Why Can't Social Business Apps Be More Professional?

Scrape away the paint and chrome from most social applications for business and what you usually find is a pale derivative of a personal social site like Facebook. Though these mockingbird sites have become a corporate staple, businesses report their social initiatives usually go nowhere, waste money and time and generate more employee doubt about management's wisdom.

InfoWorld offers a radical idea:  Stop trying to make apps social.

"The workplace is not a collection of friends and family sharing personal updates,  rumors and the like, so labeling business tools as social simply doesn't make sense, wrote Galen Gruman, an InfoWorld columnist.

The analysts at Forrester concur. The industry way overpromises and underdelivers, they wrote. It saw Facebook and Twitter and said, " We can use this is in business. We have no idea of how to use it, but we love it as consumers, so we must be able to use it in business."

It doesn't work that way. Businesses don't need social tools; they need collaboration and communications.  Businesses don't need to stage a virtual party at work, but they need to help people work together to achieve the desired creativity, efficiency and other results from that collaboration, Gruman said.

Human interactions by definition are social, and you get more useful collaboration if you encourage people to engage and get along. Engagement is critical to collaboration, but engagement for its own sake – for being "social" – is not critical at all.

"When companies deploy social software for social's sake, it's ineffective," said Nathan Rawlins, vice president of product marketing at Jive Software, a developer of sales and marketing collaboration. "When they deploy social software tied to specific work processes it can be transformational."

Current-generation collaboration tools still have a long way to go, especially in differentiating decisions by managers from requests by collaborators—too many treat collaboration as a free-for-all where everyone decides or thinks they can.

Bur over time, we'll see more coherent approaches, Forrester believes.

"Email had a similar trajectory, after all — remember 'Why email? They're down the hall," an analyst wrote. People, especially those engaged in creative work, are good at finding tools.