Subjective Content Infrastructure

I created my first blog about 7 years ago because I thought it was cool that I could publish what I wanted without a lot of hassel and overhead. I didn’t think much about the implications at the time. Since then thinking about the implications of “social media” is about the only thing I have done.

I created this presentation in 2007. It was part of my process for understanding what this stuff was all about. With over 77,000 views, I guess I was on the right track.

Social Media Is…

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Throughout this time I have wrestled with defining the underlying fundamentals of what it is that defines Social Media. What I have come to believe is that social media, and it’s enterprise cousin: collaboration, are simply the infrastructure necessary to support the exchange of subjective content.
Traditional IT systems deal strictly with objective content. Financial data, sales data, HR data, etc. Just the facts. These systems cannot deal with opinion. Social software can.
What has to happen now is to figure out an effective way to integrate the subjective content with the objective content. Currently social systems tend to be in a silo with respect to the rest of an organization’s operations. This is one reason that it has been so hard to quantify the “business value” of social content. When we can integrate the subjective social content with the objective process content we can begin to more effectively demonstrate the value social systems bring to the enterprise.

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.

My Reading List

A colleague recently asked me if I kept a suggested reading list. Unfortunately I have never published one formally, before now.

So from this point forward I will try to keep this list updated with books, blogs, articles, etc. that I think others may find interesting and useful.


Hidden Connections, by Fritjof Capra

The Cluetrain Manifesto, by Levine, Searles, Weinberg & Locke

Enterprise 2.0, by Andrew McAfee

Stewardship, by Peter Block

The Practice of Management, by Peter Drucker

Competing By Design, by Nadler & Tushman

Idealized Design, by Russell Ackoff

The Innovator’s Dilemma by Claytom Christensen


The Obvious? by Euan Semple

Stowe Boyd’s Blog

danah boyd’s Blog

Creating Passionate Users by Kathy Sierrra, Kathy no longer actively writes here, but it is a treasure trove of insight.

Gaping Void by Hugh MacLeod

Repost from Cisco Collab Community #1

Posted by lewhite on Apr 11, 2011 3:10:33 PM
Link to original:

Dorothy and her friends didn’t listen when the Great and Powerful Oz told them to ignore that man behind the curtain. Sounds a lot like organizations today. Employees, customers and stakeholders don’t want the official version of things from the great and powerful, they want to see what is behind the curtain.


This is part of the reason that the idea of transparency is getting so much traction these days. Unfortunately it is not so easy to be transparent. I have seen many instances where it is the intent of an individual or group to be transparent, open and inclusive, the reality is usually a reticence to let go and divulge the full story. The reasoning varies:

  • I don’t want anyone to see it until it is finished
  • People can’t handle the truth (to paraphrase Jack Nicholson)
  • Everyone is too busy to get more information
  • Above your pay grade
  • We will give it to them when the timing is right


The truth is that these are all excuses for not wanting to give up control. And none of these reasons will deliver better results than just putting it all out in the open.


The major flaw in most major “change initiatives” is waiting too long before bringing “those to be changed” into the conversation. Anytime you see a situation where the first notice the general population gets about some big new change is during the “deployment and adoption phase”, you will see a high probably of failure of the initiative.


The right time to go public with a pending change is when there are still decisions to be made, and everyone has the chance to voice their opinion.


The enterprise social software (ESS) corollary of this is that everyone needs  a view into the process while the conversation is still about determining business needs, and prior to the determination of tools and process.  If the first time your employees hear about Quad or another ESS product is when it is being rolled out, your odds of success have been drastically reduced.


How to make your reputation NSFW

From 2008 to 2010 I tried my hand at independent consulting. Let’s just say it was a great learning experience and that I have now returned to the corporate world full-time with Cisco.

I need to tell the story of one last lesson learned from the experience of starting my own company.

As with any commercial venture these days, you have to start with a web presence, which I did. When I decided to shutter the operation, I also decided to pull down the web site. It could be debated whether that decision was good or bad. But what has clearly turned out to be a horrible decision was to relinquish the rights to my former company domain name!

It seems that shortly after I let it go, it was picked up by the sort of web site that, shall we say ,is NSFW. Oops!

I have been scrambling all morning erasing every link I can find to that address. The problem is Google and its rather long memory. Search for my old company and you find … NSFW.

I decided that in the spirit of openness and transparency, to make this situation public and a matter of record. So should anyone happen across that site and connect it with me, at least I can say and show that I did my best to break that connection.


Back Again

It has been quite a while since I last visited these pages. About 10 months ago I took a contract job with Cisco. That contract ends next week. I think it was a combination of the culture here at Cisco along with my getting back into a large org environment that kept me from blogging. It was probably a mistake to stay away for so long, but in any case I am back.

I have a few good ideas simmering, and I can’t wait to start writing here again. Stay tuned and I hope to deliver a few concepts you will find valuable.

Reviving the Old Blog

As wipeoutDecision 3D in now being put on a shelf (for the time being), I have decided that it is more appropriate to return my blogging to the “non-denominational” Inside Conversation. I realize that I may loose some “google juice”, but, hey, I didn’t have that much juice to begin with.

I am in the market, looking for a full-time position. My focus is on Enterprise Collaboration, and how collaboration can deliver significant improvements to business operations. If you or some one you know has a collaboration project in progress or is looking to start one. Please pass my name along, or even better, send them this link:

Now let’s get back to some good old fashioned blogging.

p.s. If you are really interested in digging into some of my other content, check out my posts from Decision 3D and E Quint Consulting.

My Readership

I need to provide a link to show my readership of this blog, but since the only link to that is PW secured, I have provided a snapshot here.

Of course the numbers have fallen a bit since I am now focusing on

links for 2008-05-22