Social, more than just connecting dots

Image by Joachim Stroh

Remember social is about connecting the dots so you can see the big picture”, to be honest it is more than that. If it was just connecting the dots, many organizations would have adopted social as the basis for all their activities.

Still there is a small truth in this picture, in the end it is about connecting the dots: making it so simple that people don’t even have to think on what to do, it is obvious. Every kid of the age of 4 can connect the dots, however I have never met a 4 year old kid that was able to make the design for shown on the left side of the image so other individuals are able to connect the dots.

That is why social is not about connecting the dots at first in organizations. Before you can make the dots, you have to make sure you have the design. You have to think on what you want to accomplish, which things should change, how they will be changed. There is no question who will be involved, because in the end everybody will be involved in such a transformation. However what should be thought of, how can enable everybody to connect the dots, since there is hardly a one size fits all approach for everybody to do this.

If a design is made: all dots are in its place, additional features are drawn and the numbers are next to the dot, then you can start connecting. If you start connecting before the design is finished then the elephant in this picture might become a whole different animal, or even worse: an abstract figure which nobody understands. The latter is a typical result of an undesigned social solution, dots everywhere and no bigger picture, just dots and lines, no meaning.

It is not about connecting the dots in the first place, it is about designing the dots and the pattern of it so well that these can be connected and that social is a no brainer and people will start doing it. Design poorly and your dots might just be that: dots without a bigger picture.

IT Spring – So this application is your friend?

This article is created together with my dear colleague Mark Smalley. Mark Smalley is employed as an IT Management Consultant by Capgemini in the Netherlands and also works for the not-for-profit ASL BiSL Foundation, where he is Director of International Affairs, promoting best practices in management of information systems around the globe. He writes and speaks on application management and related topics (ASL, BiSL, IT Governance, Business IT Alignment) on a regular basis and has reached out to several thousand people in more than ten countries in four continents. He lectures in Brussels, Hangzhou and Rotterdam and contributes to EXIN certification material. Mark’s other persona’s include Blind Monk, CYO, IT Paradigmologist, IT Management Philosopher and Stand-up IT Consultant. Of course you can follow Mark on Twitter or connect with him on LinkedIn

Parts of this blog post are from the whitepaper Mark en I published earlier this month and can be downloaded here.

Salesforce.com CEO Marc Benioff said that enterprise technology is going to face an uprising akin to the Arab Spring in the Middle East. The theme is that customers are going to revolt against traditional enterprise software as corporations become more social. Mark and I fully agree, especially since we are working on this topic for the last couple of months.

IT users have had a rough ride. Ever since the introduction of IT sixties odd years ago, IT departments have been acting like divine beings,telling the users what was good for them. For the first twenty years or so, IT boffins were treated as incomprehensible but brilliant scientistswho were treated with the same deference as doctors used to be. Yes doctor, no doctor. But then the inevitable happened and cracks startedto appear. Projects failed to deliver. Costs rocketed. Functionalitydidn’t function. IT fell from its pedestal and became a fallen angel,retreating into a “Just tell us what you want” position, with the implicit message “and then it’s your fault when it goes wrong”.

Stockholm syndrome

Users (unlike IT) are regular people and regular people tend to adapt to uncomfortable situations. People need defense mechanisms in order to survive. Ever felt happy with an application when you’ve completed a longish transaction without it having crashed and losing your data? Yep, that’s the Stockholm syndrome: “a paradoxical psychological phenomenon wherein hostages express adulation and have positive feelings towards their captors that appear irrational in light of the danger or risk endured by the victims, essentially mistaking a lack of abuse from their captors as an act of kindness”. I think of some applications as benevolent dictators. You’re obliged to use them and they direct your actions in a polite but firm way: “Please re-enter your data”. Including the data that it could have but hasn’t bothered to save for you.

Another human trait is to give things human attributes. So let’s anthropomorphize a bit. Can applications be happy, grumpy, authoritative, lazy, reliable, fickly, cruel, stupid, intuitive, responsive, sexy? Sure they can. Think about it. Now we’ve elevated applications to a near human level, lets develop a relationship with them. Your relationship with an application will probably go through a lifecycle something like this.

  • Anticipation – you’re looking forward to getting the app or being authorized to use it
  • Disappointment – Too high expectations
  • Resignation – Guess you’d better get used to it
  • Acclimatization – It’s not that bad after all
  • Frustration – It’s habits are annoying me more and more
  • Alienation – The thrill has gone

Seeing as all relationships seem to come with a ‘best before date’, it’ll probably end up ugly. So now we’ve established that users have a relationship with apps, why not formalize it by liking and friending the app? Or disliking or unfriending? And why not tweet your app? Post cool pics on your app’s wall.

Application emotional development

Something that most people have forgotten, or never knew is that ‘computer’ used to be a job description, not a collection of wires and disks. You could ask these people to compute things for you, which they did, in a very human way. However the human part was lost in translation when things got automated.

Traditional application development tends to be very functional. Like seats in German cars. You can almost hear them saying “Sit upright on this firm seat, it is good for your back”. It maybe be functional but it’s not the experience I’m looking for. I don’t feel engaged. The next step in application development is that applications move on from aloof and unresponsive beings to becoming more social apps. Apps that friend you, send you tweets, tweet about you. And unfriend you – Outlook: “I feel abused”. Or a printer driver that unfriends you because you ignore the ink replenishment warning. Apps will be on Facebook and Twitter. The more traditional business apps will probably just want to be on LinkedIn. So when are IT folk going to get around to building apps that appeal to the emotional side of people?

IT spring: the users are revolting

Back to the users. There’s something in the air. The younger generations of users have completely different and irreverent opinions about IT. “IT’s just there to be used.” Smartphones, iPads and apps are just expected to work within the corporate IT environment. “You don’t dictate which pen I use to write a note, so why are you taking such an interest in my apps?” ‘Bring your own IT’ is quick becoming the norm. Not for ‘public transport’ train and bus applications of
course. Back to the users. There’s an undercurrent of discontent about the current IT regime and social media has made this painfully transparent. Even if a dictator’s benevolent, he’s still a dictator. Users want to be recognized as somebody who’s in a relationship with an application, either out of their free volition or because their organizations require them to use it. And they want a say in the relationship. So give them the vote. And don’t fiddle with the ballot
boxes – they want transparency. Just like we had the Prague Spring in 1968 and the Arab Spring in 2011, 2012 well could see the IT Spring. Liberate the users! Topple the IT dictators! Banish them to Silicon Valley (where they’ll probably try to govern in exile).

The commoditization of The Internet of Things

Yesterday Dreamforce ’11 started and to be honest overall there wasn’t that much new. Though the thing that was most interesting for me was the commoditization of The Internet of Things by Salesforce. By introducing a Toyota Friend and a social Coke machine Salesforce and Marc Benioff in particular showed what could be done with a) their platform (nice) b) with social as a design principle (awesome!).

Everything that can be social, will be social

Everything in the end that can be social, will be social (similar to the words of Jeff Daches when he was still at Razorfish: everything that can be digital will be digital). Though the hard part is to make it work in a meaningful way. It is easy to hook up a Coke machine to Facebook and make it like your beverage every time you order one, or to use your iPhone and Social Graph to connect with the machine and earn loyalty points. Though, is the Internet of Things something we want? Yes, this is something we want. Though we don’t want the machine to be social, we want the experience to be social.

The Internet of Things and Social objects

Too many times people think that putting up a like button on a website (or in this case: a thing) makes it social. It isn’t, it is the interaction, the social experience, that makes things social. As Benioff introduced the Toyota friend, it shows that the car is not only providing data, it provides a way to interact. And especially with these hybrid cars, why not provide them with a voice, it doesn’t mean they have to become KITT from Knightrider (even though there are benefits in that), though why not let the car share the experience, instead of asking the owner to tweet about it.

In the end The Internet of Things is about building a great experience throughout all channels and all Things. It is pervasive and ubiquitous, it is something we will expect that is there and in 10 years a whole new generation is there that things expect to interact and to be social. Instead of manuals there will be conversations, instead of transactions there will be interactions and instead of you having to think what would be worth sharing with your friends about the things you interact with, the Thing will help you to do so. It might even make you a better person.

Skynet?

This might sound scary and some of you might think we end up with Skynet instead of the internet of things, however why would a social object become evil, what is in it for them to be evil? I think this can be a great time, since I truly believe that social as a design principle not only makes things different it does makes things better, more usable and overall it will improve everybody’s experience. As long as there is enough transparency and free will for the person  it will be a good experience, otherwise you might end up with a  HAL 9000 ( “I’m sorry, Dave. I’m afraid I can’t do that”) and not  a social object that is helping you providing you a great experience..

Identifying influencers – context is key

For me an influencer is not somebody with a large following (I have seen people with 50k+ followers on Twitter who manage to let only 12 people click on their link…). Nor is it somebody with a high Klout score, nor is it somebody who gets retweeted a lot or has a lot of conversations. For me an influencer is somebody who matters, so that is very contextual. Which indirectly means that not every influencer is influential in every situation. Influence is for me how an individual is able to impact others to let them think in a new way or let them do certain things they wouldn’t have done otherwise.

Who is an influencer

Often an influencer can do something like that because he or she has a certain track record (reputation) or a certain position. For example I find Jeremiah Owyang rather credible on everything related to social media. However when it comes to Agile practices I will trust my colleague Sander Hoogendoorn more. The reason why these people can influence me on these topics is because they both have a track record and because they are recognized as experts on what they do by others. So it is not only me who is influenced, these influencers influence many other people.

To identify an influencer there are many things to take in account to come to the appropriate influencer for the appropriate context. Which probably mean that there are many people who might be incidental influencers: people who talk about multiple topics or do multiple things which have a small overlap with the things that are interested for me. Others might be consistent influencers: people who have a  big overlap with the things that interest me and who are doing things or talking about topics that are most of the time interesting for me. Since everybody changes over time (me included) it would mean that people who used to be influential for me doesn’t have to be that influential to me anymore, either because they changed or because my interests changes.

Context and effect are key

If you want to identify an influencer, you have to take context into account. Somebody with 100 followers can be very influential, especially when he or she can convince (implicitly and explicitly) 80 people on what to do, that is way more valuable and a way bigger influencer than the persons with more than 50k followers who only can convince 12 people to do something (e.g. click on a link), that is not an influencer, the 12 people clicking on that link is just something that happens by accident.

Web care, it is often a sad puppy’s story

Most companies I see launching web care nowadays suck at web care. It is not the fact they don’t understand the channels they are working or are not responding to people or because they don’t have a clear strategy on what do with web care. The main reason they suck is because they have a completely siloed approach. They have started a new department with four people in a room and the room has a door with a big sign on it: “The Web Care Team” (Capitalization is key, since this is now the important department). The Web Care Team delivers a brilliant service, makes the lives of many people a lot better. Still in the end it is a sad puppy’s story, yes it should make you cry, since the overall view (including the new web care silo) is even worse than before the web care team was created.

Making things worse

In fact by creating such a web care silo with the mandate to do brilliant things you will make things worse. For example if your customer service department used to suck already (and to be honest: it is likely to suck since it is most often focused on spending as little time as possible on an issue, not on resolution), the brilliant silo branded The Web Care Team will make your customer service even look worse. It will portray your traditional customer service as a collection of  incompetent people since they are lacking behind the things The Web Care Team can do.

The best examples in this case are issues that are handled (or not handled but just passed a long continuously since then everybody makes his KPIs) by the customer service department suddenly seemed to get solved within in five minutes by The Web Care Team. It would make one think that the customer service department is completely incompetent since the issue could be solved in minutes by The Web Care Team.

Defamation by your web care team

Besides the defamation of your existing business by The Web Care Team other things are likely to be getting worse as well. It will tear up your customer base both online and offline. Online because The Web Care Team is likely to focus on people who some kind of klout online, the influencers. Resulting in the fact that the less unfluential ones are still out in the blue, tweeting their complains, though still not being helped on the new channel. Offline because the people are excluded from the fast service of The Web Care Team, since The Web Care Team is only focusing online, nothing more nothing less.

Imagine the case of a BBQ with all the people in the street and you are all waiting for the same product to arrive, however since you are the only one who complained on Twitter about it and was interesting enough you already got the product. Most likely your neighbors might start to holding a grudge for you, plus they will hate the company that should deliver the product even more. Not really a win-win situation, however if you just look at the silo, The Web Care Team is really performing great.

As Steven Rubel already said on The Next Web Conference Social media should be 1% of 100 people’s jobs rather than 100% of one person’s job. Siloed approaches are not sustainable and for web care it is often the wrong approach since it will be making things even worse then if you had decided to do nothing.

Social Networking: Prisoner’s Dilemma all over again

One thing I run in more and more often is that most people are not used to creating a personal social network,  as in connections with people and topics, for a certain goal. And I have to admit, it is not something we as humans are used to do on a regular basis. It is Prisoner’s dilemma all over again, if you don’t invest time, you won’t get any value out of it, however if you do invest the time, you still might not get the value out of it, because the lack of other people investing time. And if you don’t invest time at all, you might even be missing out (which is general fear of most people on social networking) independent on what other people do on the network.

Networks without Prisoner’s Dilemma

Most networks we have, are created organically based on either social aspects (family, neighborhood, school, sports) work or interest aspects (school, university, hobby, sports, department) or any other aspect that bonds people together. It is not that we deliberately choose to build our network, it happens to us most of the time, therefore it is a big switch to all of the sudden have to check check boxes and select other things to build your personal social network. However it doesn’t really happens to us, we do it on purpose, though with another purpose then building a network.

When you start with playing soccer you know your social network will extended by at least 10 other people. When you are going to school you know you get your class as new people in your social network, with family there is hardly ever a choice, you got them in your network one way or another. Though on social networks and especially internal business social networks often there is less of these circumstances that help you to create a social network. Since that is what the soccerclub, the school and family does, creating a basis of your social network and overcoming Prisoner’s dilemma.

Prisoner’s Dilemma also the dilemma for Enterprise Social Networking

With the rise of enterprise social networking you are confronted with building yet another network, however again the main question: how to start? You might want to build your internal social network by following colleagues you know, however will that be an added value? Since you are already able to get their information via other channels. How can you reach out to the likeminds in your organisation and keep in touch with them, how will you discover the golden nuggets with regards to information you need?

Every new network has the burden of starting from scratch (or nearly from scratch) and creating your new network. Involving difficult decision on who to connect with and who not. Since you might be connected with Person A on Network X, but should you connect also on Network Y, do you even want to connect again to that person? How will you discover new content, new people, how will it add value? There are hardly any good answers on these question other than: you have to invest time (again) to do this, it isn’t easy. However if you don’t do it properly you will know for sure you won’t get any value out of it.

Open Circles – The benefit for Google+

With the arrival of Google+ we have to group all of the sudden our contacts in circles. Even worse, you have to build your network from the ground up, which to be honest is a real pain. And since Google claims to make our life easier in many ways, I don’t understand why they made things so difficult. If you think you have a solid explanation on why Google did this, you are most likely somebody who should read this.

It would be better if the concept of Open Circles was introduced in Google+. Open Circles as in: circles that are sharable with others, just like you can do with lists on Twitter. Having such a concept would create multiple benefits for Google+:

  1. Removing heavy lifting: people can create a network a lot faster. They can either adopt somebody’s else circle as their own, or copy the circle and add and remove people they want to have in that circle.
  2. Maintaining honesty: I think we have countless circles now that are named “douchebags”, “meh” or other things that are not that flattering for the people in that circle. It might give some people something to chuckle about.
  3. Eliminating spammers. you could imagine that a shared circle blocked people could adds a certain level of quality and experience for a group of people.
  4. Validating authority: if you are 100 times in a circle named “social media” it is likely you are related to that topic in one way or another. It could enforce a certain recognition for somebody’s authority on a certain topic.
  5. Providing context: similar to authority Circle names provide context about a person.
  6. Enabling discovery: by using circles curated by others it is easier to discover the golden nuggets in the networks.

It will give the people who are great in making list to share their circles with others, while others who just want to consume information or participate don’t have to do the heavy lifting.

The ‘Go where your customers are’- myth

Social Media changed service towards customers. Not only you have to service your customer in the old conventional channels, but also many new channels in social media which are completely owned by other people than yourself. However it doesn’t mean you have to cover all channels. Don’t just go where your customers are

Expectations versus possibilities

As every company your customer service qualities and resources are limited. Either this might be just a simple result of lack of money to pay a lot of resources or your products and services requires a certain level of knowledge which is not widely spread.  And as every company your knowledge about certain customer service channels are limited.

Many of your customers are already online on several different (social media) channels. Yes they expect that you listen in there and that you will provide service. However what they also expect is a certain level and quality of service.  If you cannot provide at least an identical level and quality of service on the ‘new’ social media channel, you shouldn’t go there.

Be consistent and make a difference

Therefore what you should do, is to not go where your customers are. You should go where your customers are and where you can deliver an excellent service or experience. Just creating a Twitter account or Facebook page and deliver no or rather bad service doesn’t help your company. Make sure your service level and quality are aligned through your channels that is how you really help your customers, since then they know what to expect.

Overcoming your Social Media ROI phobia

We’re in the I Love Lucy era of social-media marketing, a golden age of unaccountability.

That is one of the opening sentences of a very nice article of Fast Company on Social Media ROI. It shows how some companies are using social media though when it comes to measuring ROI (return on investment), it seems that quite some companies don’t feel the need to do it. The only reason they are likely to have is that they are scared to do it. It was never so easy to measure real ROI and probably that is the thing that people are scared of since it some of them will be confronted by the fact that what they do with social doesn’t add any value at all.

Next time if you do something with social media, just in keep in mind: ROI is calculated by this basic formula:

ROI = (Gains – Investment) / Investment

The thing you have to think of when you will be measuring ROI is what are your investments and what are your gains? It is as easy as that, no rocket science, no unicorns, nu double rainbows. The only thing you have to think of is to put everything in the same units so you will have a good comparison.

Building your social network; where to start

Where to start with building your network, which people should be in your network and value and who is just noise? Most networks we have were created organically based on either social aspects (family, neighborhood, school, sports) work or interest aspects (school, university, hobby, sports, department) or any other aspect. However none of them existed since we had to get information or we had to create a network to keep in touch, we got them as a result of another activity. However We never had to create a personal social network in order to get all the information we needed. Signal and noise has become a factor in deciding to connect with somebody.

Does it happen to us?

Often we don’t deliberately choose to build our network, it happens to us most of the time, it is created for us, therefore it is a big switch to all of the sudden have to check checkboxes and select other things to build your personal social network and create an information flow. However it doesn’t really happens to us, we already do it on purpose, though with another purpose then building a network.

When you start with playing soccer you know your social network will extended by at least 10 other people. When you are going to school you know you get your class as new people in your social network, with family there is hardly ever a choice, you got them in your network one way or another. Though on social networks and especially internal business social networks often there is less of these circumstances that help you to create a social network. Since that is what the soccerclub, the school and family does, creating a basis of your social network.

Selecting people for your network

You might want to build your internal social network by following colleagues you know or who are in your department, however in most big enterprises there are more people you don’t know then you know. So how will you find those people who are interesting and you don’t want to miss. Is following your colleagues you know efficient? Are they talking about things you want to know, is it signal or is it noise? How will you find the thought leaders on your topics, who are people with the best information?

Again your old, offline network might help. Everybody knows somebody who knows somebody so that might help. Though even though most of your colleagues are interesting it is not likely your personal goal to develop a very close relationship with everybody, that might be only with a few who become a real friend.

People or information?

It also might help to focus less on people, but focus more on information, what are the things of interest for you? Getting the information you want might be easier to focus just on the topics you are interested in and less on the people. Since quite some people will talk about different topics, making it sometimes noise and sometimes signal.