Sunday, January 18, 2009

The Problem with Post-It® Notes

A company I am familiar with did a survey of a subset of their channel partners in an attempt to determine whether a social networking site would be a useful enhancement to their business relationship; providing a destination for news, best practices, success stories, forums, etc. The questions were something like this:

  • Have you used social networking?
  • How often do you use social networking?
  • How much time do you spend using social networking sites?
  • If we offered social networking services, would you use them?
  • How would you use our social networking site if we offered it?

If you were a VC and I were pitching to you to fund my social networking startup business and I included the results of the survey in my presentation, you would be underwhelmed and I would leave having the same amount of money that I arrived with at your office (minus $3.58 for the grande non-fat latte).

Perplexed initially, and in light of my knowledge of the company involved and the subset of channel partners they chose to survey, I would have expected a more positive response suggesting the company should move quickly to provide social networking services to its channel partners.

But as I considered the response more fully, it occurred to me that this situation arises as part of what I will call the Post-It® Note problem. No one ever asked for Post-It® Notes. No great orator cried out on behalf of the public that we must have Post-It® Notes.

In fact, the adhesive used in Post-It® Notes was developed in 1968 and yet Post-It® Notes didn’t come to market until twelve years later in 1980. I suspect that prior to 1980, a market study to determine if people would use pieces of paper featuring a weak, reusable adhesive on the back would have found a lack of demand.

As was with the struggle to bring Post-It® Notes to market, most businesses and their community of users struggle to see how social networking fits within the context of their current business environment. For some, social networking is for kids. For others, they feel they complete their work just fine without new tools. For many, social networking seems to lack a clear frame of reference in terms of its application in a business setting.

Further, one should acknowledge that a business’s organizational structure constitutes an existing social network. Social networking software can mean:
  • An assault on the traditional organizational hierarchy’s communication and behavioral norms and even the politics of that environment.
  • You are effectively attempting to superimpose new and different social networks on those that currently exist.
No doubt there are success stories in businesses that apply social networking software, but the fact there are so many business cards featuring the title “Social Networking Evangelist” on them, suggests we are still doing missionary work.

I welcome your thoughts and ideas.

Sunday, January 11, 2009

Sustaining Communities

Here is a good blog post by Mark Nankman of Cap Gemini on sustaining communities. I share his thoughts on the commitment required to build communities. They require dedication and cultivation as you are instituting, to some extent, a culture change for the organization.

You have to help individuals see the benefit of participating in the social network and that it is superior to email, the water cooler, and hours spent in meetings reviewing what could have already been disseminated by a community of users committed to open, regular communication via a social networking platform.

Start on the Inside

One thing that Chuck Hollis' white paper mentioned was that EMC started inside the four walls of their business with social networking. He validates what has always seemed prudent to me.

Engaging customers through social networking will require experience, patience, and a cultural change that enables openness. Overcoming fear borne out of clinging to a "controlled message" pardigm from the past may be daunting for some. But I believe that fear will subside as experience will show that open, direct communication will engage and endear customers.

Social Networking's Promise

It will be one year ago this week that I first tried Twitter. I think my experience has been similar to others. I began with a curiosity to see what it was about and was there value to be had beyond “Just polished off a pint of Ben & Jerry’s Chocolate Chip Cookie Dough by myself”.

I used Twitter sporadically from January to May and by May entered my “disillusioned phase”. And I abandoned Twitter for the most part until September where I picked it up again, becoming more judicious about how I used it. I began to target the discussions I chose to follow and followed individuals with seemingly similar interests, but had fun pursuing those discussions. My use of Twitter became more purposeful.

With this being the first full business week of the New Year, I didn’t expect much in the way of business productivity. Maybe the lesson is in maintaining low expectations while working toward big things. I had always known in an intuitive way social networking’s promise, but to experience it in such a visceral way was unknown to me until this past Friday.

My good friends at @capgemini in response to a post I had made, sent me to Chuck Hollis’ blog to download his white paper on EMC’s journey with social networking. Getting Chuck's whitepaper was not only highly supportive in helping me move the ball forward on my company’s social networking journey, it validated finally social networking’s promise; the promise that dedicated, smart people working together can reach better business decisions faster.

Thursday, January 1, 2009

Politically, there is a lot that could be said here about David Weinberger's presentation at Le Web, but I won't go there today.  What intrigues me is his core topic...leadership at the "end of the information age."  

My twist on his reference to the end of the information age is that he is reframing all that is social networking/social media.  His 23 minutes are a worthwhile use of your time if for no other reason than to recognize that all that comes with social networking (viral ideas, reputational ratings, the wisdom of crowds, etc.) may well be perceived by some leaders as a threat to their positional power.

Many businesses struggle with what to make of social software, its application, its possibilities, its limits.  Leaders will embrace social software more readily if they can see it as a liberating force; a way to lead more effectively and not be threatened by networks as they develop.  As many of those networks will cut across functional silos and through many layers of traditional heirarchies, managerial angst may ensue.

Ravit Lichtenberg has a good post on Weinberger's message as well.