The Thin line between Great and Ghost Town

socialnetworkI just finished reading Using an Internal Social Network to Solve Real Business Problems by Nichole Kelly over on Social Media Explorer.

When I started reading the article, I almost closed my Firefox tab when I read “Transforming into a social business…” in sentence #1. I’m not a fan of the term ‘social business’, mainly because nobody has ever been able to give me a real, honest-to-goodness, definition of what social business really means.  Is it doing business via social media? Is it utilizing social media to improve/increase business? It is a business with revenue generated via social media?  What is it?

There’s even a social business index out there that ranks bushiness in terms of social business…whatever that means. But…I digress.  This post isn’t about my misunderstanding and/or dislike of social business.  Maybe I’ll hit that topic in the future.

You can see why I almost closed the tab on Using an Internal Social Network to Solve Real Business Problems. I thought it was going to digress into another social business diatribe about how you should turn your business into a social business. Thankfully, the article generally stays away from that argument and tries to tackle a very important aspect of business today: using an internal social network to improve he capabilities of the people within your organization.

In my experiences building, managing and using internal social networks, I’ve found most organizations try to force the use of the social network with top-down communication, which then turns the network into nothing more than an HR and PR communication network.  In the article, Nichole backs this experience up with:

If your internal social network is a broadcast channel to communicate with employees, you are doing it wrong. This is an opportunity to build connectivity between employees, rather than another HR portal for dissemination of information.

Very true.

An internal social network is great for sharing, building relationships and breaking down silos between organizations. But it is only great for these things if you allow it to be. Forcing employees to go to the ‘blog’ of your CEO to read the latest business update that would have normally been sent around via email isn’t the right way to do things. Sure, using a blog format is more interactive and better for the company if the people within the company feel like they can make comments and be open and honest, but how many organizations have the culture to allow that?

One of the keys to a successful social network – whether internal or external – is to give people a place to be ‘themselves’. In a business environment, this needs to be the professional version of ‘themselves’ but there is absolutely no reason that your internal social network can’t be a very personal and individualized network that each person can use the way they think works best for them.

The key for a successful launch and acceptance of an internal social network is to allow it to be more than a communication pipeline from the leadership team and HR. To borrow from Nichole again:

This is important. Don’t tell employees to use your internal social network purely for business communications. Encourage employees to share posts related to things they are interested in, photos of their kids if they would like, and anything else that will help employees know more about who they are out of the office. This is what will help to break through some of the turf wars. People who like each other as human beings are more likely to communicate with each other when there is a potentially heated issue that needs to be discussed. It also can help to create relationships through all ranks in the organization. Leadership needs to be a part of this type of sharing too. They need to show employees that they are actual human beings, not just their boss or a member of the executive team. Just imagine the power of knowing the CEO is a huge runner as a point of hallway conversation for other employees, or that she has a daughter the same age, or that he also is a foster home for rescue dogs? Getting employees to share what happens outside of the office helps people connect around areas of common interest. If the only thing your internal social network does is provide a forum for sharing things employees get excited about outside of work, it will still be a huge win for the organization.

Emphasis mine.

If you allow employees to share what makes them happy and excited (in a professional manager obviously), you’ve taken the first step in getting those employees to be more social within your organization. That first step is the first toward breaking down silos and building relationships within your organization.

I worked for an organization who spent a great deal of money on an internal social network. Money was spent, software was implemented, people were trained and when the network when ‘live’, it was a ghost town. The only ‘visits’ to the social network came when people were forced there to read the latest HR communication about benefits or the latest update from the CEO.  The social network was a complete failure because the organization didn’t understand the basic tenets of ‘social’ – allow people to be social, and they will be social.

This particular social network implementation still exists but it remains a ghost town because the organization doesn’t understand the power of allowing people to be social. Give employees a way to get to know other each outside of their official role and you’ll start seeing some real growth within the organization. You’ll start seeing silos being broken down and people working closer together.

A social network isn’t the answer to all problems, but it can help your organization build an open and sharing culture with long-lasting relationships if the network is approached in the right way.Its up to you to determine how well it works out for your organization.

Try to force top-down communications via your internal social network and you’ll end up with a ghost-town – but allow your teams to use the internal social network for sharing and relationship building, and you’ll have see amazing things happen.

Revisiting Signal to Noise & Twitter

I had quite a lot of feedback from my Signal to Noise Ratio & Twitter post last week.

Most of the feedback was positive and in agreement with my argument that twitter can become something that overloads you with a lot of noise. Some folks disagreed with my argument too…and I’m OK with disagreement.  I welcome it…as long as there’s a reasoned argument behind the disagreement.

I wanted to take a second to revisit my argument for those that disagree with my approach.

First…its the way I use twitter…and it works for me.

Second…if your argument contains the words “absurd”, “stupid”, “dumb” or “you’re doing it wrong”…you need to learn to argue better.  Have a valid, reasonable reason for your argument.

Lastly..there are those that argue that if my twitter stream is too ‘noisy’, then I shouldn’t follow so many people.   That’s a valid argument..but one that isn’t necessarily reasonable.

Why?  Because I have a lot of interests and there are a lot of people out there with those same interests.

For example:

I’m interested in Technology, IT Leadership, Project Management, Knowledge Management, Investing/Trading, WordPress Development, Distance Education, Photography….and much much more.

Now…imagine you follow 25 people in each of these interests you’d be following 200 people.   Once you do any type of interaction with any of those people, you will probably find another 10 to 20 people that are worth following…within a short amount of time you are up to following 500 people.

So…its not quite as easy to ‘only follow a few people’ like those that argued against me following a large number of people.  One of those folks that argued against following a large # of people had 3000 followers and followed only 100 people.  Good for them for figuring out the 100 people that they want to follow…they’ve found a way to keep their stream less noisy.

Me?  I’ve found that lists work best for me.  I can have many interests and follow a lot of really interesting folks but these lists allow me to focus on just a few topics/lists at one time.

That make sense?

Makes sense to me and it works for me.

Oh…and I’m not doing it wrong. I’m doing it my way 🙂

Signal to Noise Ratio & Twitter

I really enjoy twitter.  There are tons of great folks out there worth following and learning from.

But….there’s just as many (or more) not-so-great folks out there too.  You know the kind…they add tons of noise to your twitter stream.   They add tons of noise to your life.

I’ve noticed that the noise is getting worse.  Twitter has turned into not only a spamming engine but it also seems to be used much more as a non-private messaging system between folks. Don’t get me wrong…I love things like #blogchat and other stream chats on twitter but I’ve gotten real tired of the folks out there that are using twitter as a replacement to email…or…GASP…a phone call.

The signal to noise ratio (SNR) on my twitter stream is approaching zero these days.  I’m getting very little signal and a ton of noise.

In the early days of my twitter use I had an SNR close to 1…but these days the noise is overwhelming the signal.

How can I (or you) improve the signal to noise ratio?

I’ve started using hootsuite to help cut down on noise.  I’ve closed my main twitter stream and now only watch my mention stream (containing my @’s) and my created lists.

If you don’t use twitter lists today…do it now. Twitter struck gold with lists…they are the perfect way to get your SNR closer to 1.  How?

Simple…find those people that you really want to interact with, learn from and follow and add them to a list.  Then in your twitter client open up the list as on of your main streams and … voila … your SNR for twitter has begun to move closer to 1.

My SNR isn’t quite 1 yet but its getting closer. I’ve stopped reading all the inane tweets from spammers,  social media ‘gurus’ (except for those that I want to read via my lists), nimrods and idgits out there.  No longer am I reading something from kxe35TX (a name I just made up BTW) about how their dog just jumped off the couch.  Now…I’m actually able to see the great stuff from the likes of Wally Bock, Elliot Ross, Scott Brinker, Sam Palani and others.

Let me reiterate…I love twitter. I love what it is and I love the fact every person can use twitter how they want to use it.

But…I want to use twitter my way. I want my signal to noise to be as close to 1 as possible so I can see the good stuff that matters to me.  My lists are working perfectly for that…but it does mean I may miss out on some really good, quality conversations and opportunities…but right now…I’m ok with that. I’m plenty busy as it is 🙂

Social Media – Driving changes for IT?

change By busy.pochi on flickr
change By busy.pochi on flickr

This was originally posted on InfoBoom.  Reposting here for my regular readers.

I recently wrote a post titled Social – A Culture, not a tool that describes a “light bulb moment” that a friend of mine had when thinking about Social media’s use in marketing and PR.

In that post, I outline how a friend of mine came to the conclusion that social media is much more than just a tool to use to blast a message out to customers.

There’s a message in that story for everyone in business…but even more so for IT.

The message is this:

Social media is changing organizations. Maybe not today or tomorrow, but sometime in the future, organizations are going to have to be much more open to the outside world.

Is this a good thing? Maybe…maybe not. But I think its coming (if its not already here).

What do these changes mean for IT?

It means more governance to manage data that shouldn’t be open to the public. It means more processes in place to ensure proper people have the proper access to the proper data. It also means a ton of headaches for IT security personnel.

Lots of headaches in social media, right?

Perhaps you can look at it that way…or…you can take a different tack and look at social media as the future of IT.

Social is driven by technology…why not be the driver of social within your organization? The Marketing organization is driving social. The PR team is driving social. Why not put the full force of the IT group and help drive social adotpion throughout your enterprise?

Social is driving change within organizations…IT can help driver that change and ensure social technologies are implemented correctly and proper governance and security are in place.

Or…you can sit back and do nothing and wait for the inevitable question of “what is the value of our IT group?”.

Adapt and drive change today. Or be forced to change tomorrow. It’s your call.

The dangers of social media…or…don’t be a sheeple

Sheeple by By rhiannonstone on flickr
Sheeple By rhiannonstone on flickr
Sheeple By rhiannonstone on flickr

Social Media has brought a real danger to the forefront of society.

It’s not the security risks that might be inherent in social media, although there are many of these types of risks.

It’s not the many inherent dangers that might be found in social media, although they are valid dangers.

It’s not the very real and very serious issues parents and children must be aware of when dealing with social media.

What is the real danger found in social media today?

Its the same danger found in all aspects of life but social media seems to exacerbate it.

What is it?

Blindly following others and allowing them to form your opinion for you.

Of course, that’s always been a danger for anyone at anytime in history.  But…the adoption and widespread use of social media is leading to more and more ‘sheeple‘ in existence today.

In the past, these sheeple could always find someone’s opinion or idea to blindly follow but social media has given rise to a much more dangerous world for these folks.

Its quite easy today to find someone on Facebook or Twitter to follow.  Someone who seems to know what they are talking about. Someone famous perhaps…or someone who labels themselves an expert.

Sheeple base their opinions on the opinions of those they follow. In most instances they blindly accept as truth/fact/gospel whatever comes across their twitter stream (or email or web brower) without taking one nanosecond to think about whether that ‘fact’ is true.

Sheeple are nothing new…but social media has opened up a growth industry for the this non-thinking class to thrive.

Think for yourself.  Analyze for yourself.  Be yourself.  Heck…disagree with the people you follow (but disagree cordially of course).  You might find that you’ve learned more from non-agreement than you ever learned from simply nodding your head and moving on.

Don’t be a sheeple…plenty exist already.

Stop being lead by the sheeple shepherds and start thinking for yourself.

Social – A Culture, not a tool

Social Media Process v. 1.0

I had a conversation two weeks ago with a colleague who was taking over the social media, marketing and PR responsibilities for a small but growing organization in the consumer products industry.

In this new role, my friend will be moving into a role of responsibility of all social media and engagement aspects for the business.  While he’s excellent at marketing and pretty darn good at PR, he’s not had much experience in the social media space.  Sure…he has a Facebook and LinkedIn account but hasn’t really made much use of them for much more than just keeping in touch with old friends, family and colleagues.

He called me last week to catch up and fill me in on the new role.  After congratulating him (three or four times actually), I asked a question that I always ask in these situations…..what’s your goals for the new role?  Sure…it may be too early to really have a set of goals formed for the new role, but he had time to come up with basic thoughts as should anyone in that same position.  No need set formal goals before understanding the real issues at hand, but its definitely worth having some high level goals in mind, right?

As I knew he would, he told me of some of his plans.  While most were good, a few jumped out at me as being more tactical than strategic, which surprised me a bit…in times like this, its better to think a bit more strategic until you fully understand the new role, people and responsibilities.

What was interesting to me was this: the areas that were more tactically focused where the social media areas of his new role.  On the marketing and PR side, his thoughts were very high level and spot on…on the social side, his thoughts were more focused on the ‘how’ rather than the ‘why’ or ‘what’ of social.

I brought this to his attention.

He took a few seconds to think about my comments and then responded with something that floored me….he said something along the lines of this:

Social Media is just a bunch of tools to get my message in front of my customers…..there’s nothing strategic about it.

I’ll let you ruminate on that one for a bit.

Really?

That was my response to his comment too….perhaps it was more like “REALLY????”…but you get the idea.

Social is more than a tool

Thankfully, I know this person quite well and can speak bluntly with/to him.

I told him he was an idiot (I used that word too).

Social is not just another channel to shout your message to the masses. Social is much more than that.

I told him that social is more than just some tools like twitter and Facebook…social is a cultural mind-shift.  Social is something that requires three-way communication between you and your customer (and vice versa) as well as communication between your customers.

Find any case study of a company successfully using social media and you find a social culture. You find people engaged in talking to, listening to and learning from their customers.

I told him to spend a few hours reading Danny Brown, Jason Falls, Brian Solis, Mitch Joel and Valeria Maltoni. I told him to go pick up some of the great social books like Six Pixels of Separation (amazon affiliate link) by Mitch Joel, Trust Agents (amazon affiliate link) by Chris Brogan and Julien Smith, The New Rules of Marketing and PR (amazon affiliate link) by David Meerman Scott.

I found myself talking for a few more minutes about social not being a tool and realized I hadn’t really given him a chance to respond. His repsonse was a good one….he wanted to take some time to think about the topic and read a few of the above blogs, etc.

I received a call from him yesterday and was pleasantly surprised to hear him say:

You were right…I’ve got a lot to learn about social media.  I realized social is a culture, not a tool.

I couldn’t have said it better myself. 🙂