This is, perhaps, the end of the beginning

Winston Churchill was searching for a phrase to capture the sense of a turning tide in the war with Nazi Germany after the defeat of Rommel in North Africa, and came up with ‘the end of the beginning’.

In the past week a number of events and observations combined to give me the sense that we are, perhaps, at the end of the beginning with regard to social business.

Several of those stimuli came at last week’s Social Media Week. At one session, I was impressed at the transition that the various panelists recounted going on in businesses large and small, as they adopt social media tools for customer support, and the changes that this is causing:

Stowe Boyd, We’re at the customer support stage of social business

The big take away for me was that social customer support is happening, and it is growing fast. More importantly, tools that people use for social media marketing are likely to be a mismatch with the needs of customer support staff. However, in a lot of companies, marketing ‘owned’ the social channel to the business. They were the first out there, using Twitter and Facebook, analyzing sentiment about the company’s products and services, and trying to influence influencers to advocate.

Then, as people online saw that GoDaddy was on Twitter, they naturally assumed they could use that medium for customer support issues: How do I do this? Why doesn’t that work? Why did I get charged for a domain registration? And, at first, those messages were received by marketing folks. Marketing folks who are not necessarily trained in technical issues. So they were being passed along to customer support, and so, we enter a new stage of social business: the customer support stage.

Another major indicator of an inflection point — perhaps of a different kind — is coming from (see Salesforce CEO Marc Benioff backing off on social?). Apparently the acquisitions of Buddy Media and Radian6 have not turned out too well, and as a result it seems the company is moving away from — or dropping altogether — its former focus on social. The company even tried — and failed — to trademark the expression. I am attending a Salesforce event in NYC tomorrow, where CEO Marc Benioff is giving a keynote, so I’ll have more to report then. I am betting that even if Benioff opts to rally around new marketing based on ‘customer-centric computing’ it will turn out to be social at the core, anyway.

Also on the corporate knife-fighting side of things, Cisco attacked Microsoft the night before its first Lync User Conference for being too PC-focused in a post-PC world (see  Cisco goes after Microsoft Lync on breadth of collaboration). This demonstrate only that the competition is heating up in the social software marketplace, and the stake are getting serious.

My bet is that other indications of us moving into a new phase, where social business moves from experimental and used exclusively by innovators and early adopters into mainstream early majority adoption, to use the Ev Rogers’ terminology.

Everett Roger's Diffusion of Innovations curve source Wikipedia

Everett Roger’s Diffusion of Innovations curve
source Wikipedia

Adam Pisoni, the CTO of Yammer, made the case for the kind of adoption going on in the earlier stage being driven by a desire to have the same sort of communication they were using on the open web  but in the business context:

Yammer exists because companies weren’t offering these [many-to-many] communication tools to their employees, and employees really wanted efficient communication that lets them connect to each other, wherever they are, whenever they need to.

I think we’ll continue to see rogue adoption, but also increasingly, companies moving more deliberately to roll out social tools and practices across the company as a means to get the next stage of productivity and innovation.