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Social + Nothing = Nothing (Part 2)

When it comes to new technology, it’s always made good business sense to apply it within the context of your existing systems and processes – to make things work better and help your business focus on the right challenges.

With social technology, it’s no different – it provides the most value when you use it in the context of your existing processes. This is how you inspire adoption, as I mentioned in my previous article on this subject, “Social + Nothing = Nothing (Part 1).”

To understand how best to apply social within your business, it’s valuable to think about where it came from. Just like older social technologies were used in the past to solve real business problems, today’s social technology should be applied in the same way.

The first social technology

Most people would argue that connecting and communicating with technology first began with the telegraph. Little did Samuel Morse know how much he would influence our lives when he sent his first telegram in January 1838 across two miles of wire at Speedwell Ironworks near Morristown, New Jersey. In 1844, when he sent his famous message “WHAT HATH GOD WROUGHT” from the Capitol in Washington to the old Mt. Clare Depot in Baltimore, many of the concepts now leveraged by the Internet today were born.

/wp-content/uploads/2014/04/telegraph_428203.jpgAs an Englishman, I should also point out that Morse was not actually the first to leverage telegraphy. A four-needle telegraph system was installed and successfully demonstrated in July 1837 between Euston and Camden Town in London on a rail line being constructed by Robert Stephenson between London and Birmingham. At the time, the business need was that Euston needed to signal to an engine house at Camden Town to start hauling the locomotive up the incline.

Nevertheless, this new technology allowed messages to be routed – and in a sense, the very first social networking services started between the Morse operators. They gossiped and celebrated special events like marriages and births – instant messaging and feed streams were at its heart.

The telegraph deployment in the U.S. grew quickly, and in the following two decades, the overland telegraph connected the west coast of the continent to the east coast. It followed railway lines and connected station to station, enabling messages to be sent about train updates and railroad matters. Soon, it also connected town to town, allowing people to pass along vital messages, bringing an end to the Pony Express.

Social technology evolves

The world changed even further when the telephone was introduced. From the moment Alexander Graham Bell yelled, “Come here Mr. Watson, I want to see you!” the business of providing telephone service was off and running. Initially, telephones were used primarily by wealthy individuals and large corporations to communicate between specific locations. For instance, a corporation might be connected to its owner’s home by a direct line.

The introduction of telephone exchanges allowed many more phones to be connected. One person could now connect to a business, a doctor’s office, a police station or a bank. Companies found value in connecting their locations to help find out instantly what manufacturing levels were at, what they were short of in the warehouse, or what a customer wanted. The telephone changed the world of business forever, providing a more effective way to communicate and making it easier to complete business transactions and connect to customers.

It’s always been about context

The lesson we can learn from both the telegraph and the telephone is that social technology has always been about applying it in the right context. Sending beeps down a wire like Euston Station did in 1837 wouldn’t have been successful if it had just been needless chatter. The telephone was just a way of doing things better, faster, and easier. Then, as now, new technology provides lasting value when you apply it in a business context that matters.

As businesses adopted telephones, none – except, perhaps, the phone companies themselves – ever rebranded themselves as telephony businesses. In the same way, I’m not sure we need to label this latest way of doing business as social business – because, really, it’s just business as usual.

Remember:

Social + Nothing = Nothing

…while:

Social + Business Context = Business Value

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