I am an early adopter of technology because I have been lucky enough to understand the value that it brings to business and my life. When I think about the power of technology, I think about how collaboration is changing the world and no, it’s not about a platform or a tool. It’s about how it enables us to connect and break down silos and connect with purpose.

In the 21st century organization, leaders understand how to enable their business with the right technology solutions and they abandon 20th century practices of leading with technology. There has been an abundance of failure with specific technology tools because organizations have used too many gimmicks and change management programs to introduce these new shiny objects instead if simply integrating them in how we work. The focus should never be on the tool, it’s about the business at hand and how the tool helps us.

I launched the first internal online community at Cisco Systems Inc. in 1999 and it failed miserably because of two reasons: 1) the organization was not ready and 2) we didn’t integrate it into the business flow. I would do it all over again because the learnings were immense and forever changed how I help organizations implement technology as an enabler. And that brings me to a hot button topic I have when it comes to social media. In 21st century organizations, leaders understand that social media is just a bunch of tools and they need to only choose the ones that are valuable to their business.

Yesterday a client asked me if he should be tweeting. My answer was, why do you think you should? How would it be valuable to your purpose? Through conversation, we realized that tweeting doesn’t serve his purpose because he did not care to integrate it into his work. So we decided he should simply get back to work and do what he does best.

Here is the most important secret about social media. It’s a bunch of tools. Did your organization ever have a TV or email strategy? If not, then why would you have a social media strategy? What would have happened today if you had a strategy for MySpace? When it comes to social media tools, the question that you need to ask yourself is which of these plethora of tools enable my business? If I look from my customer’s perspective, what is the best experience I can provide him or her by using these tools? We still don’t know which tools will be pervasive so the focus should not be on the tools but on how they enable your business and bring your culture to life.

And fans and followers are not reliable business metrics.  It’s not about the tools, it’s about relationships that can not only transform your business but can also change your life. I love speaking and sharing stories about how this happened in my life and how I have built a thriving connected network around the globe. You can also do it for your business if you adopt 21st century practices and realize there is no such thing as a social media expert. Ten years from now, how many people will have social media in their titles?

The five trends that are impacting our business from a social networking perspective are:

Technology changes, humans don’t.

It took radio 38 years to reach 50 million users, while iPhone applications took 9 months to reach 1 billion users.  Ten years ago, we did not have the smartphones we know and love today. Texting is the #1 most used data service in the world and very few organizations ever had an SMS strategy. Instead, they looked at how adoption can enable their business. Nonprofit organizations were first to tap into the power of SMS in mobile health and other strategic areas.

We trust strangers.

Anyone can influence anyone: We now trust strangers as much as our closest friends for restaurants we eat at, movies we watch, hotels we stay at and so much more.  How do we know that someone else’s 5-star rating is similar to what we like?  People also trust strangers recommendations and opinions much more than paid advertising. Think about what this means for your business.

Businesses are no longer the sole creators of their brand.

Social business brings forth the importance of relationships and will require leaders to be transparent and authentic, while agility will become an increasingly more important business driver.

Increased need to embrace the multi-generational workplace.

This is the first time in the history of work where we have five generations in the workplace with different needs and styles. Organizations will need to adapt and embrace the needs of the different generations especially to attract the younger employees with BYOD (Bring Your Own Device) acceptance, open workspaces and meaningful work, while balancing the needs of all employees.

The connected enterprise.

The power to draw resources and people when we need them to solve problems and meet challenges will become increasingly important.  The World Future Society predicts that we will move to a Hollywood-style work environment where will need to be able to pull the right skill sets for each project.  And the Connected Enterprise is one where a new class of company is emerging—one that uses collaborative Web 2.0 technologies intensively to connect the internal efforts of employees and to extend the organization’s reach to customers, partners, and suppliers. And if it is successful, it will turn into a Connected Network, where connections, conversations and co-creation takes place across a global network of connected individuals with no boundaries.

So what’s the important secret when it comes to social media in the 21st century? Pick the social media tools that help you achieve your business purpose and leave the gurus behind because you will build the most amazing relationships on earth.

 

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