Enterprise2.0 and the dangers of listening to customers in a new paradigm

Social bookmarking

I met with an enterprise social bookmarking company yesterday.  They have been building their product since last year and plan to launch shortly.  They correctly identified that search is taking more and more time and working less well in a business environment – and that shared bookmarks can provide part of the answer.

They have been out talking with customers and heard two messages:

  • The importance of privacy/security – bookmarks made by employees need to stay within the enterprise (or be capable of staying there)
  • Enterprises are afraid that a user controlled system like this might spiral out of control

Talking to customers is a great thing.  There is no insight like customer insight – in a former life I was a management consultant and this was my gospel.  I stand by that today.

But listening isn’t always enough.  Small tech companies often need to lead their customers – this is what being a visionary is all about.

Of the two messages above one strikes me as useful, and the other not so useful.

Knowledge and information is an increasingly important source of competitive advantage for companies these days, so it is right and proper that they are careful about who they share it with.  In my opinion people are often too concerned about this and miss out on the benefits of collaboration because they are afraid to share, but without doubt there is a balance that needs to be maintained.  So enterprise social bookmarking software needs to be able to control the sharing of bookmarks within the company and outside it.

IMHO fear of loss of control by the IT department will slow the adoption of social software in many enterprises.  The power of social bookmarking and other enterprise2.0 applications is that they put the user in control – this is part of a wider shift in the culture of management from control to co-ordination – and many managers will resist it.  Understandably they fear what might happen if/when they delegate true authority to the edge of the enterprise and it will only be those with courage and vision who lead the way in the short term.

So building taxonomies and other control-from-the-centre structures into a social bookmarking service risks undermining the very thing that makes social software powerful – that control sits with the user.  In this area I would trust my instincts as a visionary and target customers who could be brought round to my way of thinking.

For a definition of enterprise2.0 check out this earlier post.