The year of social: takeaways from IBM Innovate 2013


I blogged in December 2012 about how 2013 would be the year of influence. More so than influence, however, I think now it is simply the year of social.

The past few months have proven that true, but no more than in this past week while I was out in Orlando at Innovate, IBM’s new Technical Summit. Not only were there a ton of great sessions in the social business track, but I was able to connect with a huge number of colleagues also working in the space and share not only some of our difficulties and frustrations, but also the huge wins we’ve seen in our own areas.

For me, the biggest part of being able to attend was to build an in-person connection with so many of my coworkers whom I’ve only previously worked with in socially collaborative spaces online. I called this out in our kickoff meeting on site as my favourite Innovate moment, and after flying home, It still holds true. To me, that is one of the greatest benefits of social media: already having built a relationship through online networks allowed us to dig right in to wonderful discussion as if we’d met years ago. The reality of this is, of course, that we did meet years ago… just not in person.

This is the new world of business. One where professional networks are built and curated in social channels on-line, then strengthened and supported in gatherings like conferences or periodic on-site meetings. It allows for global collaboration to occur 24×7 in effective and meaningful ways, and then reinvigorates passion for our work. In fact, that was one of the great realizations I had this week:

Watching so many people passionately discuss topics, I realized that so many of us work in such specific industries or have expertise so focused that we tend to bore most others in our lives. So when you gather people of like mind, skill, and passion in one place, the conversations flow freely, as we now are able to talk with others who are as passionate as we are and understand not only what we are talking about, but the importance of it all as well. I rarely see people’s faces light up like they do when they can share with someone else who really “gets it”.

But there really isn’t anything new under the sun. Just like cloud computing, social business isn’t anything new either; just the tools (and subtle changes in etiquette) have evolved in innovative ways to do it all better. (Yes, I just said cloud is nothing new. Remember dumb terminals? That was cloud computing before the name.) Now, things have evolved and cloud is absolutely a critical piece of business today, but the core hasn’t changed. Social is in the same boat. Business has ALWAYS been done socially. But today, we can use new tools and innovative thinking to build those business relationships and maintain them in a scalable fashion, so when we meet in person we aren’t spending time learning about each other before we know enough to begin accomplishing anything, but rather spend our time on deeper conversations based on that online social connection.

All we need to do as social business professionals is to help break down the preconceived notions that this newfangled thing is just for kids, show people that it isn’t as unfamiliar as it seems, and really can prove to have huge business impacts from the measurable to the esoteric and un-quantifiable.

The power of social isn’t just in sharing knowledge on-line though. It is in the networks of trusted people we bring together, to surrounds us with amazing and wicked smart peeps who can agilely pivot and attack problems to not only succeed with their business goals, but blow them out of the water and rebuild the entire understanding of success. We’re seeing that from the top down and bottom up. Yes, 2013 is indeed the year of social.