The Missing Link between the Social Pioneers & the Preachers – The Practitioners

There is a huge gap in social business. Doesn’t anyone else see this? There are people out there sermonizing, but who is delivering the goods?  There are plenty of glossies and white papers about how it should work, but there is a missing link between the preaching and the process.

My theory about the next stage of growth to come is pretty simple. I suggest there is also a gap in most of the current discussions between the Pioneers and the Preachers about social business that will only be filled by real practitioners. The living fossils that want to link the theoretical as the applied science of social collaboration.

As with evolution theories of any sort, sometimes it takes the rediscovery of fossils to stir up debate and new depths of practical knowledge. We’re reaching a stage in the progression of Social/Collaboration business where new findings need to be explored even if it alters dearly held beliefs. Much of value has been written about strategy and engagement from both internal and external perspectives  like the somewhat surprising observations in the post ‘The Perception Gap in Social’ by Mitch Lieberman, and definitions about what social and collaboration mean. But, there are gaps in the experiments and the experience.

The Social Species

At one end of the chain, we have the Primal Preachers. They’re often young, playful, consumed with the newness and novelty of social, yet some tend to more closely resemble older primates forming the Silverback Network. Sometimes their arms are longer than the legs they stand on. Usually lead by a singular dominant male they congregate in troops, frequently grooming each other and picking off nits and eating them alive, and will attack any young not sired by them. Challenges for supremacy and leadership are met with growls, roars and chest-thumping.  When confronted with demands for proof of concept, they may charge on all fours in a show of knuckle walking intimidation.

Researchers have discovered that 99% of their charges are bluffs; providing the rest of the troop time for retreating to a safe distance.

On the upside, Siverbacks are highly communicative creatures, with a wide range of auditory and visual cues they use to teach and extend their range. (In fact, they’re a fascinating case study in social amongst primates.) They get people thinking that Social is the next step in an evolution that will happen whether people believe in the theory, or not. Right now they’re the Kings of the low-land forests and are a very necessary link in the chain of the creationism of Social Collaboration. They appeal to the masses.

At the other end of the range, we have the Perceptive Pioneers of the Old Boys Network. They’re older, wiser, and more likely to be seen walking upright, although often with a bit of swagger. With burly firm business legs to stand on, their reach is shorter, and the stretch is longer to grab the attention away from the chest pounders and the allure of Facebook and Twitter. They form & reform the network without so many obvious battles for leadership. Rather, they are more often found in shifting pods commonly known as Analyst firms where they share forth as a mostly cohesive community, targeting most of their communications to vendors & c-suite executives.

The pioneers understand that everything new is old again.  They’re the Prophets of the high-land woods equally necessary as they point towards what will be in the future. They will lead the way in turning social collaboration into feasible business strategy.

The Implementors are the Tactical Missing Link.

Sooner or later, there will be a need for a new breed of transitional fossil. Beings that marry both the primitive traits of traditional business with the full promise of internal and external collaborative social engagement. Part dinosaur and part Jetson, these creatures are the intermediate species that span the two groups of animals above to put it all together with the systems, technology and the tools. 

In a recent interview about lessons learned in Social CRM, when asked if we have the right tools yet to collect the right data for analysis Esteban Kolsky replied,

 “The right tools are there, but we don’t have the right people. Analysis doesn’t require tools. Tools need to know & be told what they’re looking for.”

I agree, in whole, although I’ll apply it in a slightly different context here. In addition to having mathematical statisticians to make sense of the data, between the strategists and social socialites, someone has to understand industries, collaboration, processes, metrics –> how businesses work day-to-day, hands on –> then make the new technologies and tools deliver the right data and the magic metrics!

Those are the Process Practitioners. Currently, many belong to the ‘largely untapped – yet’ social network. Often found skirting the edges of both the Preacher and the Pioneer posses, they’re neither young nor old, just well-seasoned from long days in the blistering trenches and longer cold nights sweating over system Go Lives.  Usually bow-legged from spanning silos, and slightly hunched over from digging in the trenches, they nit-pick, too. Poking, prodding and pressing until each need is wholly understood and plans to fulfill them are devised in minute detail. The only young they care much about are the systems they deliver after a long labor with the stretch marks to show for every contraction.

Who is Delivering this Social Stuff in a Meaningful Way for the Vendor’s Customers?

The preachers will tell us that the tools and the technologies don’t matter, but ultimately organizations will select platforms on which to begin their engagement efforts. This is the tactical part of the process, and it’s being sadly neglected.

Looking at the positions posted on three ‘top’ social platform vendor sites doesn’t bode well for the clients. While we’re all searching for success stories, I forecast many dismal failures ahead if the right people aren’t being used in the right ways. Of 55 jobs posted by those vendors offering social collaboration solutions for businesses, only 4 of the jobs listed have any sort of business analysis consulting or software implementation experience as a requirement. That’s nothing short of scary.

In between ‘Let’s get socialized and collaborate’ and ‘Let’s achieve some new goals for your organization’ smart companies will be pausing to ask, “Who is going to put in the work to make these tools and systems live up to the strategy devised?”

The vendors better be ready to offer up the Missing Link:  
The Practitioners.

I’ll tell you more about the Practitioners in a later post. Time for a new spurt of evolution, don’t you think?


5 thoughts on “The Missing Link between the Social Pioneers & the Preachers – The Practitioners

  1. Kelly – Two words… Nail & Head (as in you’ve hit it). Very tight piece that also raises an interesting issue… Not many people actually want to be the practitioner, when being a pioneer or a preacher gets them so much more exposure.


    • Fred,

      You just hammered right on the sweet spot.

      There are people, like myself, who would rather be practitioners, but I think we are more rare. There is greater allure in making concepts concrete for those who like to fine tune under the hood. Problem is, most grease monkeys remain hidden in dark garages.

      I was planning to do next post on the traits of the practitioner, and perhaps I’ll now include notes on why some prefer to be so interested in the minutiae. Cross between love of making systems do hand-stands to create client solutions & the pleasing of the clients themselves, more than an external audience.

      When presented with a puzzle, practioners are eager to start putting the pieces together, one little piece at a time.

  2. Wow. Excellent post. I hope/wish more Preachers will read and honor it but sadly I think this is above their heads. I think us Pioneers already understand this dynamic and are rightly frustrated by it because in order to close the gap, we need the cooperation of the Silverbacks who are not always playing nicely in the sandbox. And while I think you are dead on to suggest the platforms need to be looking for the right-minded people to help make these tools more functional, I also think traditional marketers, strategists and brand experts are needed to help businesses really see ROI – not just metrics. The problem is, for those of us servicing clients right now, we are left with choosing the lesser of two evils, jumping on the bandwagon without much direction or holding back and hoping the boat doesn’t leave without us. So what do we do in the meantime?

    Thanks again for putting words to this very important concept. Great posts all around.

  3. Hi Kelly. Precisely the reason why I launched the Council over two years ago. We got’em. Practitioners, that is. As I’ve said before, it’s one of the most difficult yet rewarding positions in the world. One thing it’s not? Boring. I use to preach and evangelize a lot on the social web, but now… I just get out of the way. Although I have been known to rush a backstage or two to hold a practitioner to their promises… (You know who you are) 🙂

    All our members deliver the goods every day. I could not be more proud of their efforts and achievements.

  4. For any new solution to be 2.0 it must recognize and leverage 1.0. In all the market chatter about E2.0 there is very little, if any, discussion about Enterprise 1.0. Until that fundamental issue is resolved E2.0 will continue to flounder.

    There are two roots to business: transactions and change. Business runs on transactions. These transactions span the gamut of an entire company, their vendors and their customers. They include macro level transactions such as Procurement, Finance and Sales/Marketing as well as micro level transactions such as receive, make, store, sell, fulfill, ship, deliver, install and service. Of the latter there are up to 64 distinct transactions that are executed by Employees, Vendors and Customers.

    Today, these transactions are held hostage in the E1.0 systems such as ERP, Best of Breed and Homegrown enterprise software. The architecture of these systems is entirely “inwardly” focused. They were built to consolidate the financial elements of a business and are good at Sarbanes-Oxley compliance reporting and HR. Beyond that they are ill-suited to address the second element of business: change.

    Change is constant, pervasive and permanent. E1.0 wasn’t made to change and as such the average implementation is 11.5 years old (Constellation Research). Consequently the on-going pressure to meet the demands of regulations, competition, corporate strategies/initiatives, new markets, new products, improved efficiency, increased accuracy/quality and even the most basic elements of Collaboration go unresolved. This causes erosion in revenue, margin and long term viability of any company. Eventually, the pain becomes so great that a corporate wide replacement, modification or integration of E1.0 systems is undertaken. Beyond the cost (up to 6% of revenue with 93% of projects overrunning the budget), delays (58% take longer than 18 months) and diminished value (only 69% of the expected value is achieved) – in the end, you just have a slightly newer version of an E1.0 system.

    This brings us to the opportunity for E2.0. Social media has demonstrated the value of communication, collaboration and ‘pop-up’ IT. As consumers we have more computing power than our employee self does when we walk into the office doors. With very little if any effort we can join a social network of like-minded people and establish rich and meaningful conversations around a topic of mutual interest. There is no large scale IT project required…no endless requirements gathering and budget development or defending required. We just do it and our lives are better as a result. If the results are not worth the minimal effort – we quickly move on to other areas that do deliver value.

    E2.0 needs to embrace all three aspects of value: communication, collaboration and pop-up IT. Coincidentally there are three elements of an E2.0 solution: E1.0 systems, Next Generation Enterprise Technology and Secure Collaboration platforms. These are the combined in three easy, rapid, innovative and agile steps that support business today and every day:

    1) Freeze E1.0 System Investments – regardless of the age or sophistication of your ERP, Best of Breed or Homegrown systems do not touch them. Don’t modify them, replace them or integrate them. They are excellent at what they do but are not equipped to keep pace with the perpetual need to change that is business. They are like an offensive lineman – absolutely critical to the success of the team but not the fast, elusive, great-hands and peripheral vision that you find in the “skilled” positions. No disrespect to lineman or ERP’s. They just aren’t going to score as many touchdowns and business needs to stop running its playbook through them.

    2) Enhance the Transactions – Employees, Vendors and Customers all have legacy applications. Each of those systems has a stranglehold on the data, process and technology that workers use to execute the ‘plays’. Asking these monolithic, rigid and complex applications to change has proven to be too risky, expensive and disruptive. Yet the transactions need to improve. More data is required to improve performance, retain compliance and meet opportunities. Revised processes offer improvements in efficiency and accuracy. Visibility to what is actually happening throughout the Supply Chain reduces the uncertainty of how the ‘team’ is operating. Next generation enterprise technology, from companies such as ours ( is legacy system agnostic. Without changing a line of code in your systems or those of your supply chain partners you can enhance the transactions so that they fit the needs and exploit the opportunity of business.

    3) You are the Expert – For just as long as there have been consultants and software vendors they always come in and explain that their way of doing business is better. In reality, no one is more expert in your business than you and your employees. The amount of knowledge and innovation that is latent in your own company is seemingly limitless. Frustrated by legacy applications these people use work arounds. Their knowledge is tucked away in a spreadsheet or clipboard and the company cannot gain the full value. Having taken the first two steps, where technology gets out of their way, you can know leverage the knowledge of the entire Supply Chain. Secure, collaborative networks such as Chatter or Yammer can now be layered on top of the second step to be informed of targeted events. The participants in the collaborative network can not only monitor for certain events that impact performance of the Supply Chain but they can also collaborate on how the transactions can continue to improve to reduce the non-value add elements while creating greater value.

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