SharePoint and Social – Defining the Problem to Which You Have a Solution

Hey, did you hear? SharePoint is the new social platform! It will be the Facebook of the enterprise! And Twitter! And it will be, well, whatever it is the kids use these days.

You’ll be forgiven for thinking the above is true, but regardless of my divine ability to forgive, you’d still be wrong. SharePoint isn’t social, nor are the organizations that think so. In fact, any person to use the term social enterprise will prove they understand neither social nor enterprise.

What we have, however, is a whole new toolbox to give people new problems.

A Feature You Didn’t Know You Needed

“This gadget is so good, you’ll wonder how you survived without it.”

Very few innovations have ever been able to claim the above statement over a bit of time. The internet, the mobile phone, the airplane; these are examples of things that really have stood the test of time because they solve problems that people have.

Everyone is looking to find that next big thing, but in the meantime, businesses are as healthy as ever and don’t really have a lot of the problems we try to solve.

A few years back, I wrote an article on why showing potential clients a SharePoint Team Site is a terrible idea. The reason is simply that clients then become focused on what they can get rather than what problems they are trying to solve already. They see a calendar and start thinking about how they can use that calendar to do something and immediately introduce new problems to their organization that weren’t there before.

Of course, for SharePoint sales people or those that wish to market SharePoint, it is damn easy to just pop up a Team Site and show them what’s there. We already have the tools to solve whatever problems a Team Site solves, so why not adopt some of those problems yourself?

We’re essentially creating problems based on the tools we have to solve them. This is a very dangerous trend because we tend to ignore the problems we already have for the short-term comfort of at least solving some problems, even though we’ve never actually had those problems in the first place.

We’re suckers, and SharePoint knows how to play on those suckers’ instinct.

SharePoint Social Solves a Non-Problem Only

You may also remember that a few months ago, I use a similar phrase as this header to describe SharePoint 2013 Apps. That is because, like SharePoint social, SharePoint 2013 Apps doesn’t really solve a problem at all. However, now that we have a solution, we need to create the problem so that we get the nice, comfy feeling of moving somewhere.

Social in SharePoint is the same thing; nobody knew they just had to have a social strategy for the enterprise before, but now that you can’t spit on the street without hitting a vendor pushing social, it’s damn hard to ignore. Of course, if everyone else is doing it, so must you, right? The herd is always right, as we all know. </irony>

So, we start inventing problems that we can solve with the tools we have. We can now do micro-blogging in SharePoint, so we obviously had a problem of not being able to micro-blog before. We have social profiles because obviously we’re incapable of doing or jobs if we don’t know which hobbies Frank in HR pursues in his spare time. We have leisure activities because obviously when people are unhappy, we give them bread and circus rather than fix the reason why they are not happy.

Are We Really That Stupid?

What bothers me most of all is how easy it is to get people to buy stuff they don’t need. A whole industry is dedicated to convincing people through marketing and slick sales strategies to part with their hard-earned money to pick up stuff they don’t need.

I recently moved to Costa Rica. In my suitcase, I had packed my desktop computer from 2007 and some basic clothes. My wife traveled with roughly the same baggage. We started realizing, my wife most of all, how much crap we had acquired over the years; stuff we never used, stuff that solved problems we didn’t have, and stuff that was, probably with good intent, given to us by people who thought we should adopt the problems their gifts solved.

When I talk to clients, I’m amazed at how often they tell me their problems are that they don’t have the tools SharePoint provides. They don’t have a social platform, and SharePoint has a social platform, right?

Well, ask instead this; what problem is it that a social platform solves? Don’t think about what you can accomplish with a social platform because that is expanding on your existing problem base. Think about what problem you have today that can only be solved by the introduction of a social platform.

Even easier, think about a TV. What problem does a TV solve? You can watch games and shows and series, but the only problem that solves is your inability to watch games and shows and series. Do you have a fundamental problem that such an inability prevents you from solving?

If not, think about all the problems a TV introduces. Who controls the remote? If we go out to dinner now, will we be back before the next episode of something? Do we have to remember to unplug the TV in a thunderstorm?

The same thing happens when you introduce tools into an organization that doesn’t solve a problem. Who runs the social intranet? What is the policy of behavior and how do you enforce that policy? What about unacceptable behavior, do you withdraw social privileges for those that act outside what the scope of a company policy on acceptable behavior? How do you think, in the minds of employees, a social platform works when they have to adapt and learn new ways of behavior only to avoid having to chat someone up during the lunch break to learn about their hobbies?

Tell me again, what real problem that has been holding you back from success for years does the sudden availability of a social platform solve?

Or are you just looking for new problems to solve so you can get a new toy?


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Bjørn Furuknap

I previously did SharePoint. These days, I try new things to see where I can find the passion. If you have great ideas, cool projects, or is in general an awesome person, get in touch and we might find out together.

7 thoughts on “SharePoint and Social – Defining the Problem to Which You Have a Solution”

  1. I’ll bite.

    There are some good points in here, but there are a couple of fundamental flaws in your argument.

    1. Your archaic view that the IT function only exists to fix things, or “solve problems”, as you put it. There is a lot more expected these days (at least with the clients I deal with), we are expected to help drive efficiency, lower costs, etc. Buzzwords, I hear you say. Let me provide an example.

    The introduction of Instant Messaging in the organisation didn’t “solve a problem”, people already had phones, email, snail mail, faxes, and face to face contact in order to communicate, but what it did was make the process quicker and more efficient, leading to less time lost waiting for responses, receiving clarification on responses, etc. which has directly benefit the bottom line of many organisations. To use your analogy, did the introduction of the television solve any problems? No. But did it make it easier for people to access news about the world? Did it provide a medium for entertainers to connect with a wider and broader audience? Absolutely.

    2. Your view of enterprise social as a toolset. I absolutely loved your “don’t show clients a team site” post, I have referred back to it on many occasions, and I also agree that just showing people SharePoint Social or any of the other enterprise social tools out there is the wrong way to go about it. But not considering your enterprise social strategy is just sticking your head in the sand I’m afraid. Why? Because unlike a team site, people already know what social media tools look like. Everyone uses at least one of Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, etc. in their everyday lives, so people already have these preconceived notions you talk about. Not to mention that every marketing department in the world worth their pay cheque is already actively using social media tools within the organisation as part of their external marketing strategy.

    What happens if you don’t have an enterprise social strategy, is you end up with situations where Joe from HR goes out and buys some Yammer licences for his team, and then Sally from Marketing does the same, and you have all these un-governed, uncontrolled systems, organisational data sitting outside the organisation, etc. Oh look, now I have a whole bunch of problems!

    Defining your enterprise social strategy and roadmap helps to control this and ensure it is implemented in the right way. Does that mean every ES strategy involves deploying SharePoint social. Hell no! A lot of the strategies I write recommend that organisations don’t implement these tools, at least not until the organisational maturity is at a stage where doing so will actually provide value to the organisation.

    1. Joshua,

      It may be that I’m a terrible writer, but you seem to be missing the point. I’m not saying social isn’t a useful thing, I’m saying that companies approach it like it’s something they want and then try to figure out what the benefits of having it are.

      In other words, when you get a TV, you are not solving any problems, you are replacing a set of symptoms with another set of symptoms. You have a need for distraction (and no, you don’t have a need for news; that is another symptom) so you replace your symptom of being frustrated at the lack of distraction with the symptom of frustration over who controls the remote. Your underlying problem of needing distraction is still there; your choice of acquiring a TV simply masks that by ‘solving the problem’ of not having a TV.

      Companies do the same; rather than evaluating a problem and then picking the tool to solve that problem, they pick the tool and then see what problems they can solve with it.


      1. Of course, it’s called being proactive. You don’t wait until something is broken, as an organisation that wants to remain competitive you should be working on a method of continuous improvement, which includes constantly evaluating new toolsets and ways of working.

        The question I usually get is, “Can this make my organisation better, and if so, how?” rather than the “stamp my feet I want it now” approach that you seem to be alluding to.

        When the topic arises with clients the first thing I do is ask them to show me their ES strategy/roadmap. If they don’t have one, then we help them define it. Selecting the tools is one of the last steps as you’ve stated. I’ll admit I’m lucky that most of the work my company does is end to end IM Strategy type work as opposed to straight up implementations.

        As I alluded to in my previous comment, my main point of conjecture was around your grouping of social strategies and social toolsets into the same category. Perhaps I’m just reading too much into the comment:

        “nobody knew they just had to have a social strategy for the enterprise before”

        I think the main problem is that a lot of companies don’t understand they need a social strategy now.

  2. This is a great post. I’d be very interested in things that you would consider SharePoint is a good fit for. I’ve long wanted to have this conversation with you. I always considered SP a big, rusty, Swiss Army knife. Not ideal for any one thing, but capable of being used (or misused) for nearly infinite number of things. Is it better to have one tool and move many of your processes and data on to it, or better to find the ideal, siloed tool for each job? How about a post “You might want to use SharePoint if….”

    1. Jon,

      I think I’ve already written that book. Check the free section of USP Journal, it should be called something like “Is SharePoint right For Me”

      To answer your question, it depends 😀


  3. for example:
    Solution: iPad.

    I have to agree that businesses love to grab onto the latest toys. Or, rather, it’s a particular personality in business that drives this craziness. And then the consultants start pushing it, and then some poor slob (like me) has to obey and figure out a use for the latest fad. I really hate the iPad. What a useless piece of junk.
    SharePoint at least makes me look smarter than everyone else.

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