Breaking out of the social media echo chamber

I was alerted through Twitter to an interesting blog post by Amber Naslund entitled “Are we sharing solutions or soundbites?”, in which she discusses the issue of social media enthusiasts often failing to connect effectively with the business mainstream. She opens by saying:

Something’s been gnawing at me lately, and it’s taken some pondering to figure out exactly what it is. But I think I’m frustrated that we’re not doing a better job of carrying social media into the places it really matters: the businesses that don’t understand, don’t believe, or both.

It is a concern that immediately struck a chord with me as it is something that David and I have been discussing a lot lately – i.e. the fact that mainstream businesses need more insight into where, how and why social media fits into their world, if at all.

Amber is clearly social media enthusiast, and just like other advocates, spends a lot of time developing and discussing ideas with like minded people, an example of the echo chamber principle in action. As she points out, though, this can can sometimes create an illusion of progress and consensus within a community that is not representative of wider world:

It’s comfortable in the echo chamber, because we can put one of our sound bites on Twitter and readily and immediately have the comfort of a bunch of replies saying “Amen”. We can put a post on our blog that outlines the truths we hold to be self evident as social media advocates, and we can be confident that there will be a trove of comments lauding us (or at the very least, merciful silence). But what good is any of that if we aren’t moving anything forward? What are we doing for those who are not yet sold on any of this?

Amber goes on to discuss some of the questions that need to be addressed to move things forward in a tangible manner and her full post is well worth a read (see here).

If you pop over there, you’ll see quite a few interesting comments, including a couple that demonstrate the purist mindset that particularly thrives in the echo chamber and is in fact a big mpediment to making progress.

Buried in the thread somewhere are my own thoughts on the matter, but for your convenience, here they are cross posted from the original comment:

The biggest problem advocates have is the ‘magic bullet’ mindset. If you are a business leader or CIO, then the sound bites you mention that get fired at you from the social media camp are just part of a constant stream of ‘magic’ propositions that hit you from IT vendors, management consultants, analysts, and, indeed, other advocacy groups such as the open source movement, cloud evangelists, etc.

Beyond this, there is a tendency for advocates to think far too generically, assuming that everyone has the same business problems and objectives, all weighted in the same way. This is not the real world. Culture, objectives, constraints, workforce composition, level of regulation, nature of IT landscape, etc, vary immensely between industries and organisation sizes, even between individual companies who might look very similar from the outside.

Against this background, it is impossible to generalise on the ‘actual’ impact of social media in business, not to mention the perceived relevance by business decision makers, as it is all so dependent on the environment. Adoption practicalities too are also dependent on context.

I picked up on one aspect of this recently, the cultural dimension, in a recent article I put together which discusses a snippet from a research study we conducted a few months ago (see here), but even that is only part of the equation.

The practicality of social media adoption, which is most productively considered alongside broader collaboration, BPM/workflow solutions, and emerging ideas in unified communications, is something we at Freeform Dynamics will be spending a lot more time on in 2009.

Meanwhile, I would urge social media enthusiasts to turn the telescope around and adopt a bit more humility. Enterprise 2.0 is just one part of a big complex set of things that’s going on in terms of business evolution, and it is important for advocates to get a handle on the bigger picture and understand where their ideas fit into the greater scheme of things

Click here for more posts from this author

Through our research and insights, we help bridge the gap between technology buyers and sellers.