Tag Archives: Social business

Say hello to social – or wave goodbye to top talent

Freedom by Thorsten Becker
Does your boss ban Facebook? Is YouTube access blocked from your office? Do colleagues look nervous when you mention Twitter? If so, chances are your employer is a large corporate or public sector organisation with deeply-ingrained concerns about productivity and time-wasting. Many large companies (and the more traditional smaller enterprises) have a myriad of communications restrictions in place.

IT departments nearly always cite security and legal issues as justification for this draconian behaviour. A few years back I heard a talk by the head of social media at a leading US retail bank. He referred to legal, compliance, fraud and security as the “four horsemen of the apocalypse”. It’s difficult for ordinary employees to argue, he said, when confronted with effective corporate death as an alternative.

So what about startups – are they cool with social and other new technologies? Well, yes, they generally are. They’re digital natives, aren’t they? It’s hardly surprising that a recent survey by online recruitment platform Tyba found 68 per cent of people working in big companies said they’d move to a smaller startup if they had the chance…and bad IT was cited as a key reason by 27 per cent of respondents.
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From shorthand to live-blogging: my Liebster Award (part I)

That's shorthand for...
Thanks so much to the fabulous Events Northern for nominating me for a Liebster Award. The Liebster award is a peer-to-peer award passed around the blogging community. And there’s nothing like a bit of appreciation from your peers – Events Northern, you rock!

Here’s how the Liebster Award works:

Thank the person that nominated you and link back to their blog
– Display the award “badge” on your blog
– Answer the 11 questions asked by the person who nominated you
– List 11 random facts about yourself
– Nominate up to 11 bloggers and let them know you have nominated them
– Set 11 questions for the bloggers you have nominated
– Post a comment on the blog post of the person that nominated you so they can read the post

So, first off, here are my answers to Events Northern’s questions:

1. When and why did you start blogging? I started blogging in 2005 when I was commissioned to write Monkeys with Typewriters. The thought of writing 80,000 words terrified me so I had the idea of interviewing people and writing up each one in a blog post. The blog posts became the first draft of my book.
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Let’s move the conversation beyond “brands”

#HBRLDN panel Wed 19 June 2013Thanks Filip Matous for inviting me along to a Harvard Business Review panel on social business last Wednesday, 19 June. The panellists (pictured above, left to right) were: Joshua Macht, Group Publisher, Harvard Business Review, Jimmy Leach, Director of Digital Entertainment, GEMS Education, Nathalie Nahai, Web Psychologist, and David Keene (chair), Head of Enterprise Marketing for Google.

After Harvard Business Review rebranded in 2009, said Joshua, he and his colleagues found themselves asking how to “go deeper” with their audience. Face to face events such as tonight’s panel are an aspect of the new approach (and they’re a good idea). But as brands reach out to customers, are customers moving in a different direction altogether?

We’re moving away from loose, ‘one-size-fits-all’ online communities like Facebook and Twitter to platforms that enable niche, targeted tribalism, said Nathalie. She doesn’t think many brands are aware of this.

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The Social Revolution

Karl Marx as a hippy

Words like “collaboration”, “community” and “engagement” are used frequently in organisations, but check the subtext – you may find they’re little more than sticking plasters on the same old creaky top-down, hierarchical models (or, worse still, a deliberate ploy to distract from real, less inclusive, agendas).

Eliane Glaser’s recent RSA talk on How to de-spin a party conference (a topical take on her new book) looked at the way people – specifically politicians but also brand managers and marketers – appropriate the language of “social” business into traditional “business as usual” models.

Glaser’s critics describe her as a conspiracy theorist, and it’s easy to see why. She paints a picture of a Matrix-like world where we are all kept happy with rustic, homespun consumables while just below the surface rumbles a monstrous, corporate machine dedicated to serving a wealthy elite. This machine cares nothing for the long-term welfare of humankind – in fact, it will ultimately destroy it.

If you presumed for a moment that this was true, you’d find yourself in good company: it’s a familiar argument used by environmentalists, NGOs and the Occupy movement. You would find that George Orwell and Larry and Andy Wachowski (creators of The Matrix) were right: if only we could wake up from our mass prole-like sleepwalk, we might see the horror for what it is and build a better world.

Glaser’s book is a call to arms: a manifesto for revolution. If you take her anger on (and be warned, she’s quite persuasive), you may find yourself dusting off your student copy of the Communist Manifesto and questioning the painfully slow evolution of business.

But as Francis Fukiyama wrote in The End of History (and Glaser herself admits), revolution ain’t what it used to be. The “workers” have been seduced by Sky TV and warm shopping malls. The language of “isms” has long since disappeared from everyday conversation. Unemployed teenagers are interviewed on TV saying their sole aim of rioting was “to get free stuff”. 

Glaser’s argument is that we are unable to articulate what we want. We are doing a lot of talking (on social media). It is up to us to make it meaningful.

Brands are trying to appear more ethical, and that’s a good sign. We forget that social computing is still relatively new – to some extent we’re like children playing with a new toy. When a child first starts to speak, they imitate. And that is what the big brands are doing now – imitating. Some are doing more than that, they are following through – they are actually creating more ethical businesses.

The great thing about social media is that we now have the tools to hold the non-ethical businesses to account. So, what are we waiting for? Bring on the social revolution!

Photo courtesy of Georgia Spears


Live blog of “The Elephant In The Room: Social Media in the Enterprise”

11:10am It’s a great panel line-up here at Hub Westminster with Will McInnes (Nixon McInnes), JP Rangaswami (Salesforce), Barney O Kelly (Fresh Networks) and Tejal Patel. Chair: Michael Chiu (McKinsey). This is a live blog so please keep refreshing the page for updates.

JP: Social media is intrinsically human – satisfies a human need.

Will: We need to think more about how we can pipe social tech and more about what business will become. When I wrote my book last year a big theme is change velocity: when you look at how Netflix destroyed Blockbuster and how Amazon destroyed Waterstones and Barnes & Nobel. The faster you can orient yourself, the faster you can observe what’s going on, decide what to do, and then act – the better: an approach taken from fighter pilots. We talk about social technologies but it’s like looking at communication purely through words when 90% of communication is through body language.

Barney: The sooner businesses start thinking about the next level of social, where social can take them in terms of recruitment etc, the better.

Tejal: At Nokia, we’re thinking a lot about e-commerce, such as how do we start converting fans into sales. There’s also a big focus on ROI. We have an internal tool called socializer, developed with Dachis, which

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Monkeys with suitcases: glamping it up

Things have been a bit quiet on this blog over the past month but I’ve been holed up in a tent in the middle of nowhere. And very nice it was too. Admittedly they did have WiFi, but I wasn’t too tempted to use it. Kind of hard to think about anything else when it’s 38 degrees in the shade and the swimming pool/ beach/ ocean is calling.

The best thing about our stay at Tipi Algarve was the set-up: they do it all for you – tent, camp kitchen and everything else. “Glamping” is a literal mashup between boutique (glam) hotel and camping. A great way to have a comfy holiday without adding too many emissions to your carbon footprint.

Tipi Algarve is also a social business – the place operates very much like a community, with volunteers coming in from all over the world, and guests coming back year after year. To get a feel for it all, just check out their Facebook page – lots of photos, friendly updates and engaging content. (Nice one Calvin!)

Don’t hold back the tide on social business

David Terrar recently argued that social media consultants should drop the “social business” moniker and start using “amplified business” instead. His reasoning was that the term “social business” has become too ingrained in people’s minds with “social enterprise” and not “social media”.

While I’m sure a lot of you will be thinking “Well, what’s the difference there, anyway?!”, here’s the comment I posted on David’s blog in response:

This is an important debate. The problem is, it’s all too easy to get bogged down in technology again. You say the common perception of “social business” doesn’t involve “micro-blogging, collaboration and social media monitoring”.

But, as I’m sure you constantly tell clients: micro-blogging and social media monitoring (as with any other aspect of the social media toolkit) are not ends in themselves, they are simply the means to an end.

And if the social media consultants’ version of social business is NOT about technology, but about people (as I think you agree), then we need to focus on what exactly it is that the people (our clients) are trying to achieve.

Okay, I agree it’s possible that a client may work for Mr.Evil Inc. In which case, his/ her goals will be along those lines familiar to any James Bond fan: world domination, unrestricted access to global resources and endless pots of money for Mr.Evil.

But, to give them their due, most modern organisations are at least trying to shake off this sort of image. If today’s businesses do not actually have a social conscience, philanthropic goals and ethical conduct, they are, at least, pretending to (some more convincingly than others).

Ironically, the number one tool for putting an ethical gloss on business is social media, but any company that’s become tarred by social media appreciates that its pretty much impossible to preach humane values without practicing them.

As I wrote on this blog a few months back, the wheel has come full circle. To my mind, social business (as social media consultants define it) and social business (as social entrepreneurs see it), are two sides of the same coin. They are both about putting people first. And ethical and environmental concerns are fundamental to any people-centric approach.

By the way, as King Cnut (or Canute) himself knew, it’s never easy to reverse a wave. As O’Reilly’s Josh Ross wrote a while back: railing against the popular lexicon is always a losing bet.

Having said all that, please keep me posted on the Amplified Enterprise meetup – I’d love to have a further rant!

Big thanks to James Yu for the photo.

JP Rangaswami: brave new dawn?

It’s a bright sunny day outside (this is the view) and JP Rangaswami (Salesforce) is up on stage speaking at the Social Business Summit (London) 2011. This is bound to be good because JP always talks with visionary zeal:

09.15: (JP) It’s ridiculous that we have to say “social business” because surely all businesses  are “social”? Businesses have been social long before the last few decades of mono-directional, broadcast messages, the age of advertising.

Until recently, people have been told they can’t have a loan, for example, because the system says no (not the individual dealing with them). That’s because of the way our businesses have been built.

We are seeing a change in the way we work: Ricardo Semler’s “Maverick”, John Roberts “The Modern Firm”, were published 30 years ago. We are seeing changes in how we account for the interactions we have with customers.

This firm which used to be hierarchical is morphing into a network of relationships. If you cannot value something you’re not able to move it onto a balance sheet: we must be able to measure capability and relationship in some way.

We’ve been talking for some time about the fact that, after the agricultural and industrial ages, we are now in the Information Age. In the industrial age, we could build many processes that were linear, and we could build pipes for the work processes, and we could predict what was going to happen.

09.30: Why do we want to increase our fixed costs? Because that’s what we do by filling our day with meetings. But workers are changing (Millennial generation) and tools are changing.

The thing is, change is a constant, the exiting of the graphical user interface, and the use of touch, is happening at almost the speed of light. The child expects the screen to talk back. And touch will be augmented with voice. I was at a google zeitgeist last year and I was amazed to see how much I could do just using my eyes: it’s not commercially viable yet, but it’s only a matter of time.

We are moving from process to pattern. We’re spending more time dealing with the exception than we’re dealing with the rule. We need to build systems that allow us to identify patterns, that enable us to have a wider and wider group of people say, I’ve seen that movie before, I know how that book ends, and stop focusing on the repeatablitly and start focusing on which pattern is this pattern nearest to, and how should I respond. Start capturing things that do not work, because you can embed them in your learning, and revisit them later. It is not failing, it’s an opportunity to learn.

When I hear about people building seed banks 60m below the ice in Sweden, I used to think, but how about survival of the fittest, but then I realised that human beings are accelerating damage to the environment and we need to start having a steward-like approach, but it may come too late: some species may have been killed off during that time when we created an artificial environment.

We need to start looking at failure as a way of future-proofing.

09.45: Kids are pretty smart about privacy. But their privacy is a lot more granular: my kids are friending me, but they are inviting me to sleep in the guestroom – they don’t expect me to go up into their bedroom and start rifling through their drawers. Stop trying to automate things that are essentially social.

Their concept of ownership is different. Kids are into sharing stuff much more than us.

In India, if you’re living 7,8,10 to a house, what does it mean to have privacy?

Linear vs non-linear: I think of work very much like a video game. I came into Salesforce.com and spent a bit of time in the sandbox. And learnt about the rules of engagement of the game. Then I went looking for missions I could actually do. Every organisation is a video game today. Gamification is starting to enter everything: you can win badges (for example). We are getting back to grips with something we have lost for 50 or 60 years.


How British American Tobacco use social tools for employee engagement

Next up at Social Media Week London, David Richard Hare from British American Tobacco (BAT). This is a live blog so keep refreshing the page for updates.


15.54: BAT had ‘ten years of failure’ with online communities. It was difficult to get people to engage with the tools. 


We tried five platforms over ten years. There were too many barriers to communication: people forgot their passwords, changed jobs etc.


In 2005 we tried a workshop called ChangeNet. We realised our approach was wrong again: we were concentrating on the technology too much. At the workshop, people began to build relationships, they are now able to interact virtually as friends. Adding this human direction was a big step for us. It was partly because we (the online engagement team) moved from IT to HR.


CommunityBuilder was a tool that showed employees how to get people engaged with their projects. 


In 2006, we put a World Cup Forum up. Immediately became the most visited place on our intranet. It didn’t take up too much of people’s time but helped break down barriers within the organisation. There was a big spike in activity during the world cup.


In 2007, we set up a Management Trainee Community. Now one of the most active communities: people set up weekend social activities together etc.


Tom, our Change and Communications Manager (Global Operations and IT), came to us in 2004 and said he wanted to try blogging. It took about 3 attempts but in the end we developed something ourselves in Lotus Notes – gave him an area within his site where he could blog. He linked his everyday blog very well to the business world and business strategy, and others followed.


One new blogger was particularly suspicious of social media, but she’s a marketer and she realised that when you get your stories in front of people, that’s what engages them. She’s now one of our most prominent bloggers.


One colleague started blogging about how the organisation needed to open up, eg use Facebook and YouTube and had around 8,000 page views per blog post. Now BAT is considering his proposals.


BlogCentral (BAT’s internal blog network – given same name as IBM’s) monthly users started out at around 400, grew to around 2,500 by April 2010. 


16.13: I was pushing for a Facebook like internal network for years. We had an internal directory (called Connect – also ‘stolen’ from IBM). When Twitter arrived it seemed the time was right to something that combined the three (profiles/social networks with updates with real-time connections). In 2008 we built Connect: went live in July 2008. We’ve linked it to Active Directory, we’ve linked it to SAP.


Suddenly we’ve got this global directory, this huge network. You go in and see activity updates first thing in the morning. 25,000 registered users (everyone who uses the intranet has to sign up to it).


16.20: opens up for questions.


Question: the user experience people want is actually very different from what IT departments inevitably provide.


Question: what happens when people leave?


Andy (from IBM): I might retain info from corporate related groups on external networks. For example, people leave company but still show up on its facebook page. IBM has set up an alumni network as a way of engaging with formal employees.


Richard: that’s a problem with Yammer: you can’t throw people off it.


Comment: where next? Are there plans to go down the 2.0 course? 


Richard: when we released Connect, we asked people what they’d like to see. We don’t really have a high level strategy.


Question: it seems a big role for us as internal communicators is focusing on coaching management on how to communicate?


16.36: yes!


16.37 onto next speaker – see new post.


What do we really mean by “social business”?

For a couple of years now there’s been a social business debate, led by the likes of Stowe Boyd and Andrew McAfee, which has focused on the distinction between “social business” and “Enterprise 2.0”.

The discussion has inevitably been skewed to the technology side of things. But as Stowe (and any other social media consultant worth their salt) will tell you, social business is, first and foremost, about people.

I’ve been meaning to write on this for a while now but keep getting sidetracked. The question banging on in my mind has been: how does the “social enterprise” fit in to all of this?

Last Monday night, there I was again sitting in an audience (this time at the RSA, during the latest in their fabulous free lecture series), listening to yet another speaker bang  on about “social business” but not meaning anything at all, no, not in the slightest bit, related to software.

And that’s just the tip of the iceberg.

Because over on this side of the debate, we have a completely different definition of social business:

“A cause-driven business.” (Muhammad Yunus)

“A non-loss, non-dividend company designed to address a social objective.” (Wikipedia)

“A business that integrates two objectives: a commercial objective – to achieve and increase profits and realise growth (like any traditional business) and a social (and ethical and environmental)objective.” (ClearlySo)

On his blog, Andrew McAfee argued that the likes of Douglas McGregor and Chris Argyris have been proposing “social business” for decades. I’d say the wheel has come full circle:

Through new C21st social tools, we now have the ability to realise the C20th vision of a truly social organisation, one that puts people at the centre of everything it does. In the C21st (with all that we now know), we would be foolhardy not to appreciate that ethical and environmental concerns lie at the very heart of any people-centric approach.

This is the basis of a broadbrush, holistic definition of social business that I think we desperately need.

Photo: Matt Burns