A colleague and I recently gave a presentation called From Social Media to Social Business for the executive board of a medium-sized German enterprise, and I showed this video to start it off. The numbers are huge – 100 million tweets every day, 35 hours of video uploaded to YouTube every minute. In 2011, people sent 6.1 trillion text messages and 247 billion e-mails. Spam and e-mail viruses accounted for 80 percent of that. The flood of information is truly overwhelming. After I showed the video, I gave my audience a live demonstration of Facebook, Twitter, Xing and YouTube before showing them how IBM uses social media internally. Both IBM and Web 2.0 have a lot more communication channels than they did just a few years ago. But e-mail has not been replaced. All those other channels push notifications to e-mail as new messages; when someone posts a microblog or sends an instant message, text message or e-mail on a social network like Xing, LinkedIn or Facebook, this is forwarded to your regular e-mail address.
Then there is the endless stream of tweets (with up to 140 characters), the Facebook walls where people are constantly sharing new information, the regular Xing messages and so on. Not to mention blogs, wikis and communities where people are adding content in relative secrecy. The executives were impressed, maybe even frightened, by this new world of diverse communication channels and never-ending information. They responded with completely reasonable questions like “Who reads all that stuff?” and “Do you have time to read all that?” So I showed them how I follow external social media with the help of HootSuite, how I monitor certain hashtags, and how I use my settings to control when I receive messages. “Yeah, but you’re a professional. Normal teenagers don’t do that,” was their reaction. That may be true, but the important thing is that I helped these executives see that the world of social media and its flood of different types of information cannot be held back. Coping with this flood, being able to filter out the information that matters, is a valuable skill that people today have to learn, both at home and especially at work.
Then my colleague and I showed the executives how we work at IBM. We demonstrated how we use IBM Sametime to chat in real time and IBM Connections, our internal social network, to share information and steer projects. The demonstration gave them a chance to see some of IBM’s internal communities. My coworker is a member of about 20 communities. When I looked at my profile, I saw that I was a member of 88. [A brief digression: Feeling a little déjà vu? In the heyday of Lotus Notes, we created a Notes database for every topic. For people at Microsoft, it’s the same way with SharePoint. It’s only natural to ask whether all these communities, activities and forums are really necessary, or whether it would better for us to just create our own information repositories. Yet that question is not about the underlying system; it’s an organizational decision that should have no further ambition than to ensure the best possible support for the software. We didn’t create things like sub-communities in IBM Connections for nothing.]
Not surprisingly, the executives also asked how we keep track of all those communities, blogs and forums. One useful function is to have the community (or the forum, blog, wiki, etc.) send you a daily activity summary – as an e-mail, naturally. Of course, I don’t really want every single one of those 88 communities, blogs and so on to send me a daily summary. So I only get summaries from a few of them – the ones that are important for my day-to-day work. For the rest, I check in from time to time when there’s something I need. You don’t have to get everything pushed, and that wouldn’t be a good idea either. Pulling is usually much more practical.
We’re still on the subject of the most intelligent way of handling the flood of information, of individual work styles and filtering methods that people use to deal with that flood, and the necessity of being taught those styles and methods. But in the age of Watson, we can and should demand technology for these purposes too. IT systems need to do more than just help us navigate the flood and find information easily. They should also put information in context. What do I mean by that? When I look at a blog post in IBM Connections, the software automatically suggests similar posts in the side bar. It also shows me coworkers who have worked on the topic and lets me identify experts. This is how IBM Connections uses Social Analytics to give me the kind of context I need.
Functionality like this shows how social software and analytics can work together to yield practical results. It’s also a distinct, useful feature that sets IBM solutions apart from other products on the market. Just think about technologies like Watson and you will start to get a picture of the kind of things that are in the pipeline. In an age when people no longer have secretaries to pre-sort mail, analytic functions are becoming the new assistants that help us handle our work. That doesn’t mean you no longer have to think for yourself, but software like IBM Connections can help you make better decisions more quickly.