Misconceptions about social software and knowledge workers

In the early days of Enterprise 2.0 (mid-2000s) enterprise social software was good at toolkit-style functionality. Blogs and wikis gave people useful frameworks and reference materials for doing bespoke tasks. But there wasn’t much functionality for businesses that run a lot of routinized process.

These early tools appealed to high-end consultancies, law firms, PR agencies, and tech startups, which lean towards more bespoke activities. I suspect that’s where people first got the idea that enterprise social software was for “knowledge workers.”

But social software has changed, and changed fast. In the past year, business has started to embrace social software for more routinized processes as well.

Michael Idinopulos highlights an important misconception that enterprise social software is only useful for certain industries or white collar professionals. I agree also that associating these technologies tightly with the concept of the knowledge worker also adds confusion (for the record, I’ve never agreed that Enterprise 2.0 was the evolution of KM).

I’ve certainly come across a number of examples in my own work this year that break that traditional view of where and how we apply these technologies. But, I also think we have barely scratched the surface.

I draw encouragement from the non-profit sector where we can more easily see evidence of service (re)design and social innovation at work. Examples such as the LIFE Programme and Patchwork show there is potential for a much richer dynamic that can impact the fundamentals of how we use IT to support people inside critical or complex business processes when they are working at scale. In fact, this goes beyond Idinopulos’ call to integrate the common enterprise social software patterns of activity stream and wikis – the focus is really about humanising IT systems.

Just as they are emerging in the non-profit sector, there are opportunities for the profit making enterprise to do the same in their respective domains. But they will only get there if we address the underlying misconceptions about social software and narrowing the use case to supporting the classic, office-based knowledge worker.