On Friday, I was invited to an AvenueA-Razorfish sponsored summit on "Reinventing the Enterprise". The focus of the day long event was around the impact of social media in the enterprise. They had some great speakers and, as usual, the AARF gang brought a lot to the table.
Bob Lord, President of AARF, started the day off by sharing his insight around the challenges and opportunities of introducing Web 2.0 into the corporate culture. I appreciated his high level approach as it's very similar to the strategy we've embraced. Bob provided these four guiding principles:
Experiment - Just try it. There's no penalty if you don't hit perfection on the first try. This is new ground. If you're trying to break into the enterprise with social media - you're a pioneer - period. There's no play book, yet.
Simple - Don't over complicate things out of the gate... There's plenty of time for that later. Start small, build an initial offering, perhaps providing the raw basics, and let it evolve.
Be Global - Not in the geographic sense, but rather organizationally. Don't work in a silo - reach out across groups, find partners to help participate and evangelize your effort.
Social - Be sure to tap into the social network itself... Shape the culture through the voice of the community. It's what it's all about.
Bob's keynote really set the tone for the remainder of the day.
It was also the first time I was able to hear Jimmy Wales present. As you may know, Jimmy is the creator of Wikipedia and is working on a new venture called Wikia. Jimmy spoke about the challenges ahead as the corporate world tries to adopt the new media. Among the challenges he sees is the fact that we tend to focus on the *possible* negative behavior that social media in the enterprise enables - and design a solution around the potential negative. In other words, the final solution suffers - even worse fails - as the fear of the possible (albeit unlikely) is among the core design principles.
Overall there were 60 or so people in attendance. While the conversations, presentations and panel discussion were excellent, my biggest take away came as somewhat of a negative surprise. Many of the questions from the audience had tones of hesitation and concern. There's clearly a strong sense of unease. Successful adoption of social media in this environment will require us to let down our guard a bit - and to accept the fact that not everything has to be locked down - and that open and public dialog is OK. Folks seemed to be particularly concerned around the HR and legal implications of social media in the workplace. While I can understand the concern, I do believe it to be largely unfounded.
The truth is, social media is not all that different from email. Recall the concern in the early 90's as we took hours of training on the proper use of email. Fifteen years later and we've managed to survive. I don't recall the last time the business world came to a grinding halt because of an inappropriate, sensitive or politically charged email. Social media is different - but not that different. The risks and challenges are similar... We'll survive, but we have to embrace it first.