ContributorsEnabling Technology

Social Technology Stovepipes

The heavy breathing of early adopters has not yet led to enterprise integration. Just wait.
By John Sumser

For all of the noise, social technology is proving slow to enter the HR marketplace. After all, LinkedIn is nearly a decade old; Facebook is seven; and Twitter is five. While legions of trainers purport to show how to use collaborative communications tools in organizational settings, little real progress in standardization has been made. Most of the news is the heavy breathing of early adopters.
From an enterprise perspective, social media is still in its earliest R&D phases. The simple technology that will ultimately become the backbone of organizational tech stacks is still shaping up. We know what it does but are still learning how to turn it into useful applications.
In the first era of software, technology moved from big buyers (like the military and huge companies) “down” to street level users. PCs were not possible until the NASA space programs. Inventory management and manufacturing operations software has its roots in military planning tools.
Today, the consumer market is driving technology adoption. As big companies and the government reduced their investments in R&D, gaming companies, software giants, and venture capitalists became the funders. Technologies move from consumer usage to enterprise applications in the same way ingredients move into meals. The core technologies are gathered to solve a business problem just like flour, sugar, salt, and eggs are assembled to make a cake. Raw social technologies include:

  • Short Messaging (Twitter, Yammer, Facebook)
  • Network Development (Twitter, LinkedIn, Facebook)
  • Network Visualization (Social network analysis, LinkedIn)
  • Community Formation and Administration (Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter, Google, Ning)
  • Communications Targeting (Salesforce, ConstantContact)
  • Community Ranking and Rating (Yelp, Netflix, Amazon)
  • Virtual Meetings (Webex, GoToMeeting)
  • Knowledge Assembly (Wiki, forums)
  • Knowledge Distribution (Digg, Buzz, Facebook, Twitter, StumbleUpon)
  • Video Creation and Distribution (YouTube)
  • Democratic Publishing (blogging, Ning, fan pages)
  • Knowledge Marking (search engine optimization or SEO, tagging)
  • Real Time Video (Skype, GoToMeeting)
  • Mobile Platforms (tablets, smart phones)
  • Gaming (Particularly multiplayer games like World of Warcraft)

The second layer of R&D answers the question, “How do you use this particular technology in this particular setting?” As the various technologies begin to enter the enterprise, vendors are working to apply social technologies to the fundamental problems in HR and the rest of the organization.
A technology “stovepipe” is an application that is not tightly coupled with an overall enterprise operations system. Generally, the stovepipes are developed and then integrated into a larger platform. Today, we are witnessing a minor flurry of integration spurred on by the LinkedIn IPO.Here are the most observable “stovepipes” of social technology today:
Knowledge Management and Distribution. The Wild West of experimentation. All of the traditional elements of the training department are up for grabs. Wikis are being used to expedite onboarding, distribute policy, and publish shared vocabularies. Forums are being used to corral customer-facing information, deliver benefits, and information. Stored video is being shipped around the organization to solve problems and deliver just-in-time tracing.
Resume Acquisition. Notwithstanding the “death of the resume,” the largest part of social technology implementation is focused on prospective employees. This is the business of LinkedIn, as well as an entire ecosystem of smaller companies.
Job Ad Distribution. The major social media websites have become the new newspaper—and the new (more targeted) classifieds.
Background Verification and Checking. Data from social media websites is fast becoming a standard source for background checking. Smart companies are developing hybrid background checking models that combine online data with hard-copy documents.
Network Information Leverage. Often described as “referrals.” Small companies are helping their customers mine employee networks on the major social media sites. Similar companies help job hunters.
Participative Community. This dates to the 1980s. To date, few companies have really mastered the complexities of using community for internal operations. The work continues to evolve with interesting applications in alumni organizations and special interest subsets. The recruiting universe often claims to be using community.
List Management and Development. Customer relationship management (CRM) systems are taking root in employee communications, employment branding, and recruitment outreach. Being able to target messaging and maintain accurate subscriber lists with detailed recipient information allows HR data to be repurposed.
Social Network Analysis, Network Visualization, Shared Analytics. Ultimately, HR’s job is to optimize the network that is the organization. Tools that help manage and measure the network and its performance will take some time to develop but are the holy grail.
Innovation moves faster in some segments of HR than others. With its external focus, the talent acquisition process is more likely to look and feel like external social technology operations. The competitive nature of the labor market compels the use of more competitive agility in technology deployment. As social technology enters the HR department, it will do so first in recruiting.
John Sumser is a technology consultant, trade show producer, and webmaster of He can be reached at

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