Three Social Workflow Patterns


I'm seeing the phrase 'social workflows' being bounced around with more frequency. In the past, it was a good idea to avoid the word 'workflow' in discussions about enterprise social computing because people immediately jumped to thinking about highly structured and automated workflows that you might find in a system of record or a collaboration platform, like SharePoint or Domino/Lotus Notes. But now that people want to jump the chasm from just employee engagement to getting work done with social technology inside the enterprise (i.e. Enterprise 2.0), it looks like we are ready to start thinking more deliberately about the concept.

However, there are a variety of meanings being assigned to the concept:

  1. Lean business processes that employ social software methods and patterns - for example, using a wiki page to plan a meeting agenda.
  1. Augmenting line of business applications with social features - for example, linking a transaction record to a discussion.
  1. The internal processes for dealing with external social media content or engagement - for example, how the person who sees some feedback on a Facebook page gets someone else in the business to respond.

These are all valid, although personally I would avoid labelling the last as social workflows, because really social is being used as an adjective (and increasingly, we see those particular workflows blending with existing customer service, sales and marketing processes anyway).

I also see some tension between those that want to champion lean business process and those interested in augmenting existing transactional workflows. But really there is a role and a place for both.

Some related reading: