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The intranet social garden and quantum mechanics

In my last Biznology post, “Social business, the forest and the garden: Your intranet is not the Internet”, I wrote about why patterns that are so successful over the Internet often fail inside corporate firewalls. In essence: the Internet is humongous, with billions of users; its content is measured in exabytes; participants are free agents and often anonymous or strangers; the platform is an immense forest, a fertile ground for infinite experimentation. Your intranet, on the other side, is more like a garden: relatively small in terms of users and content, with participants contractually bound to the organization and a low tolerance for failure. How can a social platform based on blogs, wikis, discussion forums and status updates succeed under those conditions? Isn’t the whole concept of architecture of participation dependent on high volumes of users, content and activities? Well, not exactly, or at least not always. As it is often the case in nature, innovation and social media, there are multiple paths towards the success, and levers that work well under certain contexts may be completely inappropriate in others.

Quantum Leashes
Photo credit: Serolynne

The study of physics is traditionally split in two branches: the so-called classical mechanics is concerned with the motion of macroscopic objects, while quantum mechanics deals with physical phenomena at a much smaller scale. According to Wikipedia:

Classical physics explains matter and energy at the macroscopic level of the scale familiar to human experience, including the behavior of astronomical bodies. It remains the key to measurement for much of modern science and technology but at the end of the 19th Century scientists discovered phenomena in both the large (macro) and the small (micro) worlds that classical physics could not explain. Coming to terms with these limitations led to the development of quantum mechanics, a major revolution in physics. Quantum mechanics has many implications on the microscopic scale, some of which are obscure and even counter-intuitive.

By the same token, trying to apply the social media concepts of Google’s page rank, Wikipedia’s wisdom of crowds, Facebook’s millions of friends, Twitter’s world pulse and Pinterest’s social curation “as is” to an internal social business platform will come short in delivering results. We need to go back to the drawing board and develop a new set of rules, describing a new collection of patterns and anti-patterns for social media within the enterprise. We need, for the lack of a better analogy, to depart from the “classical” social media and define a brand-new “quantum” social media.

By completely re-inventing the social media framework, internal social business platforms will finally be able to escape the trap of being “Wikipedia for the enterprise”, “Corporate Facebook” and “Twitter for Business” and come up with new collaboration and communication patterns that do not even exist in the Internet. Thus, instead of lamenting that within the firewall you lack the volumes, the diversity and the serendipity of the Internet, focus on the strengths you have:

  • Your corporate wiki reference will never be as broad and up-to-date as Wikipedia. You don’t have an army of volunteers to maintain it accurate and neat. Use wikis as a convenient way to create short-lived websites or to collaborate on draft content instead.
  • Chances are that the vast majority of your corporate bloggers won’t be as insightful as the folks writing for the New York Times or GigaOM. But corporate blogs can be excellent vehicles to track the progress of a project, provide executive updates, and discuss business news relevant for your organization.
  • Enterprise microblogging and status updates tend to not be as timely or frequent as those posted during the Academy Awards ceremony, but they may be very efficient in providing praise for a job well done or to share snippets of knowledge that can those around you more engaged or productive.
  • Discussion forums will lack the passion of the RealGM fans and trolls, but can be the vest venue to provide support for business processes and internal applications.
  • The videos produced by your colleagues in Asia or South America may not become as viral as Gangnam Style, but you probably can identify yourself with them more than you would do with Psy.
  • When you run a poll among your colleagues, you won’t be second guessing whether or not Jeremy Lin is almost as good as Chris Paul, or it’s just a bunch of trolls voting several times and skewing the results.

In other words: you can achieve success with your social intranet, but not by mimicking the Internet social media darlings. Your accomplishments won’t necessarily be measured by the number of followers, tweets per seconds or likes you are getting, but by how much business value you can derive from a more connected and engaged workforce.

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Aaron Kim

Aaron Kim is the Head of Digital Social Collaboration at the Royal Bank of Canada, and led the efforts to bring social business and social collaboration to an organization of 79,000 employees. He’s also been a public speaker at several events across the globe, from the Web 2.0 Expo to JiveWorld, from Singapore to Barcelona. He has a passion for innovation and for making work smarter, more meaningful and rewarding to all. Born and raised in Brazil, to a Korean father and Japanese mother, he also volunteers in several diversity initiatives, inside and outside RBC. In the past, he worked as a consultant both at IBM Canada and Unisys Brazil, having played the roles of solutions architect, Basel II analyst, performance engineer, Java programmer, Unix administrator and environmental biologist. He holds an MBA from the University of Toronto, and a bachelor’s degree in Biology from the Universidade de São Paulo. He lives in Toronto, Canada, is married to Tania and have a son, Lucas.

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