Posted by: Richard Chennault | December 18, 2007

Social Media in the Corporation

1.1 Purpose

This white paper is intended to propose and address an architectural framework for social media within the constructure of the corporation. The specific objective is to raise the awareness of the reader and guide the enterprise towards a holistic view of social media and differentiate social media from its corporate derivative. For the purposes of this document the paper will refer extensively to both social media and ‘corporate media’.

Social media is fast becoming the technology du jour of the internet illuminati. Futurist pundits hail the technology as the next electronic business paradigm[1]. This paper will attempt to separate fact from fiction and hyperbole from pragmatism.

It is necessary to develop a specific structure for defining who, what and where the use of social media technology is utilized within the boundaries of the corporation and thus transformed into corporate media. This paper will establish the basic ground principles for defining and guiding corporate decision makers when considering the use of social media technology as a means to communicate corporate information.

1.2 Background

Before depicting the history of corporate and social media it is important to establish certain definitions for social media. There is perhaps no better example of social media than the definition found on the most perennial of social media sites, WikiMeida. WikiMedia’s definition is quoted here verbatim:

“Social Media is the democratization of information, transforming people from content readers into content publishers. It is the shift from a broadcast mechanism to a many-to-many model, rooted in conversations between authors, people, and peers. Social media uses the “wisdom of crowds” to connect information in a collaborative manner. Social media can take many different forms, including Internet forums, message boards, weblogs, wikis, podcasts, pictures and video. Technologies such as blogs, picture-sharing, vlogs, wall-postings, email, instant messaging, music-sharing, group creation and voice over IP, to name a few. Examples of social media applications are Google (reference, social networking), Wikipedia (reference), MySpace (social networking), Facebook (social networking), Last.fm (personal music), YouTube (social networking and video sharing), Second Life (virtual reality), and Flickr (photo sharing)”.[2]

WikiMeida is however not without controversy[3] and solely relying on anonymous consensus of the masses is intellectually incaution. It is condign therefore that the definition be further enhanced by acknowledged literati on the subject of communication and social discourse. Jürgen Habermas is well renowned philosopher and sociologist. In his paper, Institutions of the public sphere, he proposes a three pillared framework for social media.[4] These are:

1. Participation is open to all (principle of inclusivity),

2. Participants in discourse are socially bracketed and considered equal

3. Any issue can be raised for rational debate.

Corporations, much like the peoples that embody them, are faced with the same challenges of creating, sharing and dissemination of information to its corporate constituents and customers. Traditionally this problem domain has been classified as knowledge management and enterprise content management. Attempts at creating collaborative corporate knowledge have met with varying levels of success within the enterprise. Indeed the rise of social media in the public internet domain is indicative of the systematic failure of the commercial marketplace to meet the challenges of information sharing. This failure of knowledge management and content management systems has left many in the corporation unengaged or disillusioned with corporate knowledge creation and decision making. These barriers to collaboration are surfaced through the collusion of technological and sociological barriers (i.e. rankism[5]). Examples of the integration of technology and bias based cultural practices include: closed e-mail distribution groups, policies against email broadcast, hierarchical information sharing practices and walled information gardens.

Social media within the context of the web is not new. Nor is it a new phenomenon to communication mediums. However social media is constrained via the perception to which the culture in which it is communicated lives. Social media is a container of communication to which culture lives and grows[6] albeit in this case a heavily virtualized one. The web itself is a prima facie example of how democratization of information may be achieved on a new medium. The web is a relatively new place in which to hold public discourse and court. However it is no panacea and to paraphrase Harold Innis the web,

“…with systems of mechanized communication and organized force, has sponsored a new type of imperialism imposed on common law in which sovereignty is preserved de jure and used to expand imperialism de facto.”[7]

Social Media holds a potential promise to re-engage the corporate citizen in the ongoing dialogue and creation of new corporate opinion and information assets. However social media is as much a socio-cultural phenomenon as it is a set of technology infrastructure. The enterprise can not escape its fiduciary and regulatory responsibilities. Thus social media within the corporate environment must be carefully implemented to ensure compliance. The challenge for the enterprise is to implement a solution that takes advantage of the socially rewarding experience of social media but yet retain corporate assets, identity and culture. Succulently how does the enterprise transform social media into corporate media? Furthermore how does the enterprise create an open milieu for ideas and avoid the pitfalls of corporate information imperialism?

Online social networks have yet to demonstrate longevity normally associated with non-virtual associations such as family units, professional associations and political parties. Indeed the most long lived online social groups are augmentations of pre-existing social network entities[8]. Only time will tell weather the social networks created through the casual connection making that is prevalent of such social networking sites as MySpace and Twitter[9].

1.3 executive overview

This paper refers extensively to the terms social media, social software, content collaboration and corporate media. When the word social is prefixed to any term it is meant to refer to the cultural aspects of a classification of technology that enables collaboration. Content collaboration and corporate media refer to both existing enterprise technology solution and potential derivative software classified as corporate media. Additionally the term corporate media or content collaboration is used in direct reference to a particular business function or technical system. For example the corporate media architecture is comprised of several social media software systems customized to be compliant with regulatory and corporate policies.

Corporate media covers the processes of selecting, capturing, categorizing, indexing, storing and purging corporate content that is collaboratively constru

cted. What makes corporate media different from collaborative content is the technology type employed to facilitate the creation of the content. However once the content is identified as having significant business value it transcends into the more sterile confines of traditional and non-egalitarian corporate content. Furthermore the technology infrastructure divide between traditional content management providers and social media software is rapidly closing. Thus the distinction between content management and corporate media may soon only be in relation to how the content is developed and used.

To illustrate the transition of content from one form to another take the use case of a corporate policy. A policy may be collaboratively developed on the corporate media wiki however once the policy is of sufficient completeness it must be transformed into a business document and processed in accordance with corporate dictums. This rather simple use case illustrates how leveraging the breath of the enterprise human capital to create information assets may significantly improve the quality and remove barriers of acceptance to corporate produced information.

1.3.1 etymology

The terms of popular culture are fluid and often times transitory. The words web and social media have been transmuted and transformed several times over. For the purposes of this paper a point in time concrete definition is required in order to define the definitions of the day. However it is expected that the definitions provided are meant only to last as long as it takes to turn the information provided within to knowledge. At which time the definitions will transmute back into a more fluid state based on the reader’s empirical understanding of the terms.

Social media is an ambiguous and at times amorphous term used to describe the web technology du jour that aggregates individuals into social groups of temporal association. Corporate Media is a new term that is liberally used as a means of labeling disparate social media information systems. The term corporate media has been created as a means to juxtapose the difference of use and configuration of social media within the corporate sphere of influence.

1.3.1.1 Corporate

The word corporate refers to a body incorporate made of a collection of individuals united under and having a specific binding of perpetual authority vested by law. A corporation has the capacity of acting as an individual with the same rights and restrictions as granted to corporeal citizens[10].

1.3.1.2 Media /Content

Objects on which content can be stored. Content refers to any piece of information, data, and digital asset that can be created and modified. Content ranges the gambit of business functions from clinical diagnostic imagery to marketing brochures to XML transcripts of audio recordings. These various types of content, while dissimilar in production, share a unifying denominator of being digitally stored on media. Content can be categorized, catalogued and indexed in ways that achieve value beyond the actual data within the content.

1.3.1.3 Social

Social refers to communication and interaction patterns of humans. Social interaction and communication amongst individuals and groups create the perceived reality of the social organizational unit. The communication container may take many forms from physical movement to written language.

It is worth noting the impact of the communication container has on the culture. The type of communication container binds the culture in space and time[11]. The less mechanical and technological the communication container the more space bound the culture remains. Inversely the more automated and technologically advanced the communication container the more time bound the culture whilst the space boundaries expand.

1.3.1.4 Social Media

Social media refers to any object to which social interaction and communication is recorded in a semi-permeable state. The social aspect of social media is characterized by the three pillars of social discourse; status bracketing, rationality and inclusivity. The media aspect is temporal and permeable and the content changes whilst communication is in action. To wit: perception is reality and reality is the recorded perception of the social unit.

1.3.1.5 Corporate Media

Corporate media is the aberration of social media to fit within the strictures of the corporation. Corporate media is characterized by varying degrees of non-bracketed discourse and hierarchical information control and dissemination. The control of the communication container is necessary in order to achieve the ends of the corporate goals and objectives. The corporation has a responsibility to control the time and space of its information dissemination and thus the three pillars of social media are appropriately modified in order to achieve maximal results according to the dictates of the corporate body. Thus all information must remain proximal to the head of the corporation in order to prevent dissolution of the corporate culture.


[1] Don Tapscott, (2006), Wikinomics, How Mass Collaboration Changes Everything, (pp. 18-19). New York: Penguin Group

[2] Unknown Arthur (2007), Wikipedia, Social Media, Available at: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Social_media

[3] Various (2007), Google search “Wikipedia controversy”, Available at: http://www.google.com/search?q=wikimedia+controversy

[4] Habermas, J. (1997). Institutions of the public sphere. In C. Newbold (Ed.), Approaches to Media: a Reader (pp. 235-244). London: Arnold.

[5] Robert F. Fuller, Rankism, A social disorder (2007), available at: http://www.breakingranks.net/weblog/rankism

[6] James W. Carey, (1998), Communication as Culture (p. 155), Boston, Unwin Hyman LTD.

[7] Harold Innis, (1950), Empire and Communications (p. 215), Oxford, Oxford University Press

[8] Charles Abrams, (2007), Three ways the second life can real benefits for web business, despite the negative hype, (p. 3), Stanford, Gartner.com

[9] L. Devanna, Social Media in the Enterprise – Part II – Partnering with IT available (2007) at: http://lensblog.typepad.com/ebiz/2007/10/social-media–1.html

[10] Stewart Kyd, (1794), Corpor, Vol 1 (p. 13),

[11] Harold Innis, (1964), The Bias of Communication, (p. 33), Toronto, University of Toronto

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