Monday, April 14, 2008

Social Objects for Business Conversation

Recently, I have been intrigued by this idea of “social objects” - as the basis for driving the success of E2.o applications. I first heard of the term just a few months back on Hugh Macleod’s blog. I have since looked around for more information and really enjoyed watching Jyri Engestrom’s lecture on social objects as used within social computing platforms. The conference video is out on YouTube. It seems that Jyri, the founder of Jaiku, has been instrumental in bringing the idea to life.

MacLeod defines Social Objects as “The Social Object, in a nutshell, is the reason two people are talking to each other, as opposed to talking to somebody else. Human beings are social animals. We like to socialize. But if think about it, there needs to be a reason for it to happen in the first place. That reason, that "node" in the social network, is what we call the Social Object.”

Honestly, I don’t know if I had ever thought about the idea before seeing these posts – but it seems to make a lot of sense. It’s certainly true for me. There exists some social object in the mix most every time I talk to my friends or colleagues. It might be a movie. It could be a baseball game. It could be a friend’s job situation. It could be a finance report. The bottom line is that “social objects” are the basis for most all of my conversations. It’s a fascinating concept if you think about it.

The idea got me thinking. What are the typical social objects within business conversation? What social objects attract the most attention and could become the basis for a robust conversation? It would seem to me that these objects could be the obvious building blocks of a productive corporate social network or social computing application. Here’s my informal list from a 5 minute brainstorm. I have put an “x” next to the Top 10 form my perspective!

Variable compensation plans
Performance objectives
Market factors
Executive Leaders (x)
Management (x)
Mission statement
Culture (x)
Norms (x)
Office environment (x)
Corporate Communications (x)
Public Advertising
Performance Review Process (x)
Benefits Package
Finance function
IT function (x)
Budgeting Process (x)
Key initiatives (x)
Budget variance explanations
Forecasting assumptions
Customer needs
Customer experience
Lunch destination

MacLeod goes on to say, “The thing to remember is, Human beings do not socialize in a completely random way. There’s a tangible reason for us being together, that ties us together. Again, that reason is called the Social Object. Social Networks form around Social Objects, not the other way around.”

I wonder. I just wonder what it takes to influence and/or transform the core social objects within our business conversations? At first glance, I would suspect that we would be better off if the top few objects in our business dialog were the following:

Customer needs
Customer experience
Performance objectives

As an aside, in thinking back to my many years of consulting, I must say that there is only one client where I remember hearing this last set of “social objects” integrated into almost every conversation. It was WalMart! I wonder what that is saying?

Can you think of other social objects that I have missed? What are your thoughts on the topic? Please drop me your comments.

1 comment:

bob i said...

George said, "I just wonder what it takes to influence and/or transform the core social objects within our business conversations?"

I'm reminded of a couple of attempts to engineer social object popularity, though I'm not sure if either conceived of them that way.

One is the prediction market itself - in addition to creating crowd wisdom, I imagine it also creates new, productive conversations that wouldn't have happened before.

The second is a recent "innovation" at my own office: poster-sized, one-page case studies from successful clients, posted all over the office; in addition to "educating" us, maybe that displaces a less valuable social object from some interactions, right?

This could call for some experimentation...I'm thinking something with a large sample size, say a retail chain. Take a couple of ideas for social object engineering, implement them across a range of offices, etc. The trick might be measurement - most employees don't want their email parsed and their offices bugged.