Social business: dead, alive and kicking, or business as usual?

For the past few years, ‘social business’ has gotten a lot of attention from a number of people. Very enthousiastic people. For various reasons, not everyone shared their enthousiasm. Social business has been declared dead a couple of times, probably because the innovators’ initiative didn’t seem to get a lot of tangible results very soon.

social business concept

A few recent articles point out different aspects – and views – of the drive towards social business. Continue reading

X is for Change. Making good ideas work in big organizations

This is a bit of an odd one out in view of all the knowledge management posts I’ve written lately. Yet there is a common background to them: change in organizations.

Apart from knowledge management, there is social business, and probably a couple of other great change initiatives I’m not aware of, but that you’ve witnessed from the enthousiastic launch right down to the moment when the last “new way of thinking” motivator turned their minds to different activities – or¬†launched the escape pod to another company in hopes of finding converts there.

Change in Big organizations

Change for the better? – Image by HikingArtist.com

Big change is bad news in big organizations

Getting an existing company to change the way it does its work may involve changing the organization chart. It’s messy and people tend not to like that. Employees don’t like it because it could be their job on the line. Managers and the people with jobs that start with a C don’t like it because change, real change, could backfire in a big way. That would leave them looking rather silly in terms of return-on-bonus ūüėČ

But they can’t do nothing. So they hire someone to handle the new project. This one person may even grow into a small team. They target groups of people at once, trying to make as many converts as possible.

After a while, budget is moved elsewhere and the expert or team may move along with it to another department. The bar may be¬†lowered because things don’t go as smoothly as hoped.

Small change is… very small change in big organizations

In a big organization, small changes look like background noise. They may still be fundamental changes, but it takes a while for any change to come up to the surface to get some fresh air.

Most people who try to change the organization (or at least parts of it) are experts in their own field: knowledge management, social media in business, or anything else. Unfortunately it looks as though the cash cow is grazing on a different field: that of change management. Knowledge management, social business, and the like, give you something to aim for. Lack of knowledge and skills to help you get there frustrates your whole project.

Good ideas in big organizations need change management

What is change management? If done right, the recipe contains organizational theory, strategy, ideas about how to deal with the human resources side of it all, possibly some other herbs and spices, and psychology (quite a lot of that actually).

Suppose you’re trying to get someone to fly to the moon. Or to abandon their cart in favor of travelling by train. You need to convince your intended converts:

  • that the goal is worth working towards.
  • that¬†your contraption won’t break up, explode, crash or simply grind to a halt in the middle of nowhere.
  • that they can actually operate the vehicle – that they will be trained thoroughly.
  • that they will get real help quick whenever they don’t know what to do next (I just got a flash of the Apollo astronauts calling the helpdesk…yikes!).
  • that they will benefit from their effort – not chucked out into the cold.
  • that there is no true alternative, even though they think they’re¬†sitting on it – that there is no comfort zone.

Make¬†any change¬†look too insignificant, and¬†people will be so slow in moving you’ll barely notice their progress. Make it look too big and scary,¬†and people¬†will freeze up and wait for you to leave and leave them alone.

Disruptive change? No thanks.

Steer clear of the organizational terminators if you really want to change anything.

X is for change

In the course of your working life you may have read articles calling for a CIO, a CKO, or a CMO¬†– and I just remembered a CCO too. Some of them even exist in a couple of companies, though rarely on a par with the “big C”s: the CEO (boss) and CFO (finance).
Based on my own experiences my vote would go to a CXO: a change leader. Just to get the good ideas going on a strategic level. I can’t guarantee it’ll work – but I have the impression it might just make things that little bit easier.

Read more:

Have you ever initiated what would have been a welcome change (for the better) for your organization, or part of it?¬†Or, have you ever wished a co-worker¬†success with their attempts to change anything wondering how long they’d last?

Stuck like glue: how knowledge powers business relationships

How does knowledge affect business relationships? It’s a matter Ross Dawson has written a whole book about. In this post I’d like to share my thoughts on¬†knowledge in business relationships¬†and related matters like advising (internal) clients, or even friends for that matter.

What do you bring to the table in your (business) relationships?

Knowledge needs food to grow

Tree of knowledge? Image HikingArtist.com

  • Knowledge. By this I mean your personal set of experiences. Not just your education, because your peers share much the same background.
  • Time – which may seem in short supply so you’d rather spend it on activities that add value than on stuff that really isn’t that important but “management say they want it so go do it”.
  • Social skills (if I’m being presumptuous please let me know).

It makes sense to invest your time in building a good relationship with your (potential) clients and allies. Apart from your subject matter expertise (SME), focus on extending the knowledge you have about your client:

  1. Listen carefully to what’s being said.
  2. Listen even more carefully to what’s not being said.
  3. Ask away.
  4. Keep asking.
  5. Be open about the way you work (from the start), and
  6. ask for structural feedback to help finetune your actions. When you plan your activities for a client, include a continuous feedback loop from and to your client. If that’s not possible, plan¬†regular feedback moments.

Focusing on¬†the interaction, on the knowledge¬†you¬†and your client need from each other and produce as a result of your conversations,¬†steers you away from ‘just’ delivering your service or product.

What does this advisory role demand from you?

The interaction with your clients demands that you take the conscious decision and then muster the patience to get genuinely involved. Getting involved also means sharing knowledge, and that may lead to the following situation:

  • If you’re a veteran in your branche, you may have grown used to skipping steps. It’s been so long since you wondered why you do what you do in this specific way. But to the non-expert there is no “obviously”. There is no obvious reason for doing anything. Or for doing it in this way. So add all the steps your client needs.
  • Having someone ask you questions and giving you feedback may well point you toward things you had overseen! Listening to your clients’ questions may well teach you a lot about yourself as well as about your client. Once you’ve learned anything you need to review what you thought you knew. Improve, tweak. Review. Learn, and unlearn! Knowledge building will guide you and your client by showing you should stop doing¬†one thing¬†and start doing the other.

How does knowledge power your business relationships?

By getting involved and being open about your methods you will:

  1. learn a lot about your client. You’ll understand better than anyone else what makes them tick. What worries them. What stumps them.
  2. build trust. Your client gets a genuine sense of what you know, how you think, who you are as a professional and as a person.
  3. get feedback from your client about details in their particular situation that might affect the results of your efforts.
  4. have a chance to review your own business
  5. improve your own skills as an advisor
  6. accumulate heaps of richly detailed cases you can use as examples with other clients.

There’s just one thing to watch out for. And that is getting too comfortable knowing what you know about your clients. Knowledge needs to be fed regularly if you’re to reap its fruits. Neglect your knowledge and it will lose its connection with reality. Your reality. And your clients’ reality. If¬†you find that your attitude¬†stands in¬†the way of really listening to your clients – if it prevents you from being a good advisor, tell yourself to stop being a [fill in appropriate noun here].

And two (this point occurred to me thanks to this picture): remember to harvest the fruits of your labor. The point of knowledge is not having it – but using it.

Read more:

How would you describe the relationship you have with your (business) connections? Leave your thoughts about knowledge, business, clients and relationships (and possibly about glue and apples) in a comment – I will reply to anything non-spammy ūüėČ

Blogging and social media – reasons (not) to connect outside your blog

When I was starting up my blog I read all the advice I could get on blogging. This way I ran into long-time professional bloggers who stated that ‘your blog is your home base’.Connecting: WordPress and LinkedIn

Social media should be treated as ‘outposts’. The one thing I didn’t read was how that was supposed to work. You share your blog posts on different social media – and then what? People show up? Depending on the social platform you’re using that may happen at some point. Or not.

The assumption made by professional bloggers Рand which you need to take into account when you read their advice Рis that:

  1. You’re trying to make money blogging. That means the following things:
  2. You want to give your subscribers extra, high quality content that will get them another step¬†closer to¬†buying your product or service. In order to distinguish between ‘starting-level’ readers and potential customers,
  3. You need email subscriptions so you have a ‘mailbox presence’ with more-than-casual readers. For this reason,
  4. Social media connections, followers, and friends are less valuable than email subscriptions. You do need¬†social media¬†to facilitate your readers, but not spend too much time on the ‘outposts’.

What to do if you don’t intend to sell stuff through your blog? Connecting on social media could give you valuable extras¬†on top of the¬†the usual¬†options for¬†comments on your blog. Indulging in¬†‘small talk’ isn’t really an option¬†on a blog that’s mainly about business topics. But your reader may not be ready to go onto the personal medium that is email. Or you may not be prepared for that kind of thing yourself. (Do you need more emails?) Social media might just fill the gap nicely.

From blogging to connecting on social media

Start by mentioning¬†your (favorite) social media accounts on¬†your¬†blog. Adding them to your¬†‘About’ page allows you to state which account you use for what purpose.

You’ll get the best value from any interactive media if you’re already a user. Because you know how it works and you already have some friends, fans, followers, or connections who may share at least part of your (professional) interests.

LinkedIn for B2B connections

For business to business contacts¬†LinkedIn is at present a good option. It moves at a more leisurely pace than Twitter, which means you don’t need to send the same message over and over just to get over the noise. It does mean you need to share a bit about yourself on your profile.

Some marketing professionals consider that you should connect with anyone who asks to be connected with you. People outside the realm of marketing tend to keep LinkedIn for people they know professionally. This is not a 100% absolute rule though! The keyword here, like anywhere else, is trust.

Connecting with other bloggers starts on their blog

Why would you want to connect on LinkedIn if you’ve never even commented on someone’s blog? If you want to approach people on a two-way social platform like LinkedIn make sure these are people who have:

  • consistently liked your posts (not single-topic likers).
  • liked your About page.
  • commented in a way that shows a mindset, or values, that are not unlike your own. After all there may be a reason why they like your ‘family’ posts but not the posts that feature, say, hunting scenes (are they vegetarian cat-lovers? Who knows).

Taking the jump onto LinkedIn: state your business

When you ask a fellow blogger to connect with you,¬†state your business. Why?¬†Because you can (from your desk top). If you visit someone’s profile and invite them to connect:

  • alter the standard message to make it clear why you’re interested.
  • Your blog name may not match the name on your profile, so mention your About page and make sure that page points back to your LinkedIn profile.

When can you connect on LinkedIn if a fellow blogger doesn’t know you?

First let me repeat my earlier question: why would you want to, if you’ve never commented on their blog? But let’s say you don’t like commenting.

I’d say you should at least share a group and, more importantly, a discussion on LinkedIn. How do you make that happen?

  1. What you can do is¬†start by joining a group the other person is a member of. The only good reason to do this is if you’re genuinely interested in the topic of the group. Take part in conversations. If the other person is actively posting in the group you can comment on their discussions.
  2. There has to be a basis for a connection. That basis may¬†be tiny if you’re a thousand miles apart and unlikely to impact each other dramatically. But it still needs to be there. A discussion may help bridge the gap.
  3. Your fellow blogger may check your LinkedIn profile, so it¬†needs to look professional. This isn’t your Facebook profile and¬†your summary¬†doesn’t need to look like it.¬†It also doesn’t need to look like a blog post. LinkedIn holds¬†your professional curriculum – no more, no less.

If you have a personal blog¬†Facebook would¬†probably make a better addition¬†– and if you’re already very active there with (future) business connections it would also be a sensible place to start.

What’s your favorite way to connect with other bloggers? Add your thoughts about blogging buds, social media, LinkedIn groups and connections in a comment!

New knowledge: how to breathe creativity into your business

How do you instill creativity in places where it seems to be lacking big time? In an earlier post I mentioned that an investor’s mindset seems to chase away innovation. But what invites creative thinking? What sets us off on the hunt for new knowledge?

Why knowledge acquisition and the creative process grind to a halt

Firstly let’s add a bit of detail to my earlier thoughts about why inventors leave a company (after an IPO). Money seems to have an oddly familiar impact¬†if you’re¬†a business owner: it burns in your pockets, leading to buying decisions based on affluence. You have the money. This fact severely reduces¬†your need to employ creative brains.¬†If you choose¬†your resources based on their availability,¬†you¬†can either¬†put in creative thinking and the time you need to realize your ideas, or you can chuck in a bag of money at any given moment to buy the results of other people’s efforts.

When and how does creativity leave your business?

San Matteo by Caravaggio

San Matteo by Caravaggio [Fragment
of image on Wikimedia Commons]

  • Following my instincts I’d say the first awkward moments arise when you find that your best ideas no longer lead to reactions like “that sounds great – go do it and let me know when you’ve got something”. Instead you get “that sounds interesting – is there anything out there we could use?” or “okay, draft some requirements we can use for our vendors”.
  • The absolute get-out-of-here-right-now trigger is when decisions for further development are made without consulting the company’s innovative minds. It makes sense to leave when no one cares enough about your opinion to ask for it¬†before taking a major decision. The best (or most independently thinking) inventors will leave at this point.
  • The other inventors¬†may choose to deliver what’s being asked for. However their ‘inventions’ are probably the products of ideas born from the minds of investors, market researchers, and the like. No wonder they don’t match the level of the ‘breakthrough inventions’ done by pioneering innovators!

What does this tell us about factors that’ll get innovation and general creative thinking into a team or company? It’s not just “leave them alone and great things’ll happen”.

Apple or IBM: two methods to bring creativity into your business

1. The survival method: be creative or else

To draw upon my own education, one of my teachers in art history argued that Caravaggio (Michelangelo Merisi da Caravaggio) would not have reached the peak of his own ingenuity if his patron had accepted some of the paintings he made. As an inventor you may well need someone who will warn you not to become complacent – push you out of your comfort zone – tell you they know you can “do better than that” and will not settle for anything but the best.

To me this is a part of the Steve Jobs approach – if engineers come up with new¬†adaptations of old inventions you demand they think of something better. I can imagine this method does not go down well with people who are either independent thinkers themselves, or who aim for ‘okay’ solutions that lack a ‘wow’ factor. It’s a method that smells of survival basics (and can inspire real terror for that reason): either you come up with a solution that works, or you starve because all the animals run away. How’s that for a creative spark?

2. The cocreation method: the benefit of having different points of view

Another part of innovation at Apple which Jobs was probably good at, is the ‘naive outsider’ approach (I’m borrowing from a Forbes article on creativity in marketing here) – taking a fresh look at familiar things and asking the questions that experts overlook. But there’s a definite downside to having one person doing ‘creative quality control or CQC (I just made that up for the occasion).

If you’re into social or ‘open’ business like IBM you can get input from people outside your company and even your industry. If you have your creative process in full operation, this should give you plenty of alien points of view – forcing you to rethink what would otherwise pass for ‘obvious’ arguments.

Creative quality control: which method suits you?

In view of the possibilities offered by social media and the like, and the psychological effects of each individual method, my vote goes to the ‘many voices’ option of social business. But depending on the type of company your in and the goals you’ve set, another method may be more viable.

More reading:

How do you foster innovation in your organization? Let’s talk about new knowledge, “CQC”, creativity, business, and social media in the comments!

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 ūüėČ

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¬†ūüôā

Social business homework: all employees are not (yet) equal

Do you know the one thing that amazes me the most about social business? It’s the way it doesn’t seem to take off even though¬†your boss¬†says it’s a good idea ūüėČ

Social Business Homework: all Employees are not (yet) equal

Social Business Homework (based on OCAL image)

Of course it really helps if your CEO and/or CFO and others are blogging or tweeting and generally showing their support of social media use by actually being present on them…

Your company may even have a number of employees dedicated to filling social media channels with fresh branded content or teaching others how to use social media for business purposes.

But there’s a snag somewhere I think – wouldn’t things go a little faster if there were not? So where exactly is the hurdle we need to jump?

The perceived value of social media for business

One issue is perception. My impression is that in many parts of businesses, processes are rolling on like they always did with social media seemingly adding little value. But I happen to have done a bit of archiving in my time ūüėČ and here’s the thing:

  • an archive contains process-bound content. That content is produced as a result of you doing your work. This is valuable information which people may want to know about at a later time, so you need to store it for a number of years.
  • on the other hand, there is information which you may have read to inform yourself about a topic in order to do your work well. Stuff you need to read up is not considered of direct value for the process. So you can chuck it out whenever you like (well, after a year).

This perceived difference in value affects decisions as to who is allowed or expected to use social media as a regular part of their job.

Social business homework: all employees are not (yet) equal

Depending on where you are in your organization you’ll be able to use social media for different purposes. Some of them add value directly and some indirectly.

  • For people with a lot of professional connections on LinkedIn – I mean connections they actually know and have spoken with – and for whose job a large network is essential it’s relatively easy to use LinkedIn to benefit their company. If they need to come up with new leads, they check who in their network is familiar with the topic or has connections that bridge the gap between their own company and the potential customer’s business.
  • Making new connections is easy on Twitter, but not everyone wants to engage in conversations. Finding people with similar interests is great though. If they’re in your industry or in the same region as well you may at some point meet up at an event and add your new connection on LinkedIn (or Facebook if that’s your preferred place for contact).
  • Another thing: I use Twitter to look up recent posts/articles on subjects I need to read up on. Actually Twitter is the reason I’m not using search machines exclusively anymore for finding relevant information about anything regarding social media, social business, content marketing. Because social media marketers and content marketers are out in force on social media ūüôā

My point is that each way of using social media adds value – but that value is not equally visible. And nothing you do counts unless you make sure people notice you’re getting results doing it.

Accepting that using social media can work

How to integrate social media into your work:

  1. Examine your job and identify one or two tasks, where social media may add value.
  2. Make sure you know exactly at what point and to what purpose you will be using social media.
  3. Don’t overcomplicate. If it means you “search database X, Google it, and check Twitter” for information about a topic, fine.
  4. Keep it up for at least a month, because apparently that’s how long it takes us to form new habits.
  5. Then check the results and ask yourself if you’ve developed new methods that allow you to get the most from your new way of working.
  6. Make a note of any tangible result you got through social media.
  7. Review your daily activities again for other tasks that may benefit from using social media.
  8. If there aren’t any, fine. One or two tasks are a great start. Don’t rush.

The best way to prove the value of social media for business would be if you could tell your manager that you found that excellent article/that lead/a piece of information through a search on Twitter or a tip from a Facebook friend or a LinkedIn connection… if that leads to raised eyebrows you can always add that your study at X has given you an excellent network of professionals in your field ūüėČ

As far as I’m concerned you’re ‘social media-enabled’ as an employee when your manager (and the level above that) accepts that you use social media for some aspects of your work because it helps you get the results they need.

If there’s one thing I’ve noticed it’s that accepting the fact that social media can contribute to almost anyone’s work is crucial – and not always straightforward.

Please add your thoughts about social business, social media, and any related topic in a comment – I promise I’ll respond to any non-spammy contribution as I value your input ūüôā