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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