Social Publishing Systems: What about We, the Participants?

We’re living in a time of the greatest shift in human (and machine) connection and communication any of us over 30 years old will experience in our lifetimes. Social media is proliferating, networks of people exploding, self-publishing, microblogging and new communications channels like Twitter emerging, and for the most part, the enterprise isn’t playing in most of these areas.

As a former content management systems (CMS) guy (was with Vignette during the dotcom heyday), I’m in an interesting spot between grassroots social media use by individuals, non-profits and small business and my enterprise clients trying to determine how to play in this shifting landscape. These clients are trying to figure out how to engage all of us connecting and communicating, and just finding more efficient ways of publishing content with a CMS or portal isn’t cutting it.

Social publishing systems are needed.

This morning I read Jeremiah Owyang (Sr Analyst at Forrester Research: Social Computing) who had this post entitled, “Social Software: Here Come The CMS Vendors.” He begins by discussing his oft-repeated theme of the volume of white label social networking providers, and ends with a premise about the major CMS vendors, “I’ve started to notice more of the ‘traditional’ CMS and Portal players that already have deep footprints into the corporate web teams that are inching into this space.

What are the trends, what are CMS vendors likely to do and what should be offered?

The CMS brought us more efficient management of content and significantly more control to the enterprise — and those people within it that had defined roles and workflows. The big “Aha!” with a CMS was the separation of content from its presentation, so that a person could enter content, it would fire off a workflow and approval process, and eventually published live without that original person knowing or caring where it ended up.

CMS’es also provided granular level control over when the content would go live, personalization around pieces of content (based on permissions set for users or the groups they were in), and made the entire adventure with a website or portal application scalable.

For the most part, the CMS empowered the entire organization to be involved in the content creation and delivery process instead of sending stuff to some webmaster(s) who’d publish it when they could get around to it.

Then social publishing hit with wiki’s, blogs, social networks, forums, and other participative applications online. Now instead of an enterprise taking managed content and massaging it, scrubbing it, controlling it, and publishing it, there was an immediacy and democratization of content publishing with an entirely new class of users empowered with easy to use tools that were cheap or free.

But now there is an unintended consequence of easy, cheap and free social publishing: participation fatigue and an increased awareness of the intentions of vendors offering us enticements to participate in their offerings.

With all the Web 2.0 offerings we can join, dozens of social networks (and 80+ white label vendors of social networking software allowing anyone to create their own network), there is a dizzying array of places for us to participate today and an acceleration in the requests for more and more personal information. As a consequence, almost everyone I know and interact with is dramatically lowering the number of networks in which they participate and are growing reluctant to divulge info about themselves, and this doesn’t bode well for major CMS vendors expanding in to this space.

In my view, commercial CMS vendors are likely to do what they’ve always done: decide on an approach, create their software, and sell it to the enterprise. Will they embrace OpenSocial? OpenID? Will a focused, open source Drupal vendor like Acquia emerge as a social publishing system of choice? Will enterprise CMS vendors remain targeted at control…or will they enable a new level of transparency and openness increasingly demanded by we, the new participants?

If I look at the possibilities, there’s no question that shifting the thinking and perspectives of those in the enterprise is going to be the biggest challenge. Will the enterprise view their web assets — built with social publishing systems — as empowering participants or controlling us? Harvesting our collective intelligence or providing us with value that lets us harvest what the enterprise offers?

I think about one area, training, that I’d love to see enterprise organizations embrace and extend to the social web. Imagine a Best Buy creating and delivering online learning so that customers could be exposed to new uses for their computers, HDTV’s, music systems and digital cameras? Yes this would be an investment, but I could envision this being as valuable as the product and the transaction itself.

Or why not have a Geek Squad online where users can help users? I know why — they make money by providing answers and solutions themselves — but what if a Geek Squad online destination became the place for anyone to go for help with consumer electronics? Heck…even I’d go there and I have no use for a Geek Squad since I’m enough of a geek myself.

I saw firsthand what Apple did when pre-Jobs (the second coming) they had free, 800# support and went wild with hiring customer support reps. When Jobs came back to Apple (and I joined about a year later), he’d laid off everyone and replaced it with the current Apple Discussion forum where, much to my surprise and delight, my staff or I can find 90% of the answers to questions we wrestle with since someone undoubtedly has had the same issue.

So if enterprise CMS vendors focus on aspects of what they do that will empower us and provide we, the participants, enhanced value, then they’ll be successful. If enterprise CMS software is instead focused on ways to entice participation, analyze it and harvest it for their own purposes solely (vs. a win-win of value exchange), it will fail.

I’ll be watching Jeremiah Owyang who said in that post I reference earlier, “I’ve started conversations with several of the big CMS players to gauge where they are headed. Of course, the conversations don’t end up on this blog (unless they give me permission, or publish first) but it’s quite obvious where things are headed. In fact, see my predictions I made to Techcrunch.


  1. Jeremiah Owyang on July 3, 2008 at 7:21 am

    Really fantastic post, I’m highlighting your thoughts in a wrap up post.

  2. Gina on July 3, 2008 at 1:52 pm

    Hi Steve,

    I am the Community Connection Manager at Best Buyâ„¢ Co., Inc. While scanning the blogosphere, I came across your thoughtfully written blog.

    Currently, we do use social media to connect with customers. I write a Twitter ( that provides customers with information ranging from our community relations work to updates on general technology issues. I also write a blog about technology and life integrations: There is some funny stuff there so you might want to check it out.

    As far as providing support for our customers in social media, there is a Geek Squad® user channel on YouTube ( where our agents help educate customers about technology.

    You are right about engaging in social media: “this would be an investment.” It is our company has chosen to make.


    Gina, Community Connection Manager
    Creating meaningful communication in a virtual world
    Issue #50081821

  3. Steve Borsch on July 3, 2008 at 2:10 pm

    Hi Gina,

    Thanks for the comment. Should mention that I’m enamored with one thing you folks are doing — BlueShirtNation — and interviewed Gary Koelling and Steve Bendt for my other blog:

    No question Best Buy — like most other major companies — are dabbling in social media. That’s terrific and I’d not seen your YouTube channel before.

    My point in bringing up Geek Squad in the context of social publishing was one I can reiterate: if Geek Squad built an online destination site — that brought together all the support stuff you offered *and* had a user community where people-could-help-one-another — then you’d have an opportunity to take a leadership position in leveraging the web for social connections.

    My additional $.02

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About Steve Borsch

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Podcasting hit the mainstream in July of 2005 when Apple added podcast show support within iTunes. I'd seen this coming so started podcasting in May of 2005 and kept going until August of 2007. Unfortunately was never 'discovered' by national broadcasters, but made a delightfully large number of connections with people all over the world because of these shows. Click here to view the archive of my podcast posts.