Nothing reminds me of the dotcom bubble more than the social media bubble. The dotcoms and their founders were famous for attracting venture capital too often with business plans that were written on cocktail napkins or worse. Social media has gone that idea one better with some of the leading companies letting themselves be swallowed up for obscene amounts of cash. I keep waiting to see practical applications of social media, especially in CRM where I spend many of my waking hours, but I am so far mostly disappointed.
Cool seems to be the highest value of the social culture. We have cool ways to show home videos to near strangers and to communicate our most mundane life experiences to anyone on the planet. But turning that connectivity into cash has been, so far, beyond us.
Don’t get me wrong; there are some notable exceptions. For instance, what Salesforce.com has done with Twitter and Facebook has been inspired. Salesforce has harnessed these tools to help companies harvest intellectual property from mundane operations and that’s significant.
On Wednesday Salesforce CEO, Marc Benioff, announced the beta release of Chatter, the company’s Facebook knock-off for intra-company social networking. Chatter has more than a passing resemblance to Facebook and since you cannot copyright functionality I am not saying this is a bad thing. But I have to ask the question: Why did Salesforce re-invent Facebook rather than the two companies working together to bring a commercially viable product to CRM? The same could be said of Twitter. It seems the social media companies have lived in a bubble of cool instead of commercialism.
I don’t think of the question as idle curiosity. In fact, I have been stunned over the last few years that many social media companies have taken on the persona of coquettes at a ball waiting for prince charming to ask them to dance. They have not made nearly enough effort to integrate their wares into the mainstream and if the Chatter example is prelude, these companies may be about to be rolled up by more competitive players in the commercial sphere.
Maybe I shouldn’t be too hard on the social media companies. They are part of the Web 2.0 movement that, when it was new, aimed squarely at flattening the hierarchies of business to produce something more like what Chatter aims for — a relational organizational topography. But Web 2.0 was mostly a flop; it threatened the status quo and it was successfully shunned.
Personal use is the second coming of social media and this grass roots movement has educated a generation or two of users and made assimilation into the enterprise non-threatening and therefore possible.
If anything, Salesforce’s announcement should be a wakeup call to the Web 2.0 crowd that it’s now safe to knock on the front door of the enterprise. Likewise, enterprises need to understand that social media can be additive.
Many of us think social media will be integral to the future success of business in general and CRM especially. For social media to prosper, the industry needs to take on the hard task of missionary selling to the establishment. It needs to build the links between its products and the legacy world before that world reinvents the wheel and deprives it of a chance at real profits.
The inroads already made in the personal social networking space will make that easier. But most importantly, the social media crowd needs to lose its cool posturing and roll up its sleeves with partners who are intent on making money.