social business

Social’s second chance

For context, I believe the first chance was brand/marketing. That potential has pretty much been converted into a banal, mostly campaign oriented, traditional media (with better targeting thanks to various contexts) approach, though thankfully, we have do some rebel strongholds. I can clearly see this within the Big Shift construct – the third wave is about how organisations/institutions respond to knowledge and the flow of information, and what I see now is the typical marketing organisation conveniently converting social into a media framework that it seemingly understands and has worked with for a long while. The big boys – Facebook, Twitter, YouTube – have all created advertising products that cater to this thinking. Viva la broadcast!

But I’d like to think that all is not lost. Social changed to social media when it approached brand in the same way its media predecessors did. I see this as a phase which will last until social media saturates itself and becomes just another standard media platform. That leads me to think – if each domain (HR, Product) treats social in the same piecemeal way, it is bound to fail across them all.  When this does happen, at least some organisations will realise that a larger structural change is afoot and the institutional response needs to be more strategic. “The Next Social Imperative” made me realise that social has been attempting to work on top of business processes, but it needs to work the other way to even begin this journey. (also, strongly reminded of Tac Anderson’s post in this context back in 2010!) The driver will be market dynamics but the good news for organisations is that many in the existing workforce have the potential to become navigators of this change.

How does the workforce systemically play a part? Stowe Boyd’s insightful “The Future of Work : 4 trends for 2014” has at least two trends (consumerisation of work and me-isation of productivity and performance) that clearly point to this shift and its harbingers. Consumer technologies (and more so, the philosophy behind them) and a different kind of workflow can actually make an organisation more consumer centric than the silo approach currently followed. Steven Sinofsky’s long but superb post on the theory and manifestation of this paradigm shift is a must read on this subject. A very interesting manifestation of this shift I saw recently is Zappos’ move towards holacracy – a comprehensive ‘operating system’ for organisational governance that focuses on purpose and accountability without a top-down, hierarchical management structure.

This could be the first step towards ‘social business’, and I’m thinking of social business as a platform. (a fantastic read on platforms) The organisation and its purpose would actually work as a platform to channelise and augment the connection between employees and consumers. This purpose would also convert a job into work than an employee is connected to, and on the other side, it would help the consumer get closer to a brand he believes in. This is also when epics happen. Social (and other) technologies would play enablers for a more fundamental change in the structure and nature of work, and allow organisations to harness data, connections and transactions towards a shared purpose. More a transition than a disruption. Different organisations, I think, would evolve differently – some would not evolve at all. This is more hope than anything else, but I do believe that social technology has it in itself to be transformational, and not just transactional.

until next time, back to a socialist, communist workforce 😉


The evolution of work and the workplace

I spent Rajinikanth’s birthday  at Jaipur, all thanks to one of my favourite bloggers – Kavi, who, in his official avatar, invited me to his organisation’s annual HR conference. The theme of the conference was Evolve Connect Enhance, and I can honestly say that many of my perspectives were enhanced during discussions about the real  implications and challenges for organisations, brought about by radical changes in the business environment.

For now, I’ll let the talk do the talking!  (transcript below the ppt) Do comment with your thoughts!


Final Talk Points by manuscrypts


until next time, work it out

A change of course

There was an intriguing article on HBR last month, titled “Can Companies Both Do Well and Do Good?” It was based on a research that looked at the correlation  between the financial performance of firms and their social & environmental performance. At the corners of a grid made of both kinds of performances on X and Y axes respectively, are Idealists (great on socio-environmental, but low on financial performance) Trendsetters, Exploiters and Laggards, in the clockwise direction. As should be expected, there are companies all over the chart, and the correlation is near zero! There were outliers, of course, but not really a pattern.

It made me think whether it was possible for the corporations we see around to do good and well. I am not talking of CSR or ad hoc sustainability projects that would temporarily bring them to a Trendsetter level, but a radical shift that would stand the test of time. We are seeing a paradigm change in the way business is done, but this era is only the beginning of that transformation. In general, the entities we see around are hard wired to maximise profit and not really to spare a thought on the social/environmental or I daresay human fallout of their activities. These are large corporations with individual personnel, processes, shareholders who are used to a certain perspective. These are systems with a single point agenda. Is it really possible to shift them without a huge investment of all kinds of resources – time, energy, money – with no guarantee that this would really benefit the firm in the long run?

So does this mean that in the medium-long term, these corporations are destined to fail as our understanding of achieving a balance between profit and being ‘good’ matures, and only those which have started/start now with a DNA that is meant to achieve this balance will do well? Or is it that as the individual and societal mindset gradually change, and as social business evolves, corporations will also be able to use that time to slowly transform themselves? I do wonder. What do you think?

until next time, become the change you want to see

Social : Means or Outcome?

In the last few weeks, I have had several interesting conversations on the subject of social’s utility to brand building. I realised that I often veered towards building the product/service ground up with social inherent in it. I was trying to understand why and that took me back to the ‘aligning business to social’ vs ‘aligning social to business’ perspectives. (earlier post and source)

Though fundamentally the same concept, its application brought about the title of the post. With a pragmatic approach, I realise it is impossible for existing organisations to suddenly transform one day and change/align their business to a socially relevant purpose. It requires evolution. So once they identify the need for this evolution, their challenge is two fold – to build social into existing products/services and simultaneously look at identifying need gaps (of the users) in their domain which have the potential for social resonance. (either by giving the individual user such an excellent experience that he shares it in his circle willingly, or by delivering a utility by using his social connections on other platforms) The first is using social as just another means to meeting an existing objective, and the second is building something that by its inherent nature will have a social outcome that also delivers business results.

They differ not only in approach and design, but also in terms of gestation, returns and time frames. Depending on the organisation’s evolution appetite, they will have to choose how much they would like to focus on each.

until next time, social output is where buttons come in 😉

Evolution of Enterprise 2.0

In the last post  – on defining social collaboration – I had also applied it in the context of social business. It was a brief mention and I did describe it as a utopian thought at this stage. However it reminded me of a debate late last year on Social Business and Enterprise 2.0, because ‘collaborative tools’ found mention then. The reasons for the debate notwithstanding, it was still interesting.

It began with a post from Andrew McAfee, written in favor of Enterprise 2.0 and in which he pretty much called ‘social business’ geriatric. :) Stowe Boyd shot back with this post, giving his definition of social business and insisting that the nomenclature was important.In keeping with my generally agreeable nature, I subscribe to parts of both thoughts. Social business as an idea is indeed old, but its adoption has been patchy at best. The ‘social’ tools of this era can enable greater, better and more consistent adoption, as there is indeed much potential for synthesis when people, processes and technology meet. Because of this, the manifestation of ‘social business’ would be new.

But in my mind, there is quite a dichotomy between Social Business and Enterprise 2.0 anyway, primarily because of intent, and therefore the way they’re pitched as ideas. To use them interchangeably would be doing injustice to both. Enterprise 2.0 focuses on using social technologies to address the objectives of the organisation. But Social Business has a larger role and (for the purpose of a direct comparison) would involve setting organisational objectives with a social-societal perspective and a purpose that people can identify with. In Hugh MacLeod’s words, “the need to belong  to something that matters”.

Is one better than the other? I don’t think so and it is perhaps not an apt comparison. Enterprise 2.0 is perhaps a better fit (relatively) to the current organisational frameworks, while Social Business is much more radical. But it is quite possible that over a period of time, an organisation that adopts Enterprise 2.0 will transform into a Social Business. As for social collaboration, it is a process that can fit well into both.

until next time, a social enterprise :)

Social Collaboration eg.

My friend via Twitter, Prem, (twice over, because both his handles are friends :D) got me thinking on ‘Social Collaboration’ ever since he wrote this post, attempting to define the term as used by its vendors. Despite a good discussion in the comments, a definition proved elusive. Though I began to agree with Prem’s assessment that ‘social’ was redundant, Gautam’s post on it did offer an interesting line of thought –  that ‘social collaboration’ was emergent. He illustrates it with an example too. This was vaguely similar to one one of the ways in which I had tried to define the phrase, before I gave up. Here are the attempts.

The first was by tying it to the idea of a ‘social business’ (not the wiki one, but the Dachis group version), where 2 or more businesses collaborate on an objective that may be larger/ unrelated to their individual objectives. Obviously, this is more utopian than any vendor’s idea, so I dropped it.

Which led me to the second attempt, where I thought  the tools of the (enterprise) social web would enable social interaction in various contexts and collaboration would be one of the products. (Probably like what Krish Ashok is building at TCS?) This would be around the premise that Gautam presented – even identifying the need would be the result of the social interactions and collaboration would follow.

While on this, I was reminded of Google Wave, where each participant could ‘drag’ people into a conversation. There were several instances when I, as an initiator of the conversation, did not have any control over the quantity or quality of the participants or even the morphing of the intent. I was also reminded of the last paragraph of this post I wrote in 2008, when Yammer came into the limelight – “..a bridge between Yammer and Twitter. One service that allows absolute transparent conversations within the organisations, and another that allows brands and organisations to be transparent with its end users.”A one way channel did open later. If any collaborator could ‘drag’ in another collaborator from a social web outside of the enterprise’ social web eg. a customer from Twitter, could that be social collaboration? On a related note, I also remember another post of mine when I came across Memolane and wrote about brand-streams connecting consumers and the enterprise. A couple of days back Memolane released an embeddable version which it hopes will be adopted by organisations.

Alternately/further, could it be like what happened right now – where neither Prem nor Gautam invited me to collaborate, but I did nevertheless, inserting myself into it thanks to having access to their thoughts, having a take (hopefully) on a thought Prem started and being able to connect it back to them. (forget Twitter, their blogs will have trackbacks) Even if they do ignore me and refuse to collaborate, my take would still exist, available to all who might be interested? That’s probably not what the sellers intended of ‘social collaboration’, but could that be what it evolves into?

I don’t know, and that’s why for now, I have parked this aside. :)

until next time, continue collaborating..

PS: Bonus Read – How Cisco integrates social media into the organisation

PPS: Back in a fortnight :)

Monkeys, Rules and Insurgents

There was this forward that did the rounds about 8 years back, about how businesses are run. It involved 8 monkeys, bananas and a ladder. I’m going to repeat it here for the benefit of those not familiar with it. Those who know it already, skip and read the rest please.

Put eight monkeys in a room. In the middle of the room is a ladder, leading to a bunch of bananas hanging from a hook on the ceiling. Each time a monkey tries to climb the ladder, all the monkeys are sprayed with ice water, which makes them miserable. Sooner enough, whenever a monkey attempts to climb the ladder, all of the other monkeys, not wanting to be sprayed, set upon him and beat him up. Soon, none of the eight monkeys ever attempts to climb the ladder.

One of the original monkeys is then removed, and a new monkey is put in the room. Seeing the bananas and the ladder, he wonders why none of the other monkeys are doing the obvious, but, undaunted, he immediately begins to climb the ladder. All the other monkeys fall upon him and beat him silly. He has no idea why. However, he no longer attempts to climb the ladder.

A second original monkey is removed and replaced. The newcomer again attempts to climb the ladder, but all the other monkeys hammer the crap out of him. This includes the previous new monkey, who, grateful that he’s not on the receiving end this time, participates in the beating because all the other monkeys are doing it. However, he has no idea why he’s attacking the new monkey.

One by one, all the original monkeys are replaced. Eight new monkeys are now in the room. None of them have ever been sprayed by ice water. None of them attempt to climb the ladder. All of them will enthusiastically beat up any new monkey who tries, without having any idea why. And that’s how any company’s policies get established.

What reminded me of this? Tom Fishburne’s recent post on ‘low interest’ categories, in which he talks about how “marketers often limit ourselves by the conventional rules of a particular category”. The induction and experiences thereafter changes us from, to use Seth Godin’s words, insurgents to incumbents.

In these times of “hit the ground running”, is it too much to ask of companies to allow new hires to just give their perspectives on the brand and organisational processes in the first month? I too believe that for the brand team, these perspectives are a great representation of the end consumer. With all the money spent on data mining and consumer research, this ‘free’ sample is given a pass, perhaps because, just like the industries itself, even businesses internally fear disruption.

Over a period of time, the brand’s custodians tend to lose their objectivity and processes unfortunately have a way of becoming the ends rather than the means. And that’s where ‘culture’ can make a difference. Know any companies who foster this?

until next time, this is the way things are undone :)

Designs on Data

In the last post, I’d written about the massive amounts of data that is already being generated and will grow, whether or not organisations track/capture/use it. The question then becomes one of ‘ownership’, within the organisation’s structure.

The consumer, irrespective of his touch point, will expect a consistent and probably even a customised experience,  basis preferences communicated earlier, and transactions which can only happen if the functions talk to each other. And it is in that context that I found this (slightly dated) post by Dave Gray very interesting.

He cites a talk by John Hagel, in which it was mentioned that “the average life expectancy of a company in the S&P 500 has dropped precipitously, from 75 years (in 1937) to 15 years in a more recent study.” In this context, he then goes on to dissect the design of companies – from a machine like structure with focus on control, maintenance and leading to eventual wearing out… to a design based on organisms or complex structures built by humans, like cities where there exist flexible ecosystems, a shared identity and an early seizing of opportunities to grow.

Within the same analogy, he also then shows how a ‘machine’ design also brings in a “design by division”, resulting ultimately in function based silos. The alternative is “design by connection” which goes on to the Social Business Design concept and includes crucial elements like culture, starting small and scaling and so on.

There is another interesting angle to this – the way much of this data (I have only social platforms to rely on now) seems to be flowing, it does not necessarily have to be the organisation that uses it best. It could be any of the middlemen – from retailers armed with sensors to a platform like Facebook/Foursquare/Twitter/Groupon (the last entity is talking to cash register manufacturers to have their button pre-installed at retail cash registers!) to super users. So perhaps it is time for brands to take a more structured view of data and its custodians. I have a feeling that it will have to be a hybrid model of design by division and connection.


until next time, data open

Social + Scale = #fail ?

Remember the post on Social Media Explorer titled ‘Is Content Marketing the new Advertising?’ I had linked to earlier, while on the subject of content, media and distribution?

To me, content marketing will indeed be a key player in a brand’s strategy – communication and otherwise, because with the explosion of content across various internet and even other delivery platforms, and the increasing number of stimuli that the typical consumer is subject to, sheer volume might be needed, in addition to context, and relevance.

So, the thought then moved on to the creation of content. There are constraints to what UGC can achieve, and all brands may not have that luxury. So, what would be a good way to generate this in-house?  That’s when I looked at it from the perspective of last week’s post – on the evolution of ‘social’ as a concept and the software it entails, and the subject of how social media will scale?

And not surprisingly, I arrived at culture. And a rewiring that will include changing roles in the various functions of the organisation. The two that come prominently to mind? HR, to not just use the tools at their disposal and hire people who have innate passion for the organisation’s domain, but also in being the torchbearer of the organisation’s new culture. Marketing, to harness this in-house talent, surface their creations – product or content or service processes, and see how it can be scaled and communicated. This would not only connect people with a common interest  internally but also empower them, make them feel responsible and enable them to communicate this to an external crowd using their own networks.

These are only a couple of thoughts in a couple of functions, but even getting the rest of the organisation aligned around these might be a good start. More importantly, when this happens, the organisation might be then better equipped to engage with the crowd, culturally and operationally. ‘Social’ could then aim to scale.

until next time, multiply and rule :)

For those interested in the subject

Gautham’s post on social and scale

Social Induction, my post last week on social software and the larger purpose.

My last few posts on social and scale – 1, 2, 3, 4, 5

Social Induction

‘Disparate’ perhaps wouldn’t describe it best, but definitely 3 different posts in terms of scope and point of focus, but which I thought were in their own way, circling one of this blog’s favourite topics – how organisations can fundamentally become more social – not just from a usage of tools across its ‘silos’ but more from an ‘adding meaning to the individual and society’ perspective.

Stowe Boyd’s post titled ‘Are you ready for social software‘ not only gave me perspectives on the subject of the post, and title – social software, but also gave me a way to connect these three posts. He starts of with challenging the belief that Sherlock Holmes used deduction to solve the mysteries.

It turns out he (or better, Arthur Conan Doyle) was using induction, which is, according to Webster’s, “the act or process of reasoning from a part to a whole, from particulars to generals, or from the individual to the universal.” In working from a paltry collection of clues to a full understanding of the actions and motives of the butler and his victim, Holmes/Doyle was, basically, developing a picture of the universe surrounding the crime from a few hints.

He goes on to distinguish social software from software built for several purposes taken to mean ‘social’.

Social software is based on supporting the desire of individuals to affiliate, their desire to be pulled into groups to achieve their personal goals. Contrast that with the groupware approach to things where people are placed into groups defined organizationally or functionally…..Traditional groupware puts the group, the organization or the project first, and individuals second….. Social software reflects the “juice” that arises from people’s personal interactions. It’s not about control, it’s about co-evolution: people in personal contact, interacting towards their own ends, influencing each other.

Its a fascinating read and he quotes Kenneth Boulding, the economist, humanist and social scientist,“We make our tools, and then they shape us.” I thought that was an amazing way to look at it, and if you think for a moment on how tools have changed the way you behave, interact, consume, I’m sure you’ll appreciate it too.

Amazingly, even without getting into software or technology, I saw an application of this thought process in Tom Fishburne’s Wiki Wall, a symbol of organisational creativity that could prove more useful than the traditional ‘brainstorm’. The wiki wall (a real whiteboard/surface)  allows ideas to be shared, collaborated on, and evolve over a period of time beyond the silos that the organisation might have. Shared belief systems and thoughts around which people could group together.

Which then brings us to the ‘larger purpose’ that an organisation exists for. This purpose is something that has popped up here many times in the recent past, the last being ‘A Social Culture‘. I found it expressed extremely well in Umair Haque’s post on the way ‘social’ needs to evolve.

Social is significance. The real promise of social tools is societal, not just relational; is significance, not just attention. You’ve got to get the first right before you tackle the second — and that means not just investing in “gamification,” a Twitter account, or a Facebook group. It means thinking more carefully how to utilize those tools to get a tiny bit (or a heckuva lot) more significant, and starting to mean something in enduring terms.

For now, most organisations are looking at social tools (including software) to meet their business ends, and not looking to make the business’ ‘reason for existence’ itself something people – both employees and consumers- would associate with. Hopefully, by the time they deduct the importance of this, it won’t be too late.

until next time, elementary? :)