Is “Social” further exacerbating information overload?

As we make our businesses “more social”, increasing the amount of social data we accumulate and expanding on the insights we are hoping to derive from said data, Are we at risk of compounding our current information overload challenges? Many clients are struggling to effectively leverage the data they have (particularly unstructured) and are anxious about adding new data into the mix. This is a valid concern.

Now clearly there are many areas where social does in fact improve some of the overload issues, such as with search (aka content & people recommendations and social search). Content analytics in general can also be vastly improved through leveraging the “social context”. In other cases social data may act as a replacement, such as with Customer Care, where social media provides an alternative channel which may eventually replace existing ones as opposed to adding to them. E-mail is another communication channel which looks to be replaced in the future, at least in part, with new social channels such as micro-blogging, communities, blogs, and activity streams. This replacement hypothesis does still need to be proved out, so for the time-being even in this replacement scenario social will vastly increase the amount of content we are collecting about possibly everything, anything, and nothing. [Social is a very noisy medium, with interactions frequently padded with metaphors, non-sequiturs, ambiguities, and irrelevancies]

So I think its safe to say that while social presents some significant opportunities it does increase information overload. To further compound this problem in many cases social is being introduced as a LOB point solution (Market Analysis, Workforce Optimization, Customer Care, Sales Support, Recruitment, Vendor Mgmt, Business Intelligence) as opposed to a core platform capability spanning multiple applications (Social Middleware), which risks introducing social silos. This is bad for all the obvious reasons; I loose my 360 degree view of the business (client, employee, opportunity, risk, …), I am at risk of getting inconsistent recommendations depending on my application context, etc.

Social Silos are also particularly bad from the perspective of social analytics (which I believe is at the heart of any social strategy) in that it splits up the social-semantic network preventing us from deriving insights based on a complete network of interactions and relationships. So while “Social” does generate a truckload of data (scary, I know), with the right Social Business Platform approach, we can avoid exacerbating our information overload problem and in fact greatly increase the ROI realized from our entire data set. Social can help it all make sense in the context of people doing business.

For example, let’s take Trevor from sales who is looking to close a deal with Acme Corp. He wants to be able to reconsitute disparate Facts across the enterprise (and beyond) into a complete social network that can be used to help him effectively build his strategy for closing this deal, such as:

  • Acme is sentiment trending downwards, Frank is an influencer in MDM” (Marketing)
  •         => Acme <has_sentiment> Negative
            => Frank <is_influencer> MDM

  • Acme Corp has escallated problem Y about productX” (Customer Care)
  •         => Acme <licenses> ProductX
            => Acme <has_problem> Y

  • Acme is an automotive client with MDM interest, Frank works for Acme” (Sales)
  •         => Acme <in_industry> Automotive
            => Acme <has_need> MDM
            => Frank <works_for> Acme Corp

  • John is an expert on MDM for automotive industry and knows Frank” (HR)
  •         => John <is_expert> MDM
            => John <is_expert> Automotive
            => John <knows> Frank

So, in a nutshell, the question for the day is: Do we need to start thinking about Social as infrasructure as opposed to a series of point solutions? And if yes, how do we align the challenge of delivering short-term ROI (usually realized through LOBs) with the need to put the appropriate long-term social services (middleware) in place to allow flexible social integration across the enterprise (and beyond).

I know what I am asking Santa for Christmas… :-)

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