Home > Communications, Social Business > What is Social Communications? Part I: People who talk to People.

What is Social Communications? Part I: People who talk to People.

October 16, 2012

prarie-dog-3The current buzz in the unified communications industry is that UC is itself undergoing a transformation, to social communications. In a previous post I talked about the explicit/immediate nature of realtime communications and how that complements the asynchronous nature of social applications like wikis and activities. But the mood of the industry isn’t that UC and social will be side by side, it is that there’s a new thing called social communications — for example, the "VOIP Now" LinkedIn group I belong to changed its name to "Social Unified Communications". More bluntly, ModelMetrics asks, Is Unified Communications Dead?

Let’s look at what some analysts say. Forrester describes the UC –> SC transition like so:

… a new generation of social enterprise apps will finally deliver the productivity businesses desire by systematically grouping and rating people, information, and processes required to answer business needs. By creating a social layer between information workers and the applications and communications infrastructure, social enterprise apps will overcome the adoption malaise that has affected UC&C.

The nugget here is there’s a "social layer" that makes UC more consumable. Gartner, some time back in its "Top 10 Strategic Technologies for 2011" called out a category of Social Communications and Collaboration, consisting of 4 components: Social networking — profile and social-graph capabilities; Social publishing — capabilities like communities and feeds that enable social dissemination of content; Social feedback — ratings services and opinion tracking; and, Social Collaboration — blogs, wikis, file sharing, plus all the functions we know and love as part of UC … instant messaging, online meetings, VOIP, video and more. The net here is, again, that UC gets value out of being part of a larger social machine.

prarie-dog-2What I can’t tell from this sort of description is whether "social communications" is really anything new, or is just plain ol’ UC with a bunch of social stuff around it. I do think if we’re all going to be using this social communications stuff we ought to start putting down what that means. I get that an IM will always be an IM and a video a video, but there has to be something substantial about social communications, apart from the name.

So, where to start? Seems to me the first place where SC diverges from UC is in organizing and finding people to communicate with. I think we all naturally get that social is about people — it’s who your friends are and who their friends are, and so on. The social graph is what gives social its power — when our network of contacts provides links or other content we generally will be interested, because we tend to like or be interested in the same things our friends like/are interested in.

A social communications capability has to leverage this. First, instead of its own static and unconnected list of people, SC needs to work with the network or networks you already use. Second it has to show you context from those networks — it’s not enough to see the name, you have to see that person’s last post, their last microblog, or their last location. And last, it has to give you access to not just your contacts, but to people in the extended network — for example people who are not your friends (yet) but who respond to your friends’ posts.

Don’t forget that wherever people are, some scheme for privacy is needed. IM products have created a lot of features here; for example in Sametime you can define white-lists — lists if people explicitly permitted to talk to you — or black-lists — lists of people who are blocked from talking to you. We still need that, but we also need to extend these concepts to recognize the social graph — for example I might say my friends and friends of friends can always contact me, but those who are 3rd order contacts and higher get a different experience, perhaps triggering some opt-in prompt asking if I want to grant them access.

To sum up, for a system to provide social communications there has to be some way to leverage the social graph – there’s power in your network and that power needs to be harnessed to help you communicate.  In future posts I’ll be looking at other defining properties of SC – meanwhile don’t hesitate to share your comments on this or other UC topics.


[[Today’s social animal is the prairie dog, renowned as a communicator.  Some researchers have found evidence that the warning barks of prairie dogs comprise a simple language.]]

  1. October 16, 2012 at 9:06 am

    Social communication in the wild: http://youtu.be/SNfQda8ceGs

  2. October 18, 2012 at 11:03 am

    Personally I am not sure what social in business will be. It is very different form e.g. Facebook where the intent is to create social networks and some time Facebook becomes the more important “lives” of people. In business, people do not easily share their business contacts since a lot of them are actually their advantage in their ability to do their work and my contacts in business usually do not want me to “share” them.

    So I am a little bit skeptic about social collaboration in business… It will take a lot of time to find the equilibrium between sharing friends and data and protecting your own business. This is even more sensitive between people working in competing corporations where the corporations rules would not allow much of “socialization” between people of different corporations.

  3. October 24, 2012 at 1:44 pm

    I see a need for short term/high privacy team interactions that go beyond the standard document-based or workflow-based collaboration paradigms. Especially on shared projects that span multiple offices or pull together players from many different companies. No secret – I’m a proposal specialist. We have intense team activity in short bursts, with business-proprietary sharing needs that have to be sequestered from other normal accesses, and that expire into limited-access archive status after deadlines are achieved.

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