Putting Enterprise Social Software in a Business Model

This is a repost of a post I put on the Cisco Collaboration Blog earlier this year. Here is the link to the original post.


Backgound and Context

About three years ago I wrote a blog post entitled Business Basics. Essentially it layed out a model for describing the key elements of a sustainable enterprise. Here is a visual of the model:


This is a basic bottom-up pyramid model stating that you must have the base layers in place before you can achieve the next layer.I hope the graphic is self-explanatory. For a clearer definition of how I am using the terms, please check out the original post.


My intent with this post is to show how/where the use of Enterprise Social Software (ESS) can be applied with respect to pyramid model, above.


First, within the context of this post, I will define ESS as not just “the existence of ESS tools within the environment”, I am also including “the widespread and effective use of ESS tools” as part of the definition.


Efficient Operations

If we start at the base of the pyramid, we see three elements. The one that ESS can significantly impact is Operational Effeciency. There is a lot of research and evidence that points to ESS creating efficiencies. Many examples show that effeciencies can be gained through decreased travel and increased availability of resources. These opportunities are fairly easy to identify and quantify within most organizations


Engaged Employees

The next layer, engaged employees, presents a more interesting and complex opportunity for ESS. Studies have shown, again and again, that employees are more engaged and therefore more productive, when they have a view into what is going on within an organization. ESS is the perfect answer for creating this organizational transparency. No other corporate communications option provides the speed and effectiveness of social software within an organization. The viral spread of information, facilitated by ESS, ensures that employees  get the information that is important to them, good or bad. This transparency builds trust and leads to engaged employees.


Effective Operations

Once employees are engaged, they wil do everything in their power to turn efficient operations into effective operations. ESS can play a big part here by facilitating innovation. Whether it is product innovation or process innovation, an environment where people can freely and easily find the information and people they need, will lead to huge gains in operational effectiveness.


Engaged Customers

As we move up the pyramid, we reach the customer. This level is a challenge for most organizations because this is where transparency and control meet head-on. I once heard Tim O’Reilly speak and he described Enterprise 2.0 as “opening up the back office to stakeholders”. At Cisco we refer to this as the “Borderless Environment”. However you define it, this is the key to true customer engagement. When a customer is truly engaged with your company, your product, your brand, they will become your best customers. When your ESS includes your customers and stakeholders, their involvement and engagement with you will increase dramatically.


Deliver Value

I am not sure I can point to direct examples of ESS use at this level, but I firmly believe that value is created for customers by the use of ESS within an organization. Value is built on the foundation, and ESS is a key element of that foundation.



My purpose for this post is not to get into deatil about specific proof points for how ESS provides business value to an organization. My main point is to highlight the concept that ESS can impact an organization at many different levels. As collaboration practioners, we need to understand this and be sure that we bring that concept to the table whenever we are making the case for ESS use.



Note: The pyramid model used in this post is a mashup of Abraham Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs and the general body of work of Peter Drucker. I refer to it as the Hierarchy of Business Needs.


The Conversation Triangle

“Conversation” is a powerful, and commonly used, metaphor for many types of information exchange. It is de rigueur in any description of Social Media. So if conversations are so important, what do we need to know to make them better and more effective?

The Conversation Triangle identifies the three key ingredients of any successful conversation.

These are the three pillars that support conversation.

  • The Social Object
  • The Connection
  • Trust

Without each of these three elements any conversation is going to fail, AND the conversation will only be as effective as the strength of the weakest of the three elements.

Let’s look at each element individually.

The Social Object is the subject of the conversation. It is the thing that makes people want to keep conversing. Hugh MacLeod provides a better description.

The Connection is the mechanism of how people converse; face-to-face, on the phone, email, etc.

Trust determines how much people are willing to share. Without the sharing of information, conversations are short and boring.

So the next time you hear a marketing “guru” talk about creating a conversation with the customer, look for the triangle and see if you can determine the odds of that conversation being successful.