Oxymorons R Us -- The Coming of Social Email

By Marc Solomon posted 12-14-2010 21:17



Social Email -- Did I hear that right? 
How about nonverbal communication? Graphics-based texting anyone? The IPhone -- personal edition? Didn't think so. 
If this was purely a functional play we would insist on retaining the reason video streams can go down. Entire control towers can be grounded. But take down email? That's the drop-dead emergency broadcast no one wants to hear. And that's just the users.
What SharePoint can do for email is to give the smart questions in your crowdsourcing expeditions an indefinite shelf life. Actually the not-so-smart questions might not be timely but they're equally timeless as part of an inbound email path to a custom SharePoint list or discussion board.
On a recent On the Media installment Dan Gillmor knows just the station for climbing aboard the social email wagon train. The Social Email Express is chugging down the post web 2.0 tracks. Next stop? The strongest platform with the most fortified firewall since Beijing began angel investing in black market cyber-bullies. In the land of the free the biggest hole being drilled through any firewall is being led not by hackers but by the inmates themselves. As a BETA tester for Facebook's email slayer Gillmor told Brooke Gladstone in a recent edition of NPR's On the Media that he trialed a universal import of all his electronic scatterings. The UI grouped his remnants into three piles: 
* Friends
* Other
(Leave it to a programmer to invent "other" as a categorical heading for non-friends). 
The default setting is that Facebook will swallow these histories whole for "posterity, police, and divorce lawyers," says Gillmor. It's up to the member to de-activate the archival function. Opt-in is set to the complete, if nakedly unabridged version. Social email is the ultimate Trojan horse for booking faces: READ -- Facebook wants its members to spend the optimal spread of their waking hours on Facebook. Is this as sinister as it sounds? Or is a just reward for surrendering our personal privacy in exchange for citizenship in a virtual community?
Now let's insert the virtual citizenship role into the walled gardens of our own organizational ECMs. For starters this is not a new conversation. Here's one exchange where most of us have worked both ends and here's the question: How can our colleagues be encouraged to embrace corporate email as a Q&A source in much the same way that help desk managers in epic call centers use KM to drive customer satisfaction and loyalty?
Another overlooked but no less critical virtue of email is that the closed loop between senders and receivers creates transparency over those privy to the message -- a level of certainty unattainable in most social media circles. As any trial attorney will tell you, in fact, who an email is sent to (and who get's copied) is often the most valuable metadata property resulting from the transaction. 
In my shop the most useful virtue for configuring inbound email is not the message or the audience but the attachments. It's not common for time-starved consultants to provision their outputs. On the other hand if a colleague (even one they've never interacted with) sends out a group distress signal it's routine for expert-based guidance that triggers advice, examples, and even debate. Those endorsements would never happen within a workflow approval but on email such rescue missions are routine.
As KM Sage Dave Snowden once said, "If you ask someone for assistance in the context of real and immediate need it will rarely be refused.  Ask someone to share knowledge in the absence of that need, or in a form or manner determined by a centralized function then it will nearly always be refused.”
That's the tug in the line between content supply and knowledge demand. The demand cycle is where we'll find the virtuous side of what social email can provide through a vessel like SharePoint.

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