Whether they realize it or not, social media is already the most important technology channel for enterprises to engage their customers. The usage and adoption rates on social media may currently lag alternatives such as call centers or traditional media, but look at the trend lines. A recent survey by IBM shows social media moving from 16% to 57% usage as the primary customer interaction tool over the next three to five years, while call center usage drops from 40% to 31%, and traditional media goes from 39% to a paltry 15%.
While these numbers are interesting, they trigger a broader and potentially far more complex debate. In spite of all the noise and attention social media receives, most enterprises do not have even a remotely clear idea of how to manage social imperatives within their existing workflows. This integration will be the key driver for long-term success, and if it follows previous technology adoption patterns, a small % of companies will get it and thrive, a bigger percentage will fail, and everyone else will muddle through. Every business out there is dependent on a workflow, whether it’s processing a mortgage, developing software, or baking cookies. Anything that streamlines or improves the efficiency of the workflow is adopted; anything that slows it down in the slightest will at best get perfunctory attention, and then slowly die of neglect. This is further compounded by the fact that social media is amorphous, reactive, and often not even remotely logical—which is the exact opposite of how most enterprises would prefer to run their business.
Now here’s the scary part. The amount of data being generated by consumers, as vast as it is at the moment, is merely the first trickle that will turn into a massive tsunami as machine to machine (M2M) data starts to become more integrated with the consumer data wave. While there are billions of mobile devices and users, there are over a trillion wireless sensors, all gathering data continuously, and the boundary between these two sets are becoming increasingly blurred. If you think we have a challenge integrating social data into the enterprise workflow now, just wait until the consumer and M2M spaces align. As disruptive as this is going to be, it also means an even bigger opportunity for the right technology at the right time.