Does the Social Web Have a Future?

I was privileged to be among the invitees to Forrester analyst Jeremiah Owyang's "Future of the Social Web" round table yesterday. Although I got the invitation relatively late and didn't have a huge amount of time to think about this issue in advance, the time was more than well spent.

With approximately 40 participants from all walks of the "social web", this event, which I would characterize as an interactive workshop, could plausibly be considered a bellwether of the industry. At the start of the day, Jeremiah challenged us to:

1) make four predictions about the future of the social web (5 year horizon),
2) identify one chief key challenge to that prediction coming to pass, and
3) propose a solution for overcoming that challenge and thus fulfilling the prediction.

(Looking back on this agenda now, I think "prediction" was probably not the right word; "requirement for success" is probably more in line with what we discussed.)

To that end, we broke up into focus groups (brands/practitioners, whitebox vendors, enterprise CRM providers, etc.) to build this content out. Here are the fruits of our labor:


  • Prediction 1: Community will participate in all aspects of marketing/strategy, product development, and support.

    Challenge: Brands have difficulty managing the culture shift.

    Solution: Develop a business program to create incremental benefits
  • Prediction 2: Brands present and participate where organic communities exist.
    Challenge: Reorientating the organization to deliver value to the community first.
    Solution: Brands require monitoring tools, internal training and processes, in order to deliver value to communities where they exist.
  • Prediction 3: Workstyle evolves as employees collaborate beyond colleagues to get work done.
    Challenge: Rules within corporate culture prevent adoption.
    Solution: Develop strategy for internal process change
  • Prediction 4: One identity with controllable multiple facets.
    Challenge: Industry does not agree what should be portable, and how it should be, resulting in no trust.
    Solution: Despite this being a prediction, market demand doesn’t yet exist to spur adoption and innovation


One of the most interesting observations (made by Jeremiah) was the fact that brands are apparently much farther along the social web continuum than is generally assumed - but this may simply be a statistical artifact based on the fact that attendees were hand-selected. I also find it interesting that the most important as well as difficult requirement - the concept of a truly portable profile/identity - is by consensus completely outside current market conditions at the moment. For that reason, in the near future we may be using the plural term "social webs" (remember AOL's "walled garden"?)

I was also very interested to learn that IBM recently put 2,000 marketing employees globally through intensive and lengthy "social media awareness" training. We are doing something similar at Oracle but in an ad hoc fashion, so IBM's model may be of interest to us.

If you're interested in a play-by-play, Jeff Nolan live-blogged the action here. I'll add more resources here as they become available.


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