Anil Dash on putting social media to work

Anil Dash, the chief evangelist at Six Apart, gave a presentation to Web Directions North attendees today about how to put social media to work. He pointed to the web publishing cycle of publication, syndication and reaction and how it is necessary to show businesses how this cycle applies to them. At present, business tools don’t even mention relationships, Dash said, and the technology industry is partly to blame, as it assumes that people are different at home and at work. Things are well designed at home, yet at work people are forced into different restrictive behaviours. For example, one of the key selling points of a Blackberry is to allow corporations to restrict their employees from using certain features.

OpenID, by contrast, is a good example of how the “web” model can work in the corporate world. It’s partly as simple as having a normal, accessible name. While openness and accessibility is a foregone conclusion in the web world, it’s only now becoming a principle of the business world, Dash said.

Reliability, scalability, measurability and manageability are all vital to a corporate environment, but web technologies are sometimes not robust enough for their needs.

In purely pragmatic terms, Dash said email is your “best enemy” to convincing business to adapt a web-like model. Identify where email is failing (spam, irrelevant emails) and offering web services as an alternative. Explain how using wikis, blogs, and other tools allow for serendipity, whether its creating new business connections or finding new ways to interact with clients.

Dash also stressed the importance of permanence, such as ensuring that messages are not lost when moving to new technologies. But impermanence is also important. No-one gets a gold watch after 50 years with a firm anymore, and a far more likely dynamic is a small team coming together in an ad-hoc manner and then dissolving when a job is done. In practical terms, that means permissions to access data may change over time.

Iteration is also important. Technology deployment shouldn’t be flipping a switch and using the new version of Microsoft Office….and then finding that half of the people in a firm can’t send email. But time and again this scenario plays itself out in the workplace, and Dash said the only way to solve the problem is to iterate instead of accepting rapid change.

Playing nicely with others and patience are also important. On a macro scale, blogging went from obscurity to ubiquity in the business world in five years. But on a personal scale, such changes can appear to be glacial. But it’s important to remember that some people in an organization will need to assimilate change slowly. By the same token, Dash said to find the advocates within an organization, because there are always individuals who think in the same way as a webcentric worker…they just don’t know it yet.

Changing business means the blog world has to change itself. Stop rewarding people who shout, Dash said, which has been a route to success (or at least to notoriety) in both the blogging world and business.

New tools, such as Facebook news feeds, Jabber, Twitter and OpenSocial will all be able to bring in new users from the business world that the older generation of enterprise software just can’t do, Dash said. But those who work in the web world have the ability and obligation to bring those tools to the enterprise, and not just exist in their own milieu, Dash said.