Social software: those who can, do

Don Clark’s new blog, Big Dog Little Dog, let me to Tom Davenport’s musings about Web 2.0 at Harvard Business Publishing. Davenport holds the President’s Chair in Information Technology and Management at Babson College, which makes some of his reaction all the more puzzling.

Caffeine: the lubricant of social softwareHe asks whether we’ve all gotten “a little overly precious” and wonders how we can produce value “if we’re all sitting around blogging and Facebook-friending.”

Hey, I like making fun of the trendy (a group I’m not personally acquainted with), and there’s enough silliness and bandwagon-riding in the technology world to last at least till the bicentennial of Canada.  Even so, I think Davenport is possibly worrying too much about too little when he  wonders “whether social media can really be the basis of a solid economy.”

Probably not — but that seems like a lot to ask from a wiki, a blog, or a network site.  I don’t expect my fax machine to be the “basis” of my consulting practice, but it’s a handy tool for certain tasks.

I don’t look to Facebook or LinkedIn to replace how I network, but they extend my potential reach, expand the ways in which I connect, and cost a hell of a lot less than attending professional conferences for their meet-and-greet facets.

I haven’t found a great deal of professional use for Twitter yet, though several people whose opinions I value do.  Interestingly, a visit to my wife’s office might surprise Davenport as it did me.

She is director of communications for a nonprofit, and gets the print version of Public Relations Tactics, a newsletter of PRSA (the Public Relations Society of America).  Some of the headlines on the front page of the October 2008 issue:

  • Twitter, the tweet smell of success
    • Maximizing the benefits of the micro-blogging service
    • How the application can be a powerful business tool
  • Streamlining social networks with FriendFeed
  • Delivering digital discourses in a YouTube age
  • Connecting to communities through Facebook groups

One article offers “10 ways that companies can use Twitter” from a PR standpoint, from monitoring tweets from reporters (like those looking for spokespeople or sources), to Twittering at a conference or trade show, to managing reputation (for example, by responding to individuals who tweet about the company).

Another article by Joan Stewart (“The Publicity Hound”) shares the consultant’s experience — and how it changed the way she works.

When I first heard about Twitter, I couldn’t believe busy people would waste time writing about what they were doing in carefully edited 140-character messages.

Now that I’ve been actively Twittering for several months, I find it hard to understand why more companies and nonprofits don’t use this powerful communication tool to monitor public comment about their brand and push their marketing message.

Smart Twitterers do more than that.  They rely on this tool for crisis communication.  Some use it to spot customer service problems almost immediately and respond far more quickly than their expensive customer call centers ever could.

I’ve been looking lately for examples like this — people tackling work problems with technology.  I don’t know Joan Stewart, but I’m pretty sure she hasn’t dropped all her other public relations tools in favor of Twitter — she’s just found a new one that produces results she values.

Caffeinated social software photo by Phil Strahl.