Monday, November 24, 2008

Being thankful for social media

In the spirit of Thanksgiving, that quintessentially American holiday, I want to take a moment to give thanks for social media (including our own wiki). I'm starting a list of reasons to be thankful for social media, so please add to this by commenting below.

  1. Social media turns monologues into dialogues
  2. Social media empowers people with information
  3. Social media shines the light in darkened corporate corners
  4. Social media maximizes a staff's time and effort (create once, use many times)
  5. Social media fishes where the fish are (push instead of pull)
  6. Social media unleashes creativity
  7. Social media breaks down departmental silos
  8. Social media puts the 'team' back in teamwork
  9. Social media is bottom up, not top down
  10. Social media helps shy people find a voice
  11. Social media helps us all work smarter, not harder

What else would you add? Let us know by commenting below.

Wikis as transparency enablers

I've been listening to episodes from my newest podcast discovery, Six Pixels of Separation, and the latest one was devoted to business transparency, whether enabled by social media or not. Lots of good stuff, and definitely worth a listen.

Corporate wikis also enable transparency. At least in theory. On our wiki we have several senior managers blogging on a regular basis. It's great for employees to know that they're just a mouse click away from interacting with senior management, especially as the economy turns sour. We've also seen some members of senior management commenting on discussions going on across the wiki, thus showing their commitment to the meritocracy that the wiki is slowly creating across our corporate culture. Innovation is thriving, and the wiki is giving it a voice.

Do you have a story about how your corporate wiki is breaking down walls and letting the light of innovation shine brighter across your company? Please share your comments below.

Thursday, November 20, 2008

On the Road Again

I'm hitting the road, or rails actually, tomorrow, to travel to one of our offices and talk up the wiki. I'm hosting three open houses in one of our larger offices, in which I'll give a demo of the Clearspace tool and an overview of how to use it and get around in it.

What I have found after months of leading these sessions, both in person and over the web, is that there's a significant difference in the buzz that I can generate in person compared to saying all the same things over the web. As one of our conference execs said when I commented on this to him, that's why we have conferences: nothing is as good as face-to-face, no matter how fancy the technology.

So, off on my travels I go, to spread the wiki word!

Trusting People

I'm a pretty trusting person by nature. Sometimes I have gotten burned, of course, and kick myself for having trusted someone who turned out to be untrustworthy. But for the most part, I think I have gained far more than I have lost by extending the benefit of the doubt to others.

Social media is built upon trust. If you stop and think really hard about the way people could mess things up by using social media tools, it's actually pretty scary. Of course, the safest place to live is probably to stay in a bomb shelter, but that's not much of a life. Similarly, the upside offered by social media tools and communities outweighs the risks for many of us, and so we take some chances.

A wiki, in particular, requires a leap of faith for people who are used to approving everything. How can we be sure the information posted is accurate if management has not pre-approved it? How can we expect employees to find correct information and not get confused? These are some of the questions I hear as our wiki community manager.

Social media does require a different kind of thinking compared to traditional management mindsets. It's nothing radical, of course, as we have been talking about "empowering" employees for a long time now. The difference with social media, I believe, is that social media suddenly makes empowerment a widespread reality, instead of a management objective. It's one thing to talk about empowering people, while carefully controlling how empowered they are allowed to become, and another thing entirely for any employee to have the power to create, edit and comment upon anything, anywhere in the enterprise wiki.

We're seeing some managers embrace this empowerment for their teams, while others need some more convincing. The momentum is clearly moving forward -- I picture a snowball rolling downhill, getting bigger and bigger -- but we have more work to do to get everyone going in the same direction.

Then again, I wonder, is it realistic to expect everyone to go in the same direction? Will there always be resistance, just because people are inevitably varied in their opinions and outlooks? Maybe the 90% that Matt referenced in his post applies here, too: perhaps we can only expect 90% of people to get on board with all the trust that social media asks us to give to our community.

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

How our wiki can break the 90-9-1 rule

Received wisdom has it that 90% of users simply read blogs and wikis, 9% make occasional contributions and 1% make regular contributions. I'll go out on a limb here and say that if that pattern holds for our internal wiki, we've failed our users. Big time. A wiki is not a spectator sport. It can't be.

How can we head off this problem? To date we've been selling our wiki to users mainly as a tool to help users receive and share information, which is fine insofar as it goes, but that's how every Web 2.0 tool markets itself. And we still have the 90-9-1 pattern.

What else can we do? I wonder if we should also be talking about the benefit to the individual for organizing his or her work day/life? Not that we haven't ever mentioned this to users, but I wonder if it deserves more emphasis?

I got thinking about this as I spoke to a high-placed sales manager yesterday about the wiki. She mentioned several times that she's so busy -- and her team is so busy -- that she wondered aloud how often she (or they) would be able to use it. She clearly wants to use the wiki, but wondered if she and her team could find the time to do so, given everything else they needed to do on a daily basis. Left to her own devices, she'd fall into the 90% or, if we're lucky, the 9%.

In my experience users will always find clever ways to circumvent (or, more scary, under-use) technology they see as a hindrance instead of a help. Often expedience (aka putting out the immediate fire) rules all. We have to break that cycle, to teach new habits of thinking, where the wiki becomes the new fire hose.

In reply, I told her that a benefit of the wiki is not merely finding and contributing information, but centralizing information. And I showed her a few ways she could do that. Old-fashioned time and project management. She laughed, and I knew I'd made a connection. (Whether I made a convert remains to be seen.)

I think all of us in the enterprise wiki business should be careful about positioning our wikis as merely communication and knowledge-sharing tools. In reality, they also offer powerful ways to help busy users (managers included) better manage their time and resources. Getting that message across to internal stakeholders could be the difference between falling into the 90-9-1 pothole and driving right around it.

What do you think? How are you trying to avoid the 90-9-1 pothole?

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Tomorrow's marketing today

Through a tweet (Twitter message) this morning from one person I follow, I came to a new report from the Economist, and sponsored by Google, about the changing role of the global marketing executive (CMO). Here's their summary of the report.

  • Balancing global brand awareness with local market relevance. Centralising global marketing functions such as advertising development and production can create economies of scale and save money, but they must be guided by the needs of the local market and customer insights. At the same time, budgets must be freed up so that regional directors can make appropriate decisions based on market demands.
  • Integrating marketing with other forms of corporate communications. Both the interactive nature of Web 2.0 technologies and the transparency of corporate messages among different constituencies—such as customers, investors, media, regulatory bodies and employees (past, present and future)—demand the integration of various forms of marketing and communications. Businesses can no longer segment audiences and messages as if audiences don’t talk to each other.
  • Adopting new media. In particular, there should be a specific budget for experimentation with the newest Web 2.0 technologies. To remain competitive, companies must engage customers and fully exploit the interactive nature of digital media to create a stronger affinity with their brands among consumers and other stakeholders. The CMO should have the foresight to anticipate how different constituencies will respond to different events, messages and channels, and should be able to deal with the proliferation of new-media tools and expanded audiences.
  • Developing new skills, capabilities—and partnerships. CMOs must not only position their companies, but help define them. To do so, they need to understand the fundamental business model, brand, culture, policies and values of the organisation. Equally important in terms of adapting to the evolution of new media are partnerships with vendors whose expertise can be used to get new initiatives to market faster—and more effectively—than a company would on its own.
  • Championing innovation. The need for greater accountability for marketing expenditure is pushing global companies towards digital marketing campaigns with higher returns than traditional media. The interactive nature of the latest digital-media vehicles provides the opportunity to develop deeper insights into customer dynamics and allows the CMO to become the corporate champion of customer insight.

I think all of this is spot on. In particular, as a new media junkie, I see tools like Twitter, LinkedIn and Facebook as a key component of any successful marketing efforts. Remember, the youthful users of new media today will be our 'seasoned' C-level executive customers tomorrow, and we'd better adapt our methods to their preferred way of consuming information. Better to be ahead of the curve than behind it.

The degree to which corporations adopt social media (internally, too, like our wiki) is a good shorthand method of showing how much they champion innovation, since social media and Web 2.0 tools in general drive innovation like nothing else -- if they're used and used well. In short, they let companies fish where the fish are, and they let all of us worker smarter (more strategically) rather than just harder. As Rupert Murdoch recently said in a lecture, the future is always bright for those who can leverage technology in business better than the other guys.

Monday, November 17, 2008

Phoning home?

A colleague (and relatively new hire) made a very interesting observation this morning. She gestured to the telephone on her desk and said, "We never use this much at this company. We use email, IM and the wiki instead."

Indeed we do. I use the phone on my desk for the odd conference call or training session, but I almost never pick up the phone to call someone for any other reason -- to just say hello, to ask a question, etc. When I want to talk to someone in the office, I walk over and say hello, or, yes, I send them an email or IM.

The comment made me think of something I heard on the BBC on the drive to work today: an interview with an author who claims that technology is killing the fine art of conversation.

Is the author correct? Or are we just having different sorts of conversations these days? What if the phone call does become a dinosaur in the workplace? (I have a preteen daughter, so I know -- to adapt a phrase from Mark Twain -- that reports of the death of the telephone in society as a whole are greatly exaggerated!)

Our corporate wiki will no doubt spur lots of new (and deeper?) discussions about a whole range of topics. Do those count as conversations in the traditional sense -- or do we need a new word for them?

Sunday, November 16, 2008

Wiki training

I lead my first wiki training session tomorrow morning, and the PPT slides are ready. Thankfully my maiden training voyage is with people I know, so nerves won't be much of an issue.

As I worked on the training, I realized just how important it is to our long-term success. In a previous life working on IT projects, it was the case (more often than not) that training was an afterthought -- and it showed! (Don't get me started on the anemic documentation I used to see, which thankfully is not an issue with the wiki.)

Training is so important. What's the use of giving someone a Mercedes if they park it in the garage and only use the CD player?

How do you do wiki training, or training for social media in general?

Wikis, social webs and our corporate culture

Wikis and external-facing social media tools are all about conversations, sharing ideas and information, and enriching ourselves and our customers. I think of our corporate wiki in different ways at different times: as a coffee shop where you bring your laptop and dive deeper into ideas and discussions; as a bar where you reflect on a long day at the office; or even as a tool belt holding tools to get jobs done. Really, it's all of those things and more.

The wiki is only part of a larger social media project going on within our company, and the wiki is a good place for everyone to join the streams of consciousness.

Meanwhile, I'm slowly adding over 200 wiki users -- one by one! -- so everyone in our group is on the wiki. It will make my life much easier -- I hope! The buzz is definitely growing, which is so nice.

As for our wiki rollout plan, we're working on one. But it's reminding me of what one designer once told me about website redesigns: they're never finished. I think if we can hit a solid double or triple with the rollout plan, then refine and evolve it, we'll be in good shape. That's more in fitting with our corporate culture anway -- launch and refine (in that order).

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Speak Softly and Carry a Big Stick

We've all heard Teddy Roosevelt's famous line about speaking softly while carrying a big stick. The point is that you can have considerable influence without being belligerent when people well know that you are powerful.

Interesting experience yesterday brought that quote to mind... it seems that in the social media age, bloggers carry big sticks. Even if they are new, rarely read ones like this one. I discovered this much to my surprise when I published a couple of posts about Jive Clearspace that were not complimentary about the product.

Well, all hell broke loose! And I thought no one was reading this blog! Jive is, I can assure you, and by the morning after the posts went up it was clear that I had Jive's attention.

Now I didn't think I was carrying a big stick. Maybe a pea shooter at best. I was just frustrated at the pace of progress on some issues with Clearspace and expressed that frustration. I certainly didn't expect to be contacted with an offer to speak to the CEO if I wished, but that's exactly what happened.

We have a good relationship with Jive, and they have been cooperative and responsive. They just haven't been able to fix all the issues we have raised, yet (I say "yet" hopefully, wishing all will be fixed in the end). And yesterday I spoke on the phone with top level guys at Jive who gave me better answers than I had previously received.

So what have I learned from all of this?
  1. Jive is one of the companies that "gets" social media and is scanning the blogosphere to see what people are saying about it.
  2. Jive not only scans, they act promptly to respond to and repair damage to their reputation before it spins out of control (see a long list of companies that failed to do this in the past, including Dell, AOL, Comcast).
  3. Even blogs with little traffic constitute a "big stick" when it comes to companies that pay attention to their social media reputation.
  4. Don't settle for unsatisfactory answers from a vendor until you have escalated the issues as high as possible. It turned out that although I thought I had pushed the issues as far as they could go, it was possible to push still harder and get better answers.
  5. Be careful what you post in a blog, as you may throw someone under the bus without realizing it. Apologies to my sales contact at Jive, who had the house fall on him after my posts circulated within Jive.
In the spirit of cultivating our ongoing relationship with Jive, I voluntarily withdrew the posts that caused such a ruckus. No one made me do that. The reason I wrote them simply went away. If down the road the issues still aren't resolved or if the answers I was given yesterday should turn out to be untrue, I may choose to post an addendum to this account, detailing what went wrong.

But before I get to that point, I'll call my contacts at Jive directly and push them as far as I can, speaking softly and giving them a chance to make things right. It's pretty cool to have a big stick :-)

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Out of the mouths of babes

He's three feet tall, with blond hair and blue eyes, and he knows what he wants. He's Timmy, my eighteen month-old son. And he has a lot to teach all of us, I think, about corporate wikis.

Every day, before and after work, Timmy wants to go for a walk. "Walk," he says when he sees me in the mornings or evenings. He doesn't care about how my day went, or how I'm hoping it will go. He just wants what he wants. Bottom line. Stop beating around the bush. Cut to the chase.

Corporate wikis are used by dozens, hundreds or even thousands of Timmies. These users know what they want to achieve using the wiki, and they could care less about what we have to do to deliver that experience to them. These aren't early adopters -- they're most of our users. They're like one of our sales managers, who told me, "I don't want this wiki to become a time sink for my guys." Translation: Wikiman, deliver real value to my team, or get out of the way.

As much as those of us championing wikis can get all hot and bothered about it and make fuzzy sounding claims about "community" and "communication" and "teamwork," what it comes down to for many of our users is this: I want to go for a walk.

Monday, November 10, 2008

Three usage drivers for corporate wikis

I couldn't resist posting one more nugget from the IBM paper I just referenced. The researchers point out three primary usage drivers for corporate wikis, at least in IBM's experience:

By summarizing interview transcripts and considering users’ value and benefit statements, three main themes of user motivations emerged. Beyond the desire to share with colleagues on a personal level, which we anticipated would be a primary value for most Beehive users, we identified two additional motivations: career advancement and the ability to convince others to support ideas and projects.

Employees use Beehive to present themselves professionally and to network with those they believe can assist them in their career goals within IBM. And those looking to promote a project or idea use the site’s features to advertise and gather support from other users for their plans.

I hope our own excursion into the world of corporate wikis can help shine the light on some promising ideas within our own wiki world. As the economy contracts, there's no time like the present to find those 'diamonds in the rough' (aka revenue-generating ideas) and bring them to the surface. The idea is that the wiki will become a creative space, a marketplace of ideas, where merit will win out in the end.

Why corporate wikis beat the pants off Facebook

IBM -- yes, IBM -- is doing some amazing research on corporate intranets (wikis included). In fact, they have their own corporate intranet, called Beehive. A couple of IBM researchers just presented a paper in which they showed how Beehive, well, beats the pants off Facebook in some really important ways.

The gist of their research is that an intranet leads to much more community building than a public social networking site like Facebook. Counterintuitive? Maybe. Here's what they wrote:

This analysis revealed that patterns of use and user motivations differ from users of other social software tools. First, within the protected, closed off environment of the intranet, employees choose to reach out on Beehive to new people rather than only connecting to those they know, which is different than behavior found on Facebook.

Employees also share details of their personal life on Beehive which has not been found with any significant frequency in other enterprise social software tools, such as intranet social bookmarking and blogging.

So users of corporate wikis are more likely to reach out to new people and share more about themselves than, say, Facebook users. We're already seeing that happen on our own corporate wiki, as users from around the world share ideas and themselves. It's a beautiful thing.

Sunday, November 9, 2008

Empire Instead of Federation

Read an interesting post today: Wiki Federation. It posits that organizations can effectively tie together separate wiki efforts from throughout the enterprise, and suggests this might be the best way to go.

I must respectfully disagree. We've only had our enterprise-wide wiki going for a few months and we have only deployed it to about 25% of staff, but it's already abundantly clear that it is and will pull people together in ways that have never happened for us before. Sorry, but there's no way a loose federation of wikis linked only by a search index is going to have these kind of effects.

The big difference is the social aspects of a true social media application, which our platform, Jive Clearspace has, versus the information emphasis that a federation of wikis would provide. Sure, you could search and find lots of things across the enterprise with a slick federation arrangement. But you're not going to have the tight integration that one platform offers. You're not going to have the familiarity that a single platform offers, as opposed to browsing the content found on some tool that you've never worked with. You simply will have all kinds of barriers that we don't with our single Enterprise 2.0 platform.

Of course, if you're not lucky enough to be able to deploy a single system across the enterprise, then a federation would be much better than entirely separate wikis in isolation. But if you can get everybody on the same system, I highly recommend it.

In praise of Wikinomics

If you haven't seen it yet, I'd highly recommend Wikinomics. You could easily spend several quality hours -- or days -- surfing through the massive amount of thought-provoking information there.

One excellent post on Wikinomics last week has the somewhat intimidating title HP Social Computing Lab: the Long Tail of Office Conversations. From the post:

It’s amazing how much great, free research is available on the web these days - if you can find it. One place a lot of people might not know about is the HP Social Computing Lab, which “focuses on methods for harvesting the collective intelligence of groups of people in order to realize greater value from the interaction between users and information.” It appears they have a team of about 14 researchers, led by Senior Fellow Bernardo A. Huberman, and they publish a couple of papers a month on the topic.

One of the papers I found most interesting lately was Revealing the Long Tail of Office Conversations, by Michael J. Brzozowski & Sarita Yardi. What the authors were interested in exploring tied was how social media tools (blogs, wikis, etc.) could breakdown geographic distances, work group boundaries, and organizational hierarchy in the organization. More importantly, they wanted to look at what motivated individuals to “invest their own time in creating content for public consumption.”

As the Wiki Community Manager for one of our company's divisions, I'm extremely interested in our ability to sift through, aggregate, interpret and otherwise learn from the wiki pages, conversations, etc. my peers post. It's a task HP calls "harvesting the collective intelligence of people," and maybe it's also what we've come to call the wisdom of the crowds. (Not "every data point from the crowds," or "every off-the-cuff comment of the crowds" -- but the wisdom of the crowds.) I'm in search of the ultra-concentrated intellectual efforts by our team -- from that expanding universe of "motivated individuals" -- that can give life to new product ideas, discover new ways to streamline existing processes and ultimately identify new ways to grow revenues and increase profits.

The HP paper also highlights the psychology of wikis: that is, what motivates individuals within the 'wiki web' to contribute to enriching it. That's key for us, since we have nearly 100 registered wiki users but not too many active contributors (yet). I'll have to make a cup of tea, then sit down and ponder this paper some more. Good stuff.

Friday, November 7, 2008

To Beta or Not to Beta?

We upgraded to Jive Clearspace 2.5 in August, when it was still in beta. We were in the midst of a proof of concept trial and wanted to evaluate all of the new features offered in 2.5, since there were many powerful and appealing enhancements.

Even though it was supposed to be a "very stable" beta version, we found some pretty annoying and disabling bugs. We reported them, we worked around them, and then we rejoiced when the production version was released in September. No more bugs!

Not so fast... we found more bugs, we reported them, and we worked around them. We rejoiced again when we upgraded to release 2.5.3. At long last, no more bugs!

Not so fast... we keep finding more bugs, we report them and we work around them. Granted, the bugs are fewer and much less critical, although they are still darned annoying.

So, the lesson I have learned is, no more beta releases. I don't regret going with beta in our particular situation. It was the right decision and the enhanced features cemented buy-in and acceptance from our testers and the many users who have followed. But the bugs have hurt adoption, too, as well as eaten up way too much of my time.

I can't wait until all the bugs have been exterminated and we have a 100% stable system. And once we do, it's going to be awfully hard to get me to give it up. We'll go from being early adopters to wait-and-see laggards. Let someone else squish all the bugs for us next time.

A Glimpse Into Our Future?

I wish I had more time to keep up and catch up with all the posts in this great blog, A Journey In Social Media. I enjoyed this post today: It's Always Been Here -- Hasn't It?

In about a year, their wiki has put down such roots and grown so many branches that there really has been a cultural shift. But it's been like anything else -- when you are in the middle of it, it's hard to see the changes until you step back and really reflect.

I think we're already seeing positive signs in our organization, too, but after only a couple of months we still have an awfully long way to go. But I'm optimistic, especially after learning of another's rapid progess.

Ramping Up Our Wiki and Setting Up the Infrastructure

I haven't had much time to post here lately. In fact, I have been getting buried, as long days seem to fly by and the "to do" list keeps getting longer.

But I'm not complaining. Interest in the wiki is taking off. We're ramping up, and we're hitting what looks like the steep part of the adoption curve. Our biggest challenge at the moment is not getting people to buy into the wiki concept -- it's managing the rapid buy-in that is spreading across the organization.

We have a dozen operating divisions, each operating largely autonomously. Our model for managing this social media initiative is similarly distributed. We're not seeking centralized control. As I like to put it, I have no desire to be the Wiki Czar.

Instead, we are requiring each division to set up a Local Wiki Steering Committee and designate a Local Wiki Community Manager. The Local Wiki Steering Committee is initially charged with developing the wiki implementation plan for their division. Who in their area will get access when, and what business reasons will these people have for using the wiki? We don't want to set up hundreds or thousands of user accounts that don't get used. Not only do we pay for those accounts and need to get our money's worth, but the community concept will falter if there are not compelling reasons for everyone to participate.

The Local Community Manager's role is critically important. The Community Manager is charged with nurturing the local community, nudging people to use the wiki, encouraging their nascent efforts, pointing out opportunities that the wiki can provide, and highlighting the benefits to both the business and individuals (I'd like to write a future post or posts about each of these). BTW, my fellow blog author here, Matt Donnelly, is one of our Local Community Managers.

The Community Manager also needs to handle some administrative tasks. We don't have an IT team employed to support the Clearspace tool. I'm it, and I'm not IT. So, getting all those Community Managers in place and trained to handle basic admin tasks is a top priority. All of the admin work currently on my plate is really draining me.

We came up with this structure of local wiki steering committees and community managers independently. Perhaps others have set up similar models, but I don't know about them (note: would love to hear about any and all models others are deploying). It started from a simple question when I was interviewed for this job, about what kind of governance we should have for the wiki. My thought at the time was to establish an Advisory Board, and we are, indeed, going to have an overall Wiki Advisory Board composed of representatives from each Local Wiki Steering Committee.

But the overall Advisory Board is now appearing to be almost an afterthought. It's the Local Wiki Steering Committees that I expect will be making the most important plans and decisions. It's the Local Wiki Community Managers who will be the critical success factors for us. And this seems perfectly fitting with the theme of empowerment that wikis embody. Not only are individuals empowered to act, develop and improve the community, but each division in our enterprise is empowered in the same way.

It's not all easy and idealistic, though. More about the hurdles and obstacles later.

Monday, November 3, 2008

Social media and the value of asking good questions

On the train this weekend, I listened to a fascinating podcast on brain plasticity and the impact of online media on reinforcing connections that reinforce literal, even ad hoc, thinking. The guest, Susan Greenfield, argued that the online world in effect discourages conceptual, analytical thinking in favor of amassing disconnected facts and sensory experiences.

Greenfield's point isn't that the online world doesn't give us more data points -- it clearly does -- but that it doesn't have effective mechanisms for helping users connect or contextualize those data points to develop theories and larger ideas. Maybe wikis undermine this argument. At least that's the hope.

Is this where wikis -- which are by nature two-way communication -- can encourage critical (analytical) thinking? Can they help us ask more and better questions, to drive new ideas, etc.? From a business perspective, this seems vital.

More on the ROI of social media

I was looking for something else when I came across this blog post and related discussion on the ROI of social media. I loved this comment:

I think on a philosophical level, it's easier to say what we should be doing, but there's a risk that we never join the dots between the philosophical end game (with some case studies), and the practical reality of most companies - this is the area where the biggest challenge occurs.

There's a big responsibility for social media specialists to be able to plan the ideal strategy from the social perspective, the old school perspective, and the transitional perspective, and to somehow juggle the three in a way which educates and transforms business and marketing for the better. The good thing is that the very tools and philosophy we all espouse, which is collaboration etc, is actually a huge asset in doing this!

Maybe this contributor is on to something. We can't lose sight of any of these perspectives (audiences?) as we move forward in deploying social media.

What do you think? Is most social media guilty of having blind spots in the boardroom?