The Me in Social Media

If you’re interested in how social business software can be improved, take a look at Alan Lepofsky’s recent blog post, My Top Three Issues with Social Software.

Alan’s an analyst at Constellation Research in Toronto, specializing in enterprise collaboration software, and in this post he shares the slides from his recent Defrag 2012 conference presentation.

Alan highlights three main shortcomings of current enterprise software offerings:

  • Activity streams have great potential, but they’re not yet smart enough to really help most people get work done more effectively.
  • Most social business tools are too focused on people’s activities, and not enough on a me-centric view that mirrors real human behavior.
  • Social business tools typically provide good-looking analytics charts, but not a lot of underlying insights to help customers take action.

As someone who’s worked first on the vendor side and now on the customer side of this equation, I couldn’t agree more. I’ve recently been assessing collaboration platforms for customer-facing communities, and have been frustrated by the very issues Alan’s identified.

In my opinion, these shortcomings won’t be entirely resolved anytime soon:

  • Making activity streams smarter should be the easiest of the three tasks, as “big data” tools have recently emerged that are ideal for solving this kind of problem. There’s no need to use natural language processing to figure out the meaning of each tweet, post and comment – upcoming software will simply notice what actions you take in response to each input, and optimize for that.
  • Making social business tools ego-centric is a more challenging problem. Solutions will require innovations at the intersection of software design, psychology, and emergent patterns of social media behavior. This will take time.
  • But it’s the third problem – delivering analytics that help executives make decisions faster and more accurately – that presents the biggest challenge. This isn’t a problem with software design, it’s a reflection of the fact that the data you’re analyzing simply don’t contain answers to the questions you’re asking. Companies that use social media to effectively engage with customers, prospects, and channel partners will certainly see improved results – they just won’t be able to prove exactly how that engagement drove the improvements.