Is the problem ‘social’?

So here’s the thing. Some businesses are getting quite into social media, having realised that these tools are really rather useful. But I think it’s fair to say that social tools aren’t a runaway success – I’m certainly not seeing any evidence of massive adoption from my vantage point. I’m not fighting off clients with a big stick, for example, and the people I do talk to have little budget and are frustrated because they’re not getting the buy-in they would like.

I wonder why. There are all sorts of reason why, once the tools have been installed in a business, they fail to proliferate, and I’ve spoken about many of these before. But could there be a reason why businesses are slow to even evaluate social tools?

The week before Kevin and I got married, we rescued a lovely ginger cat who was lost on the main road outside our flat. We managed to reunite him with his owner a few days later and then went off to be married.

A couple of weeks ago, Orlando’s owner, Monica, invited us round to dinner, and we had a lovely evening talking to her about her time programming Ferranti Pegasus valve computers at UCL. When she asked me what I do, I said I was a social media consultant and I explained what that was.

Monica thanked me for the explanation, saying that she was glad I had elaborated as she had thought, and I hope she forgives me for paraphrasing, that ‘social software was something awful, like social workers’. That really made me think, and I haven’t quite got to the end of where that throwaway comment has led me.

Is ‘social’ the problem with social software? Certainly in the UK, ‘social’ has some rather negative connotations: Social workers are often despised and derided as interfering, and often incompetent, busybodies. Social housing is where you put people at the bottom of the socioeconomic heap. Social sciences are the humanities trying to sound important by putting on sciency airs. Social climbers are people who know how to suck their way up the ladder. Social engineering is getting your way deviously, by using people’s weaknesses against them. Social security is money you give people who can’t be bother work for themselves. Socialism is an inherently flawed system that is prone to corruption. Social disease is venereal.

Whether or not you agree with all of those descriptions – and for the record, I don’t – you have to admit that the word ‘social’ does have a bit of a bad rap. I wonder how much that influences people – in business and elsewhere – to dismiss ‘social media’, ‘social networks’ and ‘social tools’ before they have even found out what they are and what they’re good for.

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