I saw this tweet come across the interwebs this morning and think that it perfectly encapsulates the level of dialog surrounding social computing:
"The message and mechanics are absolutely crucial in making social media a success!"
Truth is, I have absolutely no idea what this means, and neither does anyone else. It could mean anything. What does someone do with this faux advice, sheathed in useless management 2.0 packaging? This is the problem with most conversations around social computing: people with absolutely nothing of value to say, with no more "expertise" in the arena than a new entry on their LinkedIn profile purporting to be the world's next social guru. It's frustrating.
As more companies adopt and deploy SharePoint, stakeholders are increasingly asking the question: what is the role of social computing in the enterprise? They want to know the business value of these tools and the billion vendors pushing solutions. They want to know what best practices can be applied to their organization today, and the tactical steps that will help them better communicate with their teams, their partners, and their customers. Spurious texts like the one above just don't help anyone.
Much of the confusion out there comes from the "apples versus oranges" comparisons of the various consumer-based solutions (Facebook, Twitter, etc), and a misunderstanding of what features among them can actually be applied in the enterprise. Human nature (at least within the Information Worker crowd) is to solve problems before you understand the scope and scale of the problem. We start picking out features, and tend to force fit what we have selected onto our problems. With social tools, you really do need to understand what it is you are trying to solve before you buy.
Here's the key to understanding social: the fundamental element of any social computing solution, any content management platform, and linking the two together is metadata. It is attached to all of your content, it organizes and differentiates your lists and libraries, and it enables your workflows and forms. On top of your metadata layer are your structured taxonomy and your unstructured, or ad hoc taxonomy. Microsoft has coined the term "folksonomy" for this user generated metadata. Taxonomy, whether structured or unstructured, provides order and purpose to your content and to your platform.
Social is the next layer, accessing both the structured taxonomy and the unstructured folksonomy. Through interaction with the social tools, end users introduce context to the data. They tag, they link, they Like, they rate, they share, they talk about it, and across all of this they build intricate webs of connections between people and activities and content.
Still with me? Now, on top of all of this sits search, and the need to find the content within the system. To some degree, social tools deserve some of the criticism it receives around productivity concerns in the enterprise - but for the most part, this fear is simply unfounded. Social tools enable contextual search, surfacing data that would otherwise not be found through traditional search methods. And they are increasingly the way that your workforce communicates with customers, partners, and each other. And it all starts with managing your metadata.
Now that you have this fundamental understanding of how metadata and social work together to power search, maybe you can step back and look at these shiny new social tools with a clearer understanding of how they can (or can't) add value to your platform. And maybe ignore those poorly conceived Tweets on social and Web 2.0 with a bit more confidence. #Taxonomy #socialcomputing #metadata #SharePoint