Why microblogging has moved to the heart of enterprise social initiatives


I recently wrote Why conversational skills are needed to create a high-performance, engaged, networked organization, reflecting on an executive roundtable discussion I lead as part of the 21st anniversary celebrations of the Graduate School of Business of the University of New England.

The roundtable was also written up in the Australian Financial Review, which provides a good summary of the discussion in a piece titled Conversation killers: managers who can’t talk the talk.

Interestingly, what the journalist drew out from my contributions was about the rise of microblogging:

Dawson said micro-blogging had soared with employers including Deloitte, the NSW Department of Education and NSW Department of Premier and cabinet using microblogs for internal communication with staff. “Of all the social media platforms microblogging is the most akin to conversation,” he said. “Email is not going to die, but it is reducing,” he said.

The rise of microblogging
I have been reflecting on the quite extraordinary rise of microblogging over the last few years. When I wrote Implementing Enterprise 2.0 in January 2009, I included in the “Tools” section Wikis, Blogs, Social Networks, RSS and Syndication, Social Bookmarking, and Microblogging.

Those were fairly early days and obviously today we would have quite a different frame, not least since the social software platforms originally available in each space have converged to each offer broad, integrated social suites.

However if we consider the individual social tools, there is no question that microblogging has risen the fastest, and is the aspect of social software most on the lips of CEOs who wonder whether they should emulate their peers who have found value in using microblogs.

The major microblogging players
The most prominent players are Yammer, now part of Microsoft, and Salesforce.com’s Chatter, and each have built out from that core to wider functionality. However there are many other participants. Tibco’s Tibbr kicked off the strong shift to “activity streams”, which includes corporate and project activities as well as people’s notes; I wrote about this at Tibbr’s launch.

IBM’s broad-based social platform Connections and platforms that began with specific tools such as wikis and blogs and have now shifted to broader social suites, such as SocialText, Jive, Telligent all include microblogging, while Cisco has introduced Jabber.

Intriguingly, I am hearing that some companies are using Twitter as a free enterprise microblogging platform, using protected accounts.

Why microblogging has flourished
If I had to pick out a single reason as to why microblogging has moved to the heart of enterprise social initiatives, it would be reflected in the quote the AFR used: microblogging is the closest we have to human conversation, which is at the center of organizational value in the knowledge economy.

In a related way, it provides the greatest value for the lowest effort. Most employees initially view social software as additional effort on top of heavy workloads, so have no interest in activities such as blogging that they think will be time-consuming. Contributing to a microblog takes minimal time so is an easy starting point, yet people can quickly see the benefits.

One of my most consistent messages is that high-performance organizations are increasingly driven by the quality of their networks. Microblogs, through their ease of participation and the breadth of their visibility, are excellent facilitators of organizational networks. Staff can easily get a better sense of activities, capabilities, and personalities across the firm. After 15 years of ‘expertise location’ being on the agenda, microblogs are proving to be one of the simplest and best ways to find the relevant expertise in the organization to address a problem or opportunity.

Success and failure
It is instructive how different the success of microblogging initiatives is across companies. In some cases they immediately flourish, providing value that is evident at all levels of the organization. In other situations microblogs fail to take off, fizzle, or simply flatline. Sometimes microblogs get traction in a part of the organization but fail to take root in others.

There are now a fairly well-developed set of organizational capabilities, that I will write about more in another post, on making microblogging work effectively. While some of it is about cultural initiatives, more is about design, in finding the right starting points for microblogging to grow.

Building a fire
Implementing microblogs is like building a fire; you begin with the kindling that moves to twigs and branches and eventually spreads to the central logs of the structure.

Microblogging has been clearly demonstrated to be a central element to building valuable conversations and networks in organizations. It needs to be a central element to building successful social business.