There was a couple of really interesting moves in the social media space late last year, both of which will likely play a significant part in the further development and integration of social into common business process. While each, in themselves, generated quite a lot of industry chatter and debate, their potential significance was not immediately clear. There’s still some time to go before we see where these decisions will lead, where, exactly, each pathway is headed, but it’s worth noting the possibilities of these moves, and their potential relevance in the ongoing advancement of social and social business.

Twitter and his New Friend Watson

The first was Twitter’s partnership with IBM, which was announced at IBM Insight 2014. The partnership is a huge move for both the data and social media industries – for data, it means IBM can now feed Twitter into their industry leading analytics systems, including Watson, to further enhance their automated learning capabilities and provide more nuanced, in-depth insight. It’s also a major step towards validating Twitter data as a significant and influential source of information – if businesses still think Twitter is a stream of nonsense from One Direction fans and selfie-obsessed teens, the fact that IBM has chosen to integrate Twitter’s data into its analytics stream should once again underline the importance of the platform as a communications tool. The move is also another step away from IBM’s history as a tech manufacturer and towards its future in analytics.

One particularly interesting question was raised regarding the Twitter-IBM partnership. In his post on the announcement for Fast Company, Neal Ungerleider questioned how this new deal might impact other Twitter data providers like Dataminr, companies who’ve already built analytical platforms based on Twitter’s data stream. While the majority of Twitter’s data is public, and thus accessible for analytics providers in some form, the partnership with IBM may see some of these services rendered obsolete, or could lead to Twitter imposing more restrictions on their API. That’s presumptive to a degree, there’s been nothing to indicate any changes on this front as yet, but as IBM moves further towards clarifying what product offerings they’ll align with Twitter data, it may see some smaller providers lose out to the sheer depth of IBM’s resources.

Zuckerberg Speaking Chinese

The second announcement was Facebook’s decision to launch a version of social network that’s compatible with anonymity software Tor. Tor, for those unaware, is an application which enables users to hide their physical location, providing an additional level of security – particularly relevant for, say, journalists working in war zones and not wanting to reveal themselves to potential oppressors. Or people purchasing less than legal goods via the internet. Most importantly in this case, Tor also enables people to access websites that might be banned in certain regions – websites like Facebook, which is still blocked or restricted in various nations, including North Korea, Vietnam and Iran. Those three nations alone have a combined population of more than 190 million – even if just a small percentage of them became Facebook users via Tor, it’d be significant, but there’s also one other nation that still has Facebook on its blacklist. China.

Is it coincidence that in the same week Facebook announces support for Tor that CEO Mark Zuckerberg is in Beijing, wowing the crowd with his Mandarin Chinese? The social giant is pushing hard to get into the Chinese market, meeting with important business leaders and partnering with local universities. Zuckerberg’s over-arching ambition to connect the world hinges on his ability to convince the Chinese authorities to lift their restrictions, and of course, that’s before you even consider the obvious financial benefits of gaining access to a further 1.35 billion potential users. The decision to support Tor would appear to be another cog, along with the WhatsApp acquisition, in the ongoing process of bringing Facebook to every person in every region across the world. Enabling better access via Tor, Facebook can effectively reach more of the Chinese population by stealth, helping establish the network’s presence and build core support – if enough people want access, it increases the pressure on the political powers that be to reconsider their stance. Such tactics are likely less effective in the Chinese market, but effective nonetheless.

The Evolution of Social Business

Together, these two moves have the potential to significantly advance the growing relevance of social media as a business tool – one by further informing business decisions through enhanced insight, and the other by expanding the virtual borders of the global connected community. While at present both are more ‘wait and see’ announcements, each has the potential to transform business process and provide an abundance of new opportunities and possibilities. It’s developments like these that underline why social media should be taken seriously, and further reinforce the importance of businesses paying attention to the connected world. While the continued development of artificial intelligence and machine learning spooks some (including Elon Musk), the evolution of social data utilization and social platform adoption is happening. Believe in it or not, see the potential or don’t, announcements like this might just end up changing everything you know. Whether you know it or not.

[This post was originally published on adh]