Choose Your Social Computing Strategy Wisely

This article had an interesting interview with Tim Walters, an Information and Knowledge Management analyst with Forrester. In it, he emphasizes the role of Social Computing. He’s certainly not the first one to do this, but his comments caused me to think a little harder about this. I like Social Computing, and I have certainly been an active participant in the technology area via this blog and Twitter. I have also leveraged my web site, Facebook, and other resources for more personal community sharing. At the same time, i consider myself the exception rather than the norm. So, when analysts are talking about the need for companies to leverage social computing technologies more prominently, I wonder whether this is playing to a very small market segment.

If you are an information management company/content provider, how many of your customers want to participate in a community around your information/content, and how many just want to continue to be consumers? I think the tools have enabled people who wanted to participate all along to be able to do so, but have the tools converted people who otherwise would not have participated? I don’t know. What I have tended to see are a few people (like me) who love to be an active participant, a few people who love to comment/critique, but never offer original content of their own, and then the other 80% of the people who passively consume, if even at all. If we start forcing content into a more conversational, interactive setting, especially when that content needs to used for business purposes, are we going to make it more difficult to use for the 80% mass market?

The end result is that online communities and social computing technology, like anything else, must make business sense. They can’t be approached blindly. It can be a very powerful tool, but it can also be a very distracting one if it takes away from your core focus.

2 Responses to “Choose Your Social Computing Strategy Wisely”

  • Good points, Todd. But I think the social media genie is out of the bottle, and this will continue to shape the new, more conversational way that consumers interact with companies.

    While it’s true that most people are lurkers, the 20% that are doing the talking are generating content that would otherwise be missing. I suspect that over time that many in the 80% that are now content to sit on the sidelines will begin to join the conversation as the number of companies that provide that channel for consumers increases. After all, even passively tracking the online conversation between a company and its customers via Twitter or Facebook is far less boring and far more informative than having to listen to awful music while sitting on hold while trying to connect with a company by telephone. And that Twitter/Facebook conversation is between humans, in contrast to the telephone connection which is often entirely automated.

  • I agree that social networking is here to stay. What’s important, though, is to use it where it makes sense according to your operating model. I am reading “Living on the Fault Line” and the author, Geoffrey Moore, has a 4×4 competitive advantage grid. If your focus for competitive differentiation is in customer intimacy, then I think social computing is going to be very important to you. If your area for differentiation is in operational excellence (e.g. Walmart), does fostering a community make sense? A company could spend a lot money trying to build community when a very small percentage of it is interested and it may have limited business value. One must also consider the impact of external communities forming and influencing behavior though, whether it is something like or groups that are against controversial topics like biotechnology.

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