Money and the infinite pursuit of innovation

Having a couple of million dollars in your bank account takes the urgency out of your drive to innovate… Just last Tuesday I ran into this piece of Stanford research. It shows that an initial public offering (IPO) on the stock market has a negative impact on the level of innovation in a company. I get that. Being rich might even make a lot of bloggers lazy 😉

But.
I wonder where true inventors go after they leave such a company. Do they spend the rest of their lives hanging out by the pool side? Somehow I don’t think so. So why do they leave? An IPO – or the presence of money – seems to cause a shift in a company’s priorities away from creativity. In this post I will explore the issue (without suggesting I did any kind of thorough research myself).

Money Creativity Matrix

IPOs seem to cause a shift to urgency (left) at the expense of R&D activities

Why do innovators leave after an IPO?

At one point in my career I was working at a, well not a start-up because it was a couple of years old, but still a company in the early pioneering stage. Characteristics:

  • Most people around are actively trying to improve the product, or they’re helping out on the stuff that needs to get done.
  • No one gets excited over quarterly reports, but they do get wowed by anything that will make the product easier or more fun to use because everyone wants people to know it and love it and, yes, buy it too.
  • The bottom line is that there is no budget but you’re allowed to tinker. If you have an idea, you check with your boss (the owner/entrepreneur) and he may well give you permission to invest your time, energy, and intelligence. So long as the dull must-do tasks are taken care of too.

Creativity scare #1: investors’ risk adversity

The moment IPO and suchlike is around the corner this all changes. Inventors become the engineering department. That may sound like an important part of the company, but more and more people within the company get interested in things like marketing and quality control and business process management. Which basically means more rules. It means that if you are really excited about something you thought up, you need to make sure you’re talking to the right person by the coffee machine or risk:

  • watching their eyes glaze over as they say “Oh – yeah. That’s great, really great”.
  • having them say stuff like “I’m not sure that’s allowed/safe actually”.

That’s exactly the kind of situation that might, apart from no longer having to worry about money, cause this:

“I find that the quality of innovation produced by inventors who remained at the firm declines following the IPO and key inventors are more likely to leave.” (Shai Bernstein)

Key inventors – that doesn’t sound like people who were in it just for the money. These are the born tinkerers.

Innovations that do pass the risk-and-legal test may have been compromised at an early stage – any part deemed risky is replaced by add-ons to bits that were invented at an earlier stage. It seems that investors want you to do what you’ve proved yourself to be good at, only more of it, and without risky adventures now that their money is involved. Think sequels 🙂

Creativity scare #2: a sense of urgency

Marketing talk on its own is unlikely to scare innovators away – start-ups all try to come up with a viable product. What else is there? An innovator is motivated by curiosity – wanting to find out how things work, how problems can be solved, products might be improved…

A shift in your company’s mindset from opportunities to threats (to the investors’ money, for example) will lead to decisions based on a sense of urgency. Especially if you have the money to act immediately – you find yourself buying a company that has the necessary tech rather than wasting time trying to figure it out yourself. Added effect is that such an action knocks out a potential competitor, or allows you to effectively monopolize a couple of relevant patents.
Invest wisely – don’t gamble.

How to pull off the combination of money AND the pursuit of creativity

There are at least two things you can do to safeguard creative processes in your company:

  1. I found this sentence: “Firms with more entrenched managers, whose greater job security makes them less likely to be sensitive to market pressures, experience a smaller decline in innovation novelty, and interestingly, their inventors are less likely to leave the firm.” I could translate this as “Firms that don’t get completely taken over by shareholders don’t scare their inventors away as much.” Make sure your company has solid management before even considering going to the stock exchange.
  2. Don’t interfere with creative processes by throwing risk and legal stuff in at an early stage. Let innovators tinker and give them credit for being good at it. This is what companies like Google understand. Inventors, while liking the idea of having enough money to live a comfortable life, need to know they are allowed to tinker (part of their time). There’s nothing quite like someone asking themselves “I wonder if it’s possible to… How about if I try…” and taking off. This is ‘flow’ for inventors. Mess with that and you should not be surprised if your inventors pack up and leave.

If you don’t like the sound of ‘letting them tinker’, you need to accept that your top innovators will turn elsewhere to do what they do best.

Source: Research paper No. 2126 “Does Going Public Affect Innovation?” Shai Bernstein, Graduate School of Business, Stanford University, December 2012.

P.S.: I just found myself wondering how this relates to blogging vs. corporate blogging. What do you think?

I hope you found this post of interest! Please add your thoughts about innovation, creativity, and tinkering in general in a comment – what else could you do to keep inventors on board?

The usual suspects: why we don’t buy as readily as we sell

After my recent ramblings about LinkedIn I thought I might return to another topic of interest: marketing and blogging. There is a lot to be said for taking a marketing approach what you do on your blog. Especially if you’re wondering why some things you do just fall flat for no apparent reason.

Buyers Prioritization

You got yourself an audience, a good call to action to get your readers to join your subscribers list, you’re sending them information about your products/services… and then, well, nothing. Well, not nothing – but… You’re an expert. Surely everyone is going to want to buy the valuable stuff you have to offer? Why aren’t the %% higher than this?

In this post I’ll take a roundabout tour through marketing and then get back to your blog.

Marketing and the usual suspects

Purely from a marketing/sales view it’s a matter of buyer’s journey or even ‘buyer cycle’, which has phases to mark where on the road towards your first or next purchase you might be.

  1. If you’re in the right group of people (say busy working mum who loves high-heeled boots but won’t risk twisting an ankle again running after child no. 2) you’re a suspect. In fact we’re all someone’s suspect. We all buy something at some point.
  2. The moment you subscribe to anything, you turn into a prospect: someone who shows a definite interest in the kind of services/products a company offers. In some cases it means you get spammed daily – companies seem to think they need to haul you in NOW or you might end up buying a competitor’s product.
  3. Once you’re in their webshop…
  4. … loading stuff into your shopping cart (or taking similar actions) there’s an almost audible drum roll.

In many cases people never get beyond stage two. Why not? There are plenty of tips out there that focus on mending the leaks in your sales funnel, but I’m not going to discuss incontinent marketing processes here.

Theorize about your potential buyers’ priorities

Think about yourself as a reader of blogs (and a potential customer for someone) for a moment. Since I don’t know you, I’ll make up for this bit by talking about myself and pretending I’m a version of you. In this multiverse there must be a universe where I’m you 😉

You read and view loads of stuff every day, either for personal or professional purposes. Depending on your job and other interests, some topics matter a lot, others a little. There’s one topic that you’re mainly interested in because it affects your job. You don’t need to know everything, but you do need to keep up to date. So you read up online. After all what’s the internet for? Then you attend an webinar. From the moment you subscribe you get spammed by at least half a dozen companies trying to sell you stuff that’s related to the subject of the webinar. Preferably expensive and IT-related. Oh, great…

Enter the wonderful world of the ‘buyer persona’

Using a buyer persona (or several) means you basically assemble some characteristics into a credible theoretical buyer. Age, lifestyle, and depending on what you’re trying to sell you throw in a job title, professional issues – or health problems and family situation. It’s a lot like certain police series, where they try to narrow down the group of possible suspects.

In the case where you are the customer, companies are guessing what you might be interested in buying, and they approach you with information that seems relevant. Despite these efforts many marketers still can’t, or won’t, take into account your personal priorities (or your influence on your company’s budget, for that matter). Now, rather than veering off into a discussion about prioritization in this post, here’s a link if you’d like to read how Eisenhower prioritized his to do list. I’ll stick to reinterpreting this handy matrix around the question “to buy, or – to forget about it”.

Your priorities – and how they affect your buying decisions

Many of us – those of us with any savings in the bank, anyway – make buying decisions much like this:

  1. Do I need it? Yes. When? Now! Unless you’re broke you’ll have no problem spending money on things you really need, urgently.
  2. Do I need it? Yes. When? Well, let’s say within the next 3 months. Hmm, I’d better get some more information… and see if I can get a discount somewhere.
  3. Do I want it? Yes. Do I need it? Not really. How much does it cost?
  4. Do I want it? I might, if it’s fun. Do I need it? Nope.

Businesses put a lot of effort trying to close the gaps that make you hesitate. For example, many retail shops know their customers, including you, well enough to be just within the price range you had in mind 😉

Back to your blog’s usual ‘suspects’

When you’re blogging you may get a lot of visitors, but the ones in category 1 are a definite minority. You do need some casual visitors though – a blog that never gets comments, likes, or shares won’t appeal even to people who are looking for a solution to their problem, NOW. So you cater, in some ways, for visitors of categories 2, 3 or even 4. If that means your blog is more fun and less businessy, hey, what’s wrong with a readable blog? But do make sure that there is something for Number One.

I hope you enjoyed this post. If so, please share it – or share your thoughts about marketing, blogging and the like in a comment. Thanks 🙂

4 steps to turn your business (more) social-minded

Sure, social business has to do with content, and with content marketing. It’s an aspect I’m definitely interested in. But content – or a perceived lack of it – is not the root cause of resistance to social business. It’s this:

Social business means change.

If you try to change today’s organizations there are some common hurdles involving IT, organizational structure and ultimately psychology. In this post I’ll give you 4 simple steps to start edging towards social anyway, knowing you’ll tackle each hurdle – when you’re ready.

First let’s take a quick glance at each of the 3 hurdles I’m talking about:

  • Firstly, every change turns into an IT project. Any change to an existing process means redesigning the process  – and then checking how soon the software that’s supposed to help you do your job can be adjusted accordingly. Until that happens, your precious software will enforce its own logic on your daily work.
  • Secondly, new activities need to compete with the existing ones. The teams and people who have already gained a foothold inside your organization tend to take up all of the available space, budget, and time reserved for meetings. Anything new is perceived as yet another task when everybody is already pressed for time.
  • Finally, new concepts need to ‘conquer’ established practices.

4 steps towards a social business

The whole target-mindedness in marketing departments is a major issue for anyone who would like to suggest a different way of doing things. Social business advocates are not the first to run into this brick wall.

The predominant force within established (marketing) departments is to nail every new idea down by claiming it – and any available budget – immediately, then:

  • put it into a corner,
  • put one person on it and
  • consider the subject covered.

Do correct me if I’m wrong by being too cynical. I realize I’ve read a lot of Dilbert 😉

4 key steps towards a social business

Here are a few things you can do to get started. It’s important to start with at least a bit of awareness, then try integrating ‘social’ into single tasks before taking it further.

1. Conquer the psychological hurdle – step by step

Let employees (including you) get social with the instruction to learn as much as they can to find ways to use social media in their (daily) work. Use this as a conversation starter in workshops to raise awareness of the differences between private and business communication online. Find out for what business purposes employees (including you) in different roles could use social media. And importantly, translate employee experiences into stuff that improves your team’s and company’s performance.

2. Integrate social media into one or two daily tasks

Anything new will only stand a chance if it’s integrated (as a first step, mind you) into some aspect of daily work.

After you figure out (see #1) how social media can add value for you and your team by making some aspect of your daily work easier, better, possibly faster you still need to determing at what exact point and in what way you will use social media as a natural part of the process.

3. Find a new use for old (and new) habits

It doesn’t take much of your time to share stuff you’ve already found, read and reviewed. By sharing interesting articles you:

  • give more people the chance to pick up on important developments.
  • deliver hand-picked content
  • show them that your team has access to content, knows what’s relevant, … contains professionals who know what’s happening.

3. Evaluate with care

After at least a month, have a first ‘light’ evaluation. Have you needed to tweak the initial idea? Does your method seem to work? If so, you’re ready for a one-month (minimum!) trial to see if you can truly integrate ‘social’ into your daily routine. When that month is over it’s time to evaluate the process (your social routine) rather than the results. That comes next and may take a couple of months.

And what about IT?

As far as I’m concerned, software for anything comes in after you’ve figured out what exactly you want to do without it but can’t. It’s no use implementing some great and costly tool that’ll pin your daily workflow to it like an unfortunate butterfly before you even know what your workflow would look like in your new social business.

That’s it for social business this year – if you want to add your thoughts you’re welcome to do so in a comment, and I still promise to reply to every non-spammy contribution 🙂

Blogging impressions: time for reflection

My previous post has given me food for thought… Lately I’ve taken to writing down my blog posts in less time than before. This has some advantages like not being able to overdo the editing part. One drawback is that it doesn’t leave much time to do any editing at all.

Blogging: time for reflection

In this post I’ll share my recent experiences with you and hand out some tips based on them.

I hope you’ll find my tips useful – feel free to add your own thoughts in the comments!

Tip #1: Try to write your post in one session

My previous post was written on one day, but in several sessions. Family life and working hours take up time that I can’t spend on blogging.

I’ve noticed that whenever I pick up where I left off, my perspective has changed slightly. Even though I interrupt my writing process, I can’t just shut down my thoughts to wait until I have time to write on. This is a major issue if you want to write coherent posts!

Distractions are BAD news

Anyway, what with working from home, tending to a sick child, cooking dinner and so on, I was editing until well past 10 PM… after a broken night with our kid crying in bed several times. If you have kids and a blog, it’s bound to happen to you at some point.

In my case the result was: a post that might have been better, with a title that I wasn’t happy about but every time I changed it seemed worse than before. In the end I just hit ‘publish’ because I had planned to publish and after I did I could stop.

I came back to change the title the next morning after thinking of several alternatives after around 4.30 AM. Yes, that was our son crying again – you guessed it 😉

My conclusion is that quiet sessions to get your thoughts written down are essential.

Tip #2: Take time for reflection (if that’s your style anyway)

Depending on whether you’re writing a personal blog or more businessy stuff in the latter case you may need an editing session as well…

Mind you, not being able to put off editing, or deciding you don’t need a separate editing session means you do it while you write. Telling yourself you’ll reread and edit after you get your post written down should help you get things done before you start criticizing your work.

My inner editor seems to have returned – or maybe I’m just more aware now that I try to write my posts in less time from draft to publish. Or being tired means the inner editor becomes more of a nuisance than usual – what do you think?

Your inner editor messes with your writing process!

Worse than the editor telling me I’ve done something wrong is the inner quickly-excited person (also my inner editor?) who keeps telling me “hmm, this is interesting too… can you put it in?” or “hey, I’ve a great idea for an image to go with this post, how about checking for suitable pictures on OCAL (the Open Clip Art Library) now?”

Seriously, it’s like having a kid standing at your table trying to give you ‘food’ or wanting to sit on your lap and then asking “What’s happening now” every 30 seconds while watching Bob the Builder. Which is happening today because I’ve decided to sit down for once and write this thought down before it flies off.

Tip #3: Watch your inner editor or it will make you rewrite everything

You reread your post, and upon reflection, think of something you want in there… and this, and that… STOP! This is the same thing that happens to me if I interrupt my writing. You’re really writing your next post into the one you already had!

If this has ever happened to you – and it’s more likely to happen if you don’t blog (almost) daily – you’re blogging a lot more than you think. Except all your thinking and writing energy goes into far fewer published posts!

All in all I guess the bottom line is:

  • More editing means less publishing.
  • More publishing also means less (time for) editing.
  • You get a lot of published posts, or a few heavily-edited posts, but rarely both.

There’s probably a precious balance hiding somewhere out there for every one of us. Have you found your ideal mix yet?

Please add your thoughts in a comment – I promise to reply to anything that’s not spam 😉 How do you make blogging, editing and reflection work for you?

Life as we know it: the big deal about change

Every new generation in the past 50 years has been called, or has claimed, to be fundamentally different from the oldies. This tends to cause a bit of friction with parents (unless they’ve given up ‘parenting’ at an earlier stage) but notably not so much with grandparents because, and I’m guessing here, they’ve seen it all before in their own children.

The big deal about change

Change is the only permanent force in our lives. So what? Change is a constant, and yet we will draw people’s attention to it again and again saying: “look, this is different!” or “I’m unique!” The millenial generation is no different in its uniqueness 😉

One example of what is different for today’s students is, by the time they graduate, they’re all over Facebook already. If you’ve spent years on Facebook it seems a bit of a waste to start from scratch on LinkedIn.

Some months ago, Brian Solis interviewed the Co-founder/CEO of a platform called Identified.com. Viewing the information on the Identified blog I recognized a lot of stuff from my own career path (involving change). Perhaps you recognize any of the following?

Learn to change: learning curve ahead

Warning: Learning Curve Ahead

  1. Study, no job.
  2. Another study.
  3. Job doesn’t match expectations or strong points.
  4. Switch to different kind of job.
  5. Part-time study and job.
  6. New job, research or internship required by study.
  7. Keep job, build resume and ‘rest’ after graduating.
  8. New job, tasks shift.

It was about time someone figured out that people might like to re-use parts of their ‘personal’ network in their new career, and that they might find the contacts in their mailbox less useful than their contacts on social media 😉

What happens if I do this?

Young people living their lives ‘inside’ social media is just an example of what has changed – but the underlying issue of ending up in a place that doesn’t match your talents or ambitions (interests) is not exactly new. In fact, part of ‘growing up’ has been finding out more about yourself by trying stuff out.

Marketing trend or change?

Marketers’ strong point is spotting trends and giving them ‘big’ names. The actual change taking place may be less exciting (too slow or insignificant). One marketing action is giving generations different names and trying to find out what matters most to each generation in order to sell them more stuff.

Sometimes marketing seems a bit like calling your two-month-old kid “Godzilla” because he/she’s got a big voice. It doesn’t make your kid bigger but it sure sounds awesome. I checked Twitter recently, which never fails if you’re looking for Godzilla marketing trends. Here’s a couple of ‘trends’ I found (Godzilla doesn’t hide):

  • “going real time to right time” Rachel Happe Tweets #defragcon
  • “moving from transactions to engagement” @alanlepo
  • “After B2B and B2C the future is P2P” (can this get any worse?? I hope I made this one up…)*

My main conclusion is that there’s only one underlying change: companies are getting more interested in customers and trying the personal “customer-centric” approach.

Why?

  1. Because they can. They have the tools: social media.
  2. Because they’re afraid to miss out. Their competitors are doing it too.
  3. Because we, their customers are changing – we’re getting used to relevant content, and to replies within a day or so (preferably faster).

Change is the only permanent force in our lives. Treating every day as being identical to the last just because it looks identical on the surface is downright dangerous. One day there will be a stalled car just behind that bend in the road.

The big deal about change is that it is life as we know it.

* B2B Business to Business, B2C Business to Consumer, P2P Person to Person… they didn’t manage to squeeze F2F in – maybe I ought to thank Twitter for their 140-character limit 🙂

That’s it for this post. If you want to add your insights please add them in a comment. I’ll respond to any non-spammy comment about ‘the big deal about change’ or my writing skills 😉

Social business: what we need is a plan

If you’re interested in ‘going social’ you need to know why your company should do so. Do you have an answer ready?

Good 🙂

In this post I will ask a few (impertinent) questions and hope they help you decide what to do about ‘social’. In other words, my aim is to make you think. All right, now I’m in trouble 😉

Social business: what we need is a plan

Chocolate inside and out
Social business mixes social media in – inside and out.

While reading some recent articles I noticed that several of them mention the ‘checklist approach’ to social media (I’m borrowing the word from Steven van Belleghem).

It’s a tactical approach: are you on Twitter? Check. Facebook? Check. So you’re ready. Right?

When you ask businesses ‘why’ they are on social media, chances are they’ll tell you something like “the whole world is there, so our customers are somewhere in there with the rest of the world”.

I’m not arguing. But that’s just one step on a long journey.

How does your content strategy connect with your social media strategy?

Yup, this non-strategist is talking strategy for once – but only to ask you more questions.

How will you connect with (not just ‘reach’) people on social media – or even on your own blog or web site?

Does every piece of content you create help your customers in some (small) way? When you read an article it really helps if it’s well-written and either amusing, or interesting, or both. Add a comment below if you disagree with me 🙂

You need people within your company to want to achieve this connection with customers. What value you aim to offer to customers should be clear to all. It shouldn’t be up to each individual employee (or team) to imagine where the link between the ‘top blah’ (vision, mission statement) and your company’s customers might be found.

How will becoming a social business help you help your customers?

An article by Adi Gaskell refers to a recent report by IBM stating that three main approaches have proved successful as starting points for the journey to social business heights:*

  • Creating valued customer experiences
  • Driving workforce productivity and effectiveness
  • Accelerating innovation.

Whichever starting point you choose, you need to integrate ‘social’ into the entire process. It’s not something a few isolated employees can do for you. It takes a plan that involves everyone at some stage, in order to achieve anything above the bare minimum.

In other words, if you want to become a ‘social business’, social media is not the cherry on your chocolate cake. It’s not just the chocolate that glistens on the outside and makes you want to eat until you burst. It’s firstly the cocoa you mixed into the dough. And it’s the chocolate icing. And, possibly, it’s also the cherry – although that’s optional. You get my drift 🙂

Social media creates valued customer experiences

Funnily enough, I wrote most of the above before reading a post which to me seems the perfect inspirational example when it comes to customer experiences (even if you feel there’s no way you’ll ever measure up to this stuff).** Read it, enjoy it, ask yourself what is in there that you could use in some way. How will your use of social media make a difference to your customers?

A few thoughts about social business – and why you need a plan for it

  1. You can’t add social media to an existing business as an afterthought and expect to become a social business.
  2. You need a plan so you don’t get distracted by the latest hype all the time.
  3. Without a plan, you could end up out of breath by going nowhere at all.

Social media has been called ‘disruptive’. I take that to mean it creates a healthy imbalance in places where everything used to stay more or less the same. You need to think about business basics, and see how social media fit into your business.

You need a plan to let social media influence your entire mix of activities in a structured way.

Social business is not a thing – it’s an emergent property of the way you handle the potential of social media.

References

* Adi Gaskell, IBM reveals the secrets to social business success, Business2Community, November 10. Adi refers to this report by IBM, The business of social business: what works and how it’s done.

** Matt Wilson, 3 essentials that power Disney Parks’ social media strategy. PR Daily, November 12.

Hoping I’ve managed to make you think, even for a moment, about the essence of social business – if so, please let me know by using the comment box below!

Social business people: a grass-roots movement

In the past few years social media have become so commonplace you could say they’re boring if we didn’t find something of value in them: our networks. Our access to heaps of information and more friends, acquaintances and complete strangers on another continent than we ever had contact with before has had, and will continue to have, a profound effect on the way we view our lives and our jobs.*

A grassroots movement

This new perception is trickling into the fabric of every organization – through us – through all the individuals who show up for work every day. We’re oozing global networks from every pore. One side-effect may be that employees who’re not allowed to be on social media check their Facebook updates when they visit the bathroom, and get notably upset if they drop their smartphone into the toilet.

You don’t want that sort of thing. It’s bad for productivity, and it doesn’t smell pleasant either. By now, most businesses have a social media policy. The level of strictness varies widely.

How do people turn into social business people?

Social Business People
Social (Business) People [OCAL image]

Our present-day collective experiences don’t translate directly into employees being ambassadors for their own company. Not even the ones who are actually proud of working for or with you.

It didn’t work that way offline, and it doesn’t do so online.

So how can you help people adjust to a social business role that comes more or less naturally to them?

How to make social media ‘work’ for you

This may either sound completely silly, or so obvious you can’t believe I’m bothering to say it. I’ll risk it anyway. Have you considered:

  • taking inventory to see what types of people work for your organization;
  • thinking up ways to ‘market’ the uses of social media for business to each group? How would you approach someone from accounting, or in HR?

I’m talking classical market research and segmentation here. My next paragraph is for you if you lack time, resources, knowledge, or interest to get involved in ‘real’ market research.

Your people in the picture: cutting a few corners

Sit down with a few colleagues. List all your teams or departments. Then jot down every conceivable prejudice you could have about each team. I’ll help you get started with two unresearched examples 🙂

Accounting:

  1. maniacs for details. Never challenge them on details, unless you value emails longer than this post 😉
  2. cautious types: will always come up with rules we might be breaking. Share half a profile on social media – if they’re there.
  3. allergic to marketing talk which seems all promise and no accountability, unless they actually know responsible-sounding marketing people (what are the odds?)

Human Resources:

  1. will talk all day just for the sake of communicating.
  2. tech dummies. If a printer breaks down in HR the mechanic will find half a dozen people discussing how they have no idea what to do about it.
  3. allergic to technical explanations.

Don’t forget your own team, if only for the fun of it – or to avoid being unfair to others. Establish a rule of no rules and you should have an amusing and productive session 😉

Next up would be to find out what’s true of all the stuff you’ve collected, or you skip that step and work out an approach for every group. What characteristics and natural affinities in each group can you use? What issues do you need to address?**

Use your people’s strengths

Anyone who wants to turn a company into a social business by influencing the employees should assess people’s strengths and ambitions and build on those:

  • Support people who want to help others by making room for peer2peer support;
  • Train people who want to represent your company to guide online conversations.
  • Help people with a passion for reading and writing find subjects to write about, and train their writing skills.***

I’d like to conclude with a few tips for conversations in an advisory role:

  1. Make sure you know what you want from the conversation: are you checking your assumptions (or prejudices), or finding out what skills and ambitions people have that you could use in a future ‘social business’?
  2. Clarify what you want to achieve by asking questions, and why. Especially if you’re in a company that has prohibited social media use in the past, you had better come up with a good and honest reason.
  3. Practice serious listening.
  4. Don’t offer to fix anything – this tip is aimed at tool-selling specimens 🙂

Good luck, and let me know what else you’d like me to talk about!

Further reading:

* In case you missed the introduction to my ‘social business’ writing project, here’s my post from last Friday.

** There is any number of books about personality types and communication styles. One I’m familiar with is Management Drives (scroll down for the English text). Knowing a little about the subject may help you in conversations.

***Lou Hoffman wrote about writing skills, Experimentation in Content Marketing Offers Promise of Competitive Advantage, November 4, Business2community.

Please share this post if you found it interesting, or leave your thoughts about social business people and must-read articles in a comment below – I will reply to any (non-spammy) comment!

Social business organization: elements of change

Since I started to write about social business and agile business, I’ve had some feedback (thank you Twitter) that said something on the line of “useful stuff – like to read more”. Lucky me – I’ve discovered I have a lot more to say. So much in fact that it’s never going to fit in one post.

In this post I’ll go into a bit of organization history and the present-day trends and I’ll tell you how I propose to deal with the topic of social business.

Business organization in theory

History is a wonderful thing so long as you don’t have to live it. If you don’t believe me, imagine life without toothpaste. But here’s the thing: we do live history. At least many of us do – we work in organizations that are too big for us. How’d that happen?

Social Business Organization - Elements of Change

What’s your view of change?

In any group of people it will soon be obvious that some people have different affinities and skills than others.

In larger-scale businesses (let’s say in the Industrial Age) it made perfect sense for successful, growing organizations to form teams and departments that could function relatively independently from each other.

In management literature the term ‘span of control’ is used for the number of people any manager (or whatever he/she is called) can manage effectively. Managers were given a group of people they could actually oversee, and the ‘managees’ didn’t have to deal with 200 colleagues every hour of the day – just people in their team, and their manager. In terms of organization theory that must have seemed very efficient.*

Unfortunately, these silos have some major drawbacks, like a lack of communication between teams and valuable information falling into a crack somewhere. We’ve learned over time to deal with the status quo by using work-arounds of every description and ignoring the bits we can’t solve.

But in our current, information-overloaded society these negative side-effects of the nature of our organizations are no longer something we can safely ignore. And we don’t have to.

Technology-driven changes and your business organization

Technology has reached a point where it can actually help overcome the age-old problem of working in an organization its ‘inhabitants’ and its customers can’t oversee. But these new ‘social’ solutions need a different mindset from all those involved. And at some point some CXO is going to have to decide to ditch some of the old structures, procedures and software to make way for the new social working method.

Most businesses stop short of that, settling instead for add-ons and plug-ins. The thing about plug-ins – as any self-hosted blogger will tell you – is that some of them make your blog run a whole lot slower…

My credentials as a social business or change management pro

Here goes:

  • Affinity with the subject: check
  • Any kind of topic-related study: started with an introduction on organization theory, been interested ever since.
  • Strategic role within a company: nope
  • Strategic change management experience: nope
  • IT implementation: yes, on the user side of the equation (functional requirements).

I basically know what doesn’t work, and I have some ideas about why something will or will not take off the way you’d like it to. Standard procedures for supporting or facilitating online collaboration on any level, of any description don’t lead to adoption by employees of its own accord. A lot of tech stuff has got so many handy options, giving it to your average employee is like handing a Swiss army knife to your granny and telling her to open the door with it. It won’t work in a hurry – unless your granny had an unusual career that is.

Elements of change: proposed subjects

There are many ways to start changing your business, and I’m sure every single one of them has its challenges. To increase my chances of writing sensible information about each aspect, and hopefully add some useful articles for further reading, I will deal with one view in each post:

  1. Bottom up – employees are changing. I’ve written a post that addresses some issues. How do you enhance and direct changes in your workforce?
  2. Top down – strategy talk. I’ll get into it when the time comes.
  3. Manager level – this is actually a part of larger organizations that should not be overlooked. It’s more interesting than it looks from the outside!
  4. Tying your teams together. Buzz has it that you should be tearing down the silos inside your organization. You’ve just read a paragraph or two in which I stated that those silos used to have a function. Like it or not, they’re hard to get rid of. The fact that most articles about social business are focused on marketing led to my writing my “Back to Front” post.

* Literature I’m loosely referring to in this post:

  • The organization classic: Mintzberg on Management
  • Steven van Belleghem: The Conversation Company (which I mentioned in an earlier post before reading it)
  • And there are any number of great titles out there that focus on the role of conversations within the confines of your organization, like Crucial Conversations and Conversations for Change.

The central issue I’d like to ponder is what it takes from all those involved to adapt to the changes which look set to turn your organization into a social business.

Do you have thoughts or must-read literature you’d like to share? How do you view your own organization – and your role in it – in light of the whole social business buzz?

Levels of content curation: blogging

This week I came across the following article – I should tell you I once studied art history. You will understand my natural interest in the subject 😉 :

From Pop Music to Blogging, Everyone’s a Curator

– Kyle Chayka on Hyperallergic

In this post you won’t hear me talk about content curation from a “social media ladder” (Forrester) viewpoint. You can ignore the 1-9-90% story. Or the 75-23-2 version by Gartner. Anyone interested in the subject needs to realize:

Broken Social Media Ladder inspired by the Forrester Social Media Ladder

Broken Ladder inspired on (but not identical to) Forrester’s Social Media Ladder (for the original: click image)

  • The numbers will change as more people get (more) used to sharing their information online;
  • There are many different forms and levels of curation. You might as well lump the categories “1-9”, or alternatively “23-2” into one group.

Why would you do that? My answer:

Blogging is essentially high-level content curation.

Don’t get me wrong: not every blog reflects the same level of curation.

If you blog by selecting a couple of quotes from different articles about a subject you want to publish on and writing down why they are interesting, you’re curating content.

On the other hand, you could start by writing your view on a subject and add a few quotes. Curation or creation?

Or you could start your blog post with a quote which reflects a similar take on the subject or which contradicts your view – thus giving you an excellent starting point to explore the pros and cons of your insight. Most people would agree this is content creation. In terms of brain science it’s probably high-level content curation.

Blogging in your brain

In the Netherlands, Dick Swaab’s book “We are our brains” has been the center of some debate around free will and the question whether we have any. The controversy was largely based on Swaab’s assertion that what (and how) we think, feel, say and do is a result of influences on our brains throughout our lives, starting in the womb.

Swaabs opponents are mainly psychology experts who seem to take the idea of “No output without input” as meaning we’re compared to machines, only able to act in response to triggers. Let’s leave that kind of simplistic nonsense aside though, especially since I’ve read Swaabs book but only a few articles about the other side of the argument. Instead, I’d like you to focus on the following question:

How does this brain talk relate to the writing process?

When it comes to writing, the fact that I’ve read any number of articles and books in my life helps me to come up with all sorts of ideas. Think about it for a minute: when you’re new to a subject you need to learn about, you read, listen and think and rethink until you end up with a rough idea of what there is to know about that subject – which you can then refine over time or revise if necessary (this is the tricky bit for most of us).

Our opinions are based on the information that is available to us when we’re learning new stuff. If new information, which does not match the opinions we have formed, becomes available we have some serious ‘un-learning’ and revising to do.*

Content creation by blogging

Even if you make a point of sitting down to write without distractions, if you blog without referring to other authors and articles because you simply don’t know exactly where or when you got the first idea for what you’re writing, you are still influenced by all the information you have reviewed.

All the information you’ve fed into your brain is let out in your writing process.

This means that it may well pay off to be single-mindedly interested in one particular subject. Your interest means you can read about, and focus on, that subject and ignore other information. That in turn makes it easier to write about the subject without the distractions of a million other fascinating subjects.

So if you’ve recently taken up blogging and are finding the step from social networks or from curation platforms like Pinterest or Scoop.it a bit much to adjust to at times, I hope this post has helped you ‘revise’ your idea of blogging.

More about blogging and content curation

If you find all kinds of subjects are trying to find a place in your blog posts, you may find this earlier post useful.

On the flipside of today’s post are content curation and creation outside blogs. I could write a whole post about that, and I’ve already written one before: this one.

If you’re interested in my collection of articles about content creation (and content curation) I would invite you to check my Pinterest board.

* My first source for the term ‘unlearning’ is Frank Herbert’s book Dune. Just saying 😉

As always, you may your insights, and other contributions in a comment below this post.

If you found this information of interest, please share it.

Please RT: About Online Sharing

Social networks make it easy to add other people’s content to your own message stream. A number of businesses are only too happy to do exactly that. How to avoid the murky waters of content theft?

A bit of psychology: why do we share other people’s content at all?

There are social as well as practical reasons to share other people’s content. Let’s take a look at this short and probably incomplete list of reasons:

  • Give and take – you can’t expect people to share your content in the long run if you stop sharing their content altogether. You need goodwill.
  • You really, really like a bit of content and want to let others know about it.
  • You don’t create the kind of content you need to attract the audience you need – but others do. If you want to be noticed on a social network it pays to be talkative.

Adding your own content

Spot your original content amidst all the retweets
Creating and sharing: mixed content

If you want to share your own views, there are several ways to come up with enough content to share it on a regular basis.

  1. Being extremely productive. Blogging full time. Experience helps. (Example: Darren Rowse – @Problogger).
  2. Having (relatively) low standards for the content you produce. If this is your approach you don’t read up much on subjects, and you don’t check your posts for typos. (no example)
  3. Producing good (or great) quality content over a longer period of time and then sharing it daily on social networks. (Example: Jeff Bullas)

If you’re still busy gaining the necessary experience and building up a treasure chest filled with heaps of great content, you will find yourself without relevant, ready-to-share content pretty often. Sharing the same 5 blog posts 40 times a day will not make you popular. And it’s a bit early to start inviting guest bloggers if you blog for the sake of sharing your own ideas.

Sharing other people’s ideas will help you AND them – if you do it right.

Basic tips for sharing other people’s content – especially if you own a business

Probably fine:

  • reblog someone else’s post on a platform you don’t own.
  • share interesting news on social media
  • post a paragraph on your own website and adding your own view (content curation)

Tip: always add a link and the author’s name (Twitter handle) and for preference mention the website where you found the information. Why? It’s not just good manners. Check the paragraph below about measuring your reach.

Posting complete blog posts on your company website is pushing it too far. Even if you add a statement on the lines of “this text was originally posted on website X” that does not tell your readers whether you have the author’s permission to fill your company website with their work.

Tip: the main question is whether or not you paid the author for contributing quality content to your website. Add a paragraph “About our authors” to avoid misunderstandings.

Once you have created a significant amount of content, the balance between home-made and other content will start to shift.

Tip: You need to monitor your content sharing mix and decide what suits you at each stage: 20/80, 60/40, 80/20?

Measured reach versus actual reach

Measuring the number of social shares your content gets gives you some idea of the reach of your message. Tools like Tweetreach list the number of mentions, the number of tweets and retweets, and the number of followers of all the sharing accounts. So you know how many people may have read your message.

A few caveats:

  • If sharers use scheduling tools, all you can do is hope they’ll mention you or use your title or hashtag so you can track their messages. This practice means that the reach you measure is lower than the actual reach. To close the gap, make sure that:
    • the sharing buttons on your site work properly – so visitors use those in stead of their own bookmarklets;
    • title, name, and hashtag combined fit quite comfortably inside a tweet when you click a sharing button.
  • Automatic reblogs and retweets are forms of automation which remove the engagement aspect altogether. This practice means that the reach you measure is (a bit) higher than the actual reach.
  • In an open platform like Twitter, the right subject (the right hashtag) may mean the number of views – and clicks – is higher than the number of any single sharer’s followers.

With so many tools around you can only hope they cancel each other out. In fact, a lot of tools exist that help you reduce the amount of guesswork by adding analytics to the links inside your messages – think Hootsuite, Buffer and the like.

How accurately do you need to measure reach?

Do you need to know who actually reads your content before sharing? In that case you need clicks combined with retweets by the same sharer. Just in case there is an automated tool running which retweets anything containing #subject.

In most cases it’s fine to have a rough estimate of your reach. Compare it to your website’s analytics – the number of clicks your content is actually getting – and you’ll have some idea of where you stand.

After all, reaching any audience is one thing – only part of that audience will engage with your content on your website. That is where the fun starts.

Please add your thoughts to my musings by commenting below; or find me on Twitter!