming, and that’s why we should be planning for it now, and moving right away from investments constrained by the idea of social as a destination.

So the way I interpret Cheryl Hardy’s statement is to say that is it both right and wrong. There is little value in building your own “social media forum” for the sake it, and yet there is a lot of value in building social media everywhere and in building purpose-defined internal communities which also link to social everywhere.

What are your thoughts on “creating your own social media forum is not as effective as playing in the existing ones”?

Why do you believe that social IS just another channel or IS NOT?

Please comment below.