About 10 years ago the Cognitive Linguist, George Lakoff wrote a fabulous book called “Don’t Think of an Elephant” in which he wrote how we can unconsciously adopt language that is the opposite of our real position on an issue. “Gay Marriage” is one such example. If you were asked where you stand on allowing the government to decide who you can marry you might have a different response than if asked about same sex marriage; same issue, framed differently. By framing it in a way that speaks to personal values, creates visuals, etc. it distracts from the real issue and allows the framers to control the conversation. A very powerful position.
Similarly we are losing control of the language around enterprise social tools. In the beginning, before big platforms, the conversations were about the importance of people collaborating, connecting and engaging – complex, human behaviors. Somewhere along the way though the conversation changed and words like these shifted from being about people to being about business. Playing the ROI game, like that of other technology purchases, vendors commandeered words and language and framed their meaning to fit a business profile (easier) rather than help business understand the deeper value (harder). For example, today, many community manager types have accepted their meaning of “contributor” as a metric label that measures a “like” or comment made in a platform at least once a month!? Contributor? Really? Posting “hello” once in 30 days hardly lives up to it’s connotation.
It’s not wrong to measure basic activity, as these metrics do matter some but they don’t matter most. If this is all that’s being focused on, human behavior has been reduced to some odd form of social bean counting. Remember, before social became a product, we knew it’s value, we felt it, we just did it. We never tried to quantify complex human behavior before but now do so to justify to leaders the expense of these tools through progress in fuzzy “adoption”. Yet ironically most business leaders have no ROI data on traditional technology used for productivity and communication; i.e. email or Microsoft Office tools – it’s just how work gets done.
We need to stop blindly adopting vendor language and meaningless metrics. We need to take it back to the core of what is human social interaction. As Albert Einstein said, “Not everything that can be counted counts, and not everything that counts can be counted.” The real impact lays beyond the numbers, where the stories unfold, relationships form, and the ideas influence. It’s not an easy conversation with leadership but it’s conversation that I believe, like the tools themselves, is at the heart of organizational change. If we continue down the current path, we’re choosing to make social technology more about technology than about social and business will ultimately lose by winning.