The tipping point for social and push technologies in the enterprise

"I don't have time for social media at work!" A colleague made that comment to me recently.

My response was: "You have to replace something you already do. It isn't about squeezing yet more time out of an already busy work day, but of finding when a social media tool better suits some task you are already performing."

Some people have suggested that one or more social media tools will replace email in the workplace. Unfortunately a direct one-for-one technology exchange is not always possible. This becomes clear when you consider the range of use cases for which an existing technology is used.

Here's a common business use case:
  • You want to share an interesting webpage or video that you have found with colleagues. It may be about a competitor, a market trend, a new technology, a new regulation, etc. and you expect that it may be useful to the recipients.
In recent years a typical approach would have been to email a link (or even an attachment) to the six people you think might be interested. Likely you will forget three others who would have been interested, and maybe there are a couple of others you didn't know would be interested. So the approach would always have been flawed since you could not or did not completely predict who would value the information.

In addition, another problem has grown in recent years: namely email overload and developing user resistance. In the above example, of the six actual recipients, maybe two will resent the intrusion and consider your email spam. The issue here with email is that it is a Push technology - recipients get it whether they want to or not - and it also has a narrow reach, going initially only to those people you define.

So if the original solution always had a limitation, and over time is becoming less effective, is there a better alternative? Currently the best technological alternative for this example use is a Pull technology. You post the information and users decide whether they want to follow you and/or a specific topic.
  • A good example of a Pull approach is social bookmarking. To share an interesting website, you could instead have used a bookmarklet installed in your browser to automatically post the link and your comments to an internal collaboration site.
While this approach is effective in reducing the perception of span, it is limited because others might not be aware that you are someone they should follow, or may not yet have learned and adopted the technology.

Pull technologies have an inherent entry barrier that limits their usefulness and can be hard to overcome. Most social media are pull technologies. This is a critical problem for organizations looking to use social media tools effectively.

In the above use case there is an expectation of benefit if the information is shared widely, but it is seldom critical. What if the aim is circulate 'critical' information to the widest possible audience?

In most current enterprises, if the organization wants everyone to be informed about something they will send an email to 'all staff' on the assumption that it will reach everyone and be read. In reality this assumption is increasingly false for a growing proportion of staff - they don't bother to read, don't have time or have even set email filters so they don't see such emails! An alternative is to post the same information to a stream that users can watch, but in most organizations usage has not yet achieved a level that the post will reach most staff.

So email pushes are increasingly ineffective, while social pulls have yet to achieve sufficient adoption to take their place as workplace tools. It seems there is a growing communications chasm which will create a tipping point to drive adoption of social media in enterprises at some time in the future.


  1. There it is! You've hit that nail on that head. We're in that intermediate stage of "already" and "not yet". We already have the technology but many businesses are not yet adapted to it, and perhaps don’t know how. So we as experts in the industry need to formulate a transitional game plan which would include, among other things, scenario-type use cases. Perhaps a side by side column listing like “If You Use Email for…” then list several examples below that. Another column “Then Use This Tool…” and list out the matching tools below and why they are better suited.

  2. Thanks Ken. I like your idea of list of common scenarios with their suggested replacement technologies.