Social Business Movements

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Image: Courtesy of Geek And Poke

There’s a lot of hot air out there about Enterprise Social Software or E2.0: It will change the way we work, connect, engage and live. Just buy some cool technology, get everybody plugged in and Voilà: your Enterprise 2.0 is ready to change the world.

Not so fast, my friend. Aren’t we forgetting something?

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Loic Le Meur called this screen ‘IM Overload’, many people have declared Email Bankruptcy and I’m constantly plagued with Twitter overload. Let’s not forget, we’re talking about fairly advanced users here. On other desktops I’ve seen Outlook’s with more than 20,000 unread messages, no folder, no filters, no hope. Hate to break the news to you: these are the majority of participants in the new world of Enterprise 2.0. And you better have a game plan ready for them.

In order for Enterprise 2.0 to work, you need to tackle the organization from various different angles:

1.) Assess the current communication structure within the organization starting with Interns going up to the C-Level suite.

Find the lowest common denominator and build upon it. Sure, it might be great to start implementing Social CRM from the get-go but I’ve seen too many extranets and enterprise communication platforms collecting dust in the corner that I rather focus on small steps than approaching this issue with too large of a technology jump.

2.) Utilize the native and second nature usage of technology by Millenials to communicate to the organization how future generations will interact with technology.

This living example can be one of the catalysts for change, give gatekeepers and energy-draining naysayers one less reason to stand in the way of organizational transformation.

3.) Org charts might be good as a snapshot of the organization but the real story is in the corporate culture.

I’ve worked in offices that prided themselves on change as a core value but once you changed the coffee brand, the whole office was in uproar. I had no idea changing the soap in a bathroom could lead to numerous comments on the Extranet. Maybe the only time people really used the Extranet. To truly change a business, you need to change the culture. And that might just be the toughest job of them all.

4.) Get everybody involved.

At least, let everybody know what you’re doing. It might just be the Customer Service department that wants to transform its business based on social principles. But nothing will change unless the legal department gives its blessing, the marketing department understands the benefits, the executive team hears about the ROI – well, you get the picture. Building goodwill amongst all constituents is key to a successful Enterprise 2.0 implementation. And a real transformation of the business.

5.) Make your ROI case.

Nothing gets executive management more excited and alert than a nice, fat ROI case study. Successful pilot projects and small wins will generate momentum within the organization and lead to bigger projects and even more momentum. Having a few successful projects under your belt will also serve as an insurance against roadblocks and failures down the road.

6.) Identify the change agents within the organization.

They might not be the gatekeepers or upper management but these change agents are your most valuable asset. The Wall didn’t come down because the Uber-Leader made a historic decision. The Wall came down because people couldn’t be stopped anymore. Major changes tend to happen through movements, not decrees.

7.) Evangelize executives and support their goals.

Unless the organization you’re dealing with is on its last leg, this business has been successful for years, maybe even decades. While there’s growing evidence of the value and benefits of Enterprise 2.0, businesses are understandably skeptical of the real costs and the real value of this new construct. Aligning the Social Business goals with the stated goals and value of the organization as well as explaining to business people in business terms the benefits and risks of this change will turn a possible storm into a pleasant breeze.

8.) Let them play.

We all know how hard it can be to adopt new technologies. It took me quite a while until I saw the value of Twitter. Asking a Boomer CEO to tweet will go nowhere because you’re asking an over-worked executive to add a few more tasks to his list. Asking the company to play with technologies will change perceptions dramatically. Create a Wiki with a group and let them play with it. And ask the advanced users to talk about their experience with various tools and how it enhanced their lives and made them more productive.

9.) Create a movement.

All of us imagine a better world, a world we can believe in. An inspiring workplace. A mentally challenging workplace. A workplace that gives everybody the feeling to contribute to a greater cause. These dreams and imaginations inspire passion in people. And spark new possibilities. All the small projects that were initiated, all the meetings with stakeholders, all the usage of new technology will give people the courage to initiate larger things. Bigger things. Life-changing things.

It will not happen overnight. But it might happen quicker than you think.

The age of Corporate Enlightenment

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The Age of Enlightenment is often seen as a historical anomaly, a brief moment in time when numerous intellectuals believed in a society based on common sense and tolerance. The Enlightenment was not really a holistic philosophy, it was more a set of values shared by thinkers all around the world: At the core, Enlightenment was about freedom, democracy and reason.  The Enlightenment brought a rise of the public sphere in Europe. This includes academies, the book industry, journals, coffeehouses, debating societies , salons and freemasonic lodges. See any parallels to our current information revolution and new forms of public spheres we’re experiencing each and every day?

While the human experience has been radically changed by the Enlightenment , businesses overall have been stuck in the Middle Ages. Or, at least, in a system where Wall Street resembles Versailles and figures like Merrill Lynch’s CEO John Thain (redecorating his office for over $1 million during the height of the Great Recession) make Marie Antoinette look like a street worker. It’s very apparent that big businesses have reverted to principles of oligarchy, aristocracy, the divine right of kings and theocracy. Yes, I said it: theocracy. In the corporate world the deity is interchangeable – Shareholder Value one day, data the other. Nothing against a good belief system but it has no place in the boardroom. And these varying belief systems are mostly to blame for the current Great Recession: CEO’s that sacrificed the long-term future of a company for short-term benefits and quick bonuses. Outrageous executive compensation packages combined with a middle class squeeze. Mindless belief in data and algorithm that almost brought Wall Street down and ended life as we know it.

The advent of social technologies has unleashed a consumer force never seen and experienced before. People expect things to happen immediately, any delays or excuses are not acceptable anymore. We used to believe yesterday’s news were boring, now we find today’s news boring and expect real-time experiences. This applies not only to news outlets; this applies to all businesses. If you’re not real-time very quickly, you’ll vanish. Focusing on real-time makes strategists and product developer cringe: What will happen to all these neat and thick road maps, the inspiring goals and objectives? What will happen to day-long workshops hashing out the strategy of the future? They’ll disappear. And will be replaced with discussions and collaborations how to deal with the ‘here and now’.

That’s where the concept of a business based on social marketing principles comes in.

At their core, real-time businesses have to be social. Only if you burn down the silos, open the communication flow to all participants in the value chain (not only consumers – vendors, suppliers, employees, etc.) will you be successful in the evolving real-time world. Good companies will use consumer feedback to improve their products and services. (And some are already living this model.) Great companies will anticipate consumer needs before they are even aware of their own desire. The goal will be to be redesign your car while you’re driving it. (Talking about Big, Hairy, Audacious Goals!)

It requires more from businesses than just writing a check to consultants and agencies. It requires for them to become enlightened. To understand that the clowns on CNBC are screaming louder and louder because they are beginning to grasp that things will never be as good as they were for them.

And so much better for the rest of us.

Businesses and institutions were developed to reign in chaos, silo people and make the world manageable to them. In the future, life will be more chaotic and each of us has to find ways to manage this new-found freedom. The last enlightenment lasted around 100 years. One reason why it ended was the top-down construct of  this philosophy, lead by a few. The new age of corporate enlightenment has chances to last much longer because it will be designed from the bottom-up.  And change life, work, organizations – basically everything – for the better.

From Social Media to Social Business

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Two ongoing events have forever changed how I look at the world.

The first event happened 4 years ago when I became a father. No, I’m not talking about the immense love I felt and how it continues to grow. Or my role as a parent, husband, father, etc. That’s for a different blog post. Or novel. This little girl changed so much in me because I see her growing up with technology. While I had 3 TV channels for entertainment until I was 18, she doesn’t know the difference between TV, DVD, Video, YouTube. She just knows screens. Small screens. Large screens. Screens you can hold in your hand. Screens you can touch and do funny stuff with. Every time I spend time with her, I feel like a futuristic anthropologist: I discover how a new species of people learns to utilize technology and how it will change everything we’re doing in this world.

The other ongoing event happened on September 15, 2008- the day Lehman filed for bankruptcy. That’s the day when the consumer economy started to die. Nope, it’s not dead yet but the heartbeats are getting slower and the breathing becomes shallower. And one day we will look at the corpse of the consumption economy, kick it one last time and walk away.

Being involved in the Social Media world for the last few years has been an amazing experience. But also one that has been quite frustrating and unfulfilling. Because Social Media is often just a band-aid. These times ask for life-saving measures: Businesses are in trouble. People are in trouble. The whole world is in trouble. Social Media helped to get Obama elected. But no Social Media initiative will change how the government works, how the Senate interacts with the House. You can create billions of Facebook pages about your brand but it will not change how alienated people feel interacting with the same, offshored brand ambassador,  reading from a script. And Twitter might help sell Dell $3 million but it doesn’t help solving the e-Waste problem all of us (and Dell) are creating each and every day.

We don’t experience a cyclical recession We’re experiencing a systemic recession. If this was just a cyclical recession, we could hire an advertising/PR/DM/Social Marketing agency and they would put together an amazing campaign, we would soon forget and just continue to consume. A normal recession is like a forest fire: it gets rid of the old plants and trees and makes way for new growth. This time it’s different. This recession has destroyed the foundation of our capitalistic society, rattled our belief in free capitalism and changed our behavior forever. This was (and still is) like a devastating tsunami that destroys everything in its path, leaving an empty field behind. It’s terrible and it hurts many people. And it’s the greatest opportunity of our lifetime.

Changing the mindset of businesses (and the government is the biggest of them all) from a supply chain mentality to a value chain mentality will be the legacy of our lifetime. Value has to be created, formed and shaped by people and businesses. And this value has to be created through transparency and conversations between business, suppliers, customers and everyone else involved in the value chain. Basically, applying Social Media principles to business practices. And transforming the business from the inside out. Not just applying the Social Media band-aid. This is how governments will become more transparent. And change for the better. This is how we’re going to build valuable products that enhance our life, our world, our environment. This is how our education system will become more effective, allow for more individual attention. And this is how we’re going to change the world.

And, there are many others out there that work on these solutions. Like Peter Kim, Doc Searls and his Project VRM,  David Armano, Umair Haque, Lawrence Lessig, Kate Niederhoffer, just to name a few. We need many, many more. And not only marketers. We need anthropologists, medical professionals, sociologists, therapists, artists – you name it. The last thing we want is Wall Street or Madison Avenue being the only ones involved. I would call that the biggest waste of our lifetime.

When I grew up, I wanted to change the world. Make a real difference. And when I observe my little kid,  finding her way through this wondrous thing we call life, I’m reminded and energized by my innocent wish to make this world a better place. Thriving businesses in the future will give people chances to be creators not just consumers. They will give them real control and not just a comment box on a corporate blog. And they will make our lives better. One social business at a time.

Mass Media Planning vs Community Planning

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Many bright people are discussing the idea of Transmedia Planning, an ever-evolving, non-linear brand narrative. Think ‘Lost’: For some (including me) it’s just an entertaining TV show, for others it’s a puzzle they want to solve, just to discover there are more puzzles to be found. And, for the ‘Lost’ fanatics fans it’s an obsession, constantly fed by new theories, facts and factoids fed to them through official and unofficial channels.

Currently, most media is planned around a single idea: Get me this amazing idea and I’ll execute it as a commercial, banner, sticker, print ad – you name it. My first Creative Director always asked the lowly copywriter (me) when he presented his ideas for a commercial: “Does this work as a radio spot? Print ad? Key chain?” (Most of the time it didn’t and I crawled back to my office for another all-nighter.) Our work had to deliver for any educational, age and IQ level. Just like the pyramids. Ask a 5-year old to draw the pyramids and the result won’t be that much different from your own drawings (Be honest!) Sure, there might be more texture, details and finesse. But one glance and everybody gets it. And just a few words come to mind when thinking about pyramids: Slaves, Construction, Sphinx, Pharaohs.

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Do you know who this is? No?

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Getting closer?

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Easier? The overall scene composition might give it away.

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These 4 images illustrate that everybody has a different concept of Jesus: Ask 100 people how they would describe Jesus in 5 words and you’ll get an interesting tag cloud. Some overall concepts and ideas (‘Compassion’ anyone?) will be repeated over and over again but each and every person developed their own, personal concept of Jesus. And you will quickly realize that people can handle more than a single core idea. Jesus is more to people than the symbol for ‘Compassion’. For some people he might stand for love. For courage. He might symbolize an oppressive childhood. Indoctrination. World Peace. The Truth. The holy spirit. You take from his story whatever you like. Whatever fits your belief system and values. You create your own Jesus story. Either based on the bible, on historic documents, on interpretations of your priest, on movies. All these channels feed you different story lines. They can never tell the whole story because you tell the story yourself. Since we’re social animals, we are looking for communities that share our values. Without these communities, the idea of Jesus could have never been that successful and all-pervasive. Interacting with people, discussing their understanding of the Bible, experiencing the complexity of the Jesus concept is just so much more powerful than reading the Bible in your living-room. No comparison.

‘Lost’ became a phenomenon because communities adopted the concept. These groups will develop naturally when you offer rich story lines. Well, not always.

People are ready to process much greater complexity, spread info through various platforms and become hypersocial. They are hungry for it. Problem: The kitchen is still cold, remodeling plans being discussed. It’s hard to shift from a one-item menu to a complex 20-course tasting menu. We need to find the right chefs, sommeliers, Maitre D’s and service personnel. And, to make things more complex, we might intend to serve up a 20-course tasting meal but everybody will have a different experience: Some will just have appetizers, some only deserts, some will take your best ingredients and cook something completely new out of it, some will only drink the wine, etc. We basically hope to cook for people that are cooking at the same time. (Mhm, that might be an interesting concept for a restaurant.) It’s complex and messy. But, it’s magic when it all comes together.

Two kinds of brands

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Many brands are contemplating jumping on the Social Marketing bandwagon. Many should. Some shouldn’t. But, how do you determine if you should or shouldn’t?

It’s fairly easy.

Some brands believe they are successful because they keep their cards close to the vest. They don’t let you in, they don’t make their intentions known. Apple comes to mind. Bill Parcells. W.

These are the brands that should stay away from Social Marketing.

Social Marketing is only for brands that believe they are successful because they have good ideas and desire to communicate these great ideas to people. By listening intently to understand what people really say, what people really think, what people really desire. Brands that are available. Intuit comes to mind. Trent Reznor. Barack Obama.

No matter what you think of politics, Reagan and Obama fit in the same category: Brilliant communicators that give you the feeling they would talk turkey if they only could. Catch them in a bar, buy them a drink and they would tell you what’s really happening in the White House. I never got this feeling from W or Clinton. One was too secretive, the other full of b.s.

Do you think you could ever have a real discussion with Bill Parcells? Or Steve Jobs? I highly doubt it because they operate under the genius principle. And that’s what made them successful. But they would fail in Social Marketing. It’s just not in their DNA.

Only brands that operate under the Communication Principle are a good fit for Social Marketing. Because it’s in their DNA.

Can Marketers Buy Social Buzz?

Tomorrow, March 23, 2009, I’ll be speaking on a panel at OMMA Global: Hollwyood, discussing “the merit over paying to post. To be sure, many companies have done it wrong and gotten burned, resulting in consumer backlash and tarnished brands. However, others claim there’s a right way to commercially engage bloggers and build brands. Payoffs might include online buzz, traffic, product feedback, search-engine optimization, content syndication and much more. What’s the right way to buy buzz. Is there a right way? What is paid buzz, anyway?”

Panelists are Ted Murphy (IZEA/Pay Per Post) @tedmurphy, Brennan Beyer, VP Sales Social Vibe and the panel is moderated by Bill Stephenson, Vice President, Advertiser Solutions, Nielsen Online. Come by at 12.15pm. It should be a lively discussion.

We want less facts, more stories

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Image courtesy Aint Life Grand

The most important person in an upscale restaurant is not the chef or the waiter – it is the sommelier. Sure, the quality of food is important and an excellent service equally. But, frankly, that’s the price of entry. The real difference maker is the sommelier: A great sommelier will transform your great meal into a memorable experience. How?

As a sommelier, you have two choices: You can overwhelm me with facts about geography, grapes and climate. And bore me to death. Or, you can tell me a story about the wine. Something infotaining, details about the wine or winemaker, insider information. My local wine store does a great job coming up with little stories, facts and fiction that warm my heart and make me want to taste that wine immediately.

Brands need people more than people need brands. And, people don’t need facts from brands. They have Google. Your brand objective should be to tell a story. A story that’s memorable. That can be shared. And spread. Brands without stories mean nothing and without any engaging stories people have nothing to talk about.