The social enterprise options

A huge discussion is ongoing on how to implement the social enterprise paradigm and on why it doesn’t seem to deliver as expected.
Obviously, social enterprise is a broad term that comprises a large number of very diverse problems addressed and solutions that can be adopted, within a variety of business scenarios (including social CRM, social BPM and many more).
I think there is a common problem that needs to be solved for each of them: how much to empower the users / workers with respect to keeping in control of the business.
I see a continuous set of possibilities here, but I tried to summarize them in a discrete set of 5 options, as reported in the figure below.
Let’s assume a simplified model with two user stereotypes:

  • internal user: representing a human resource formally enrolled in the enterprise activities and in charge of some tasks or responsibility. For instance, in case of BPM, this would be one of the users assigned a role in the BP and in charge of performing one or more process activities.
  • external user: representing any actor (from within the company, from partners or third party enterprises, or even from the end user base) that is not formally in charge of any task, but that do contribute somehow to the business through his/her social interactions, feedback and so on.
The continuum of the social enterprise options when deciding how to exploit the social assets.

The possible solutions that can be implemented are:

  1. No social enterprise: the company performs its business in a traditional and completely structured way, without exploiting weak ties, informal interactions, user feedbacks. Everything is performed through the some enterprise software platform.
  2. Empowered enterprise: the company applies some user/worker empowerment by allowing external users to contribute through a social networks. In this case, the actual business is run through the enterprise software platform; the users on the social network have limited interaction options, while the ones on the enterprise platform are enabled to perform the entirety of the needed tasks.The internal user still plays a predominant role here and decides if and when to exploit the actions and events coming from the social platform.
  3. Enterprise democracy: the company adopts a completely transparent policy and lets the external users perform the same actions that internal users can do.
  4. Enterprise view: the company role in this case is to get a view on any kind of complex interactions or behaviour on a social network. In this case the role of the internal user is quite diminished, because he is basically just collecting feedbacks or statistics on the action, while the actual activity is performed on the social network.
  5. Only social: this is the most unstructured scenario, where everything is run on the social basis and there is no actual structured activity ongoing on it.

These 5 scenarios are all good in principle, but if you move to the real business some of them are more important than others.
Let’s keep out the two extremes: we are not interested in the non-social case here, and on the other side the completely social one doesn’t make much sense in a business setting (actually, even in the pure social network platforms there are some analyses and tasks run by internals, which position the case in the scenario number 4).

Empowered enterprise is probably the most sensible scenario, and I can imagine a lot of situations where this can apply (most of the Social BPM cases for instance).
Enterprise democracy, although positioned in the middle, is quite extreme in considering the role of social contributions. At the moment I can’t see any real scenario where to apply this. If you have some, feel free to share it.
Enterprise view instead is typical of several situations where the social behaviour needs to be observed for understanding the positioning of the enterprise (think about social CRM, social Marketing, opinion trend analysis and so on).

Please let me know if you are aware of any other sensible scenario you recognized, and please share also real / realistic cases you experienced.

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5 thoughts on “The social enterprise options

  1. Interesting thesis.  There are interesting discussion point across a such spectrum of organization types.  What I find odd is the apparent correlation between internal/external and structured/unstructured.  I am not sure that is justified.  In the completely closed case (no social), you say that all activities are “structured”.  But such a closed organizations might be strongly structured, or they might be run completely on an ad-hoc basis.  For example, a creative arts company might be completely unstructured without allowing any external access.   Similarly, the “only social” is described has having no structured activity, but I can think of business models that involve purely external participants in a quite rigid process.   I don't think that there is justification to confound social aspects with structured aspects.  They are separate dimensions.

  2. Keith,
    you are perfectly right. Being structured/unstructured in general is a much broader issue and does not involve only social aspects. I was thinking to the social contribution to business processes as a unique source of “unstructuredness”, but that's definitely limiting. The two extremes can be probably better described as: “completely independent from social input” and “completely based on social input” respectively.
    I'll try to clarify this point in the post (and possibly in the picture too), thanks a lot for your comment.

  3. I agree that in the near term, the Empowered Enterprise is the model most likely to show the most benefit and least risk. I think that in the longer term, we are going to need to culturally shift toward Enterprise Democracy. I say this because the things that seemed like outsized risk just a few years ago are happening today and I expect that trend to continue. One thing that has continually been evident since the 90's and the down of the Internet Era–what seemed impossible and unworkable arrives. When I look at USAA and how they allow a customer forum to be 'live' on their website, with good, bad and ugly all available for people to see, I realize that transparency to the voice of the customer is coming very quickly, and it is a game changer. The enterprise 'network of suppliers and customers is a model that is changing rapidly and the way people communicate across these networks will change as well as norms shift toward openness.

  4. Thanks Chris for your long-term vision. As usual, you are one step ahead of the pack on this. For sure Enterprise Democracy is the dream of every consultant in the social business area 😀 . I see this very likely to happen too, especially in certain scenarios (you made a perfect example in the marketing / CRM fields). Not sure about other, more conservative ones (like BPM), but maybe it will just take longer.

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