Employee activation, digital disruption and measuring the unmeasurable

Image result for ee voice podcastSharon McIntosh, Sharon Phillips and I talked last week about the pressures on companies to communicate differently with employees in an era of intentionally itinerant workforces whose networks may be more powerful than those of the companies in which they work. Here’s a link to the podcast.

https://firpodcastnetwork.com/?powerpress_embed=8392-podcast&powerpress_player=mediaelement-audio

EPISODE #22 – SHOULD WE STOP MEASURING INTERNAL COMMS? – WITH BLOOMBERG’S ETHAN MCCARTY

Ethan McCarty can freak you out, particularly if you’re an internal communications professional. For example, he recently wrote a blog entitled, “Don’t Measure Internal Communications.”

Wait … what?

And when I heard him speak at a Poppulo conference last summer, I knew he’d be a terrific EE Voice guest. Because he’s doing some definitively measurable work as Global Head of Employee and Innovation Communications for Bloomberg. He didn’t disappoint.

Some of the arresting topics we discuss:

Internal communications vs. employee communications
How to balance transparency and integrity
The importance of measuring behaviors over awareness
The need for agility in digital transformations (and why Ethan is SCRUM-certified)
Why we might want to look at a three-month plan instead of a three-year plan
And much more.

You can follow Ethan on Twitter, @ethanmcc, and read his blog, where he writes “intermittently but with gusto” at http://www.ethanmccarty.com.

Mostly publishing stuff elsewhere

I’ve been neglecting my blog…but it’s not for lack of online content creation. Far from it! Here are some links to some articles and podcasts I’ve worked on in recent months for other sites.  I’m having a great time doing it and may ultimately re-post some of it here or revisit some of the topics in greater detail.

For now, the links:

Ugly Indian? Actually, quite beautful.

Ethan McCarty of IBM with some of the IBMers who cleaned up Bangalore with the "Ugly Indian" projectSo as I mentioned a couple weeks ago, I planned to visit India and, well, here I am in Bangalore.  Today I spoke at AdTech about the emergent conflict between individual and organizational values that is brought into an acute state due to nearly-ubiquitous participation in social media.  I’ll share my slides and notes etc from the conference later (basically, I think the companies that crack the challenge of aligning their organizational values with the values of their employees will have a competitive advantage….and that we digital marketers have a special responsibility since we are literally creating the digital, social human experience.)

But in the meantime I just wanted to post one more time about the “Ugly Indian” video — primarily because I think it is a fantastic demonstration of good people doing good things, but secondarily because it underscores my point that a company can gain a competitive brand advantage when by aligning its values to those of the people working for it.  At the end of the day, this is a video made for very little cost that has earned more than 176,000 views in a mere three weeks…not to mention nearly two hundred comments (almost universally positive.)

Third, and certainly not least, I had the privilege of meeting some of my IBM colleagues who participated and organized the cleanup.  They are heroes to me.

Do the Biggest Brands Dominate Social Impressions?

A new report from PQ Media and uberVu on social media impressions claims Coke, Apple and Google dominate social media media “conversations.”  However, something about it just doesn’t sit right with me.

The report “found that Coke was the No. 1 brand in social media impressions by a margin of two-to-one over the next-most-mentioned brand, Apple, during the month of July, the first for which data is being reported.” However, there’s no sense for whether or not the impressions are positive or negative or neutral…or even if they are actually about the brand.  Are they excluding people talking about apples…the fruit that grows on trees? Coke, the “the solid carbonaceous material derived from destructive distillation of low-ash, low-sulfur bituminous coal”? Googol, the number followed by 100 zeros?

Ok, that last one is a stretch…and maybe the Coke one too…but when we have done broad digital listening at IBM we find that something like half of the references to IBM are noise.  The noise includes everything from people using the term “IBM” to sell old laptop parts to organizations that just happen to have IBM as the acronym for their name. (I’m looking at you, International Brotherhood of Magicians.)

More importantly, what doesn’t square for me from a B2B point of view, is that I don’t understand if the report accounts for interactions with the people at these companies who are engaged in conversations about their areas of expertise.   For B2B brands (which includes just about all service providers) I would argue that interactions with people within the organization are much more valuable than brute number of impressions.  Interactions with people lead to new opportunities, conversions to sales, deeper understanding of clients, better ability to attract and retain talent and…perhaps most important…more data thrown off around individual customers, prospects etc that can be used in a variety of contexts.

Social Media Week Shines a Light on Social Business

This week the digerati and the everyday netizen alike will look up for a moment from their laptops and smart phones to focus their eyes on Social Media Week, a worldwide series of interconnected events and activities about emerging trends in social and mobile media across all major industries.

The people who shape the future of our digital lives will share ideas, strategies and insights with an eye towards improving digital experiences for the people and organizations they care about most. While social media has significantly shaped how we communicate and connect in our personal lives, there’s a related trend that the most sophisticated enterprises have already begun to embrace: social business. Engaging in social media through Facebook,  YouTube and the like represent just one element businesses can explore, but business is more than media – so how can businesses apply the principles of “social” to other dimensions of their organizations to improve outcomes?

In today’s business environment, organizations must become more agile, creative and innovative in order to compete. Forward-looking organizations amplify the benefit of human interactions in just about any business process by making them social (as opposed to trying to engineer the human interactions out of the business process, which is the unfortunate legacy of many enterprise systems.) For example, interacting with the sales team of a social business might include benefiting from digital artifacts of human interactions reaching deep into that company’s supply chain or research division. A really sophisticated social business might have friendly and easily navigable visualizations of these artifacts of interactions. So this is to say that social business is a superset of interactions that includes social media — since media is just one dimension of interaction with an organization.

According to Forrester Research, the market opportunity for social enterprise apps is expected to grow at a rate of 61 percent through 2016, reaching $6.4 billion, compared with $600 million last year (“Social Enterprise Apps Redefine Collaboration,” Forrester Research, Inc., November 30, 2011). Ignore this emerging market and you choose to lose.

Social Media Week is the perfect time for organizations to think about how they can get social and do business at the same time.

Consider just a few of the possibilities of becoming a social business:

Global Collaboration: Extending beyond just document collaboration, social business tools enable organizations to build a team based off their skills, rather than location. Unified communications capabilities allow global teams to collaborate even if they aren’t in the same room (or on the same continent). Actively-managed digital communities of practice provide an opportunity for teams to collaborate and learn on the fly, fostering a greater sense of belonging.  Social organizations can expect to retain more of their best employees as they feel part of a common goal and have a voice in the decision making process.

Mobility: I’ve personally been a mobile employee for nearly a decade – and I’m not alone.  With the mobile workforce expected to reach more than 1.19 billion by 2013, according to research firm IDC, nearly 1 trillion Internet-connected devices will be in market in 2012, generating 20 times more mobile data by 2015. Equipping these employees with social connectivity to collaborate and innovate on the fly has become a major requirement for many organizations. Mobile capabilities for workers that extend beyond email, calendar and voice will be imperative. Document editing, access to enterprise social networking tools, feature-rich data and IM on the go are becoming the new norm. Imagine the opportunities for productivity, innovation and responsiveness when you are part of a team with mobile devices and tablets equipped with social enterprise capabilities.

Social Analytics: Organizations can now integrate and analyze massive amounts of data generated from people, devices and sensors and align these insights to business processes to make faster, more accurate decisions. By gaining deeper insights into customer and market trends and employees’ sentiment over social networking platforms both internally and externally, businesses can uncover critical patterns to not only react swiftly to market shifts, but predict the effect of future actions.

The Currency of Social: People and culture are the drivers for social business success. As consumers have become accustomed to social practices in their personal lives, they are seeking the same capabilities in their workplace. People form networks based on trust and transparency. With social business technology at their finger tips, employees can tap into the creativity, intelligence, and community of their organization to accomplish business goals faster and more efficiently.

The opportunity for social business to transform how we connect people and processes, and increase the speed and flexibility of business is limitless. A successful social business breaks down collaboration barriers and puts social networking in the context of everyday work, from the mobile device or delivery vehicle of your choice, to improve productivity and speed decision-making.

The critical turning point for social business is the realization that the collective knowledge of networks of people can provide businesses with a unique competitive advantage. Social tools are building the next generation of competitive and profitable businesses – and if you’re not latching on to the social movement – you may be doing business with blinders on.

(Originally published in Social business News)

Social Media Identity Crisis: How do employees and brands avoid a personality disorder?

A mindmap of our discussion created in real time at WPP Stream; click it for the whole shebang.

The title of this post refers to a session I led last week with my pal, Howard Pyle who has just started as the acting director of digital platform integration at IBM (or something like that).  We were both at WPP Stream in Athens, Greece last week and over the weekend (Article on Huffington Post).  The conference itself was really remarkable — WPP invites a bunch of advertising folks, digital people of all sorts (startups, innovators, VCs etc) and runs an O’Reilly-style unconference at a lovely beach-side resort in Marathon, Greece (about an hour outside of Athens.)

Moreover, the running joke during our session was that it could just as easily be titled “Does your boss want you to be a social media d’bag?”  That is, are you an SME or an SMD? (Subject Matter Expert or Socila Media D’bag?)

In our discussion we opened with a handful of assertions.  Namely:

1.Firms are increasingly calling upon their employees to “be” the brand.  That is, represent their employer’s brand in new and increasingly personal ways through social digital expressions of themselves.

2. Meanwhile, there is a “social media miracle” mentality out there that needs to be debunked.  Most people don’t want to be “brand ambassadors” for their firms — it’s simply a fallacy that you can somehow easily convert them just by asking nicely.  And when you engineer programs based on the social media miracle mentality it will inevitably flop due to a lack of authenticity, participation or both.

3. The method by which companies select their social media spokespersons is often random.  Typically it’s ill-defined, undemocratic and –worst of all — lacking in mutual benefit.  Meanwhile, the traditional means to identify experts and spokespersons (through a PR department…an approach I call “editorial selection”) doesn’t scale to the demands of the social-internet

So the name of the game is this — can you (as a manager of a brand or someone interested in switching on the social-ness of your business) shape the culture, policies and platforms etc within your firm without alienating individuals?  Afterall, social media or social business inherently demands the participation of some people (um, “social” right?) so you would think your employees have to be there, no?

There was a good deal of discussion about managing identities — in one case, a communications director from a large pharmaceutical company told us about one of the “rockstar” scientists at his firm who had four LinkedIn profiles.  She was exasperated, but being a very busy scientist, didn’t have the time to deal with it.  A senior strategist from LinkedIn who attended the session said this is a widespread issue (an “edge issue” she said, but an issue nonetheless) where rockstars’ — like Obama or certain CEOs etc — profiles become essentially fanpages.  Again, this is a tension point that I think many of the people we would most like to activate on behalf of our firms confront (and retreat from.)

Of course rewards and recognition for participation also came up — most organizations do not expressly reward or recognize brand-building for individual employees in a meaningful way.  Even those in the session who said their firms had built social media participation into some of their employees’ goals said that it was basically an empty gesture or a very peripheral activity.

Finally (well for this blog post anyway) there was a great deal of discussion about the portability of reputation.  Who exactly owns the individual’s professional reputation? The answer seems obvious at first, the individual, right? But what if the firm has invested significantly in developing that reputation by allotting time or other resources (like building technological platforms that enable an individual to enhance and retain reputation etc)?  The investment implies, I think, some stake on the part of the firm in the outcomes (good or bad.)

Anyway, many of the ideas are captured in the mind-map that you can see attached here.  Have a look and let me know what you think.

Are you an expert? (Or willing to be called one?)

One of the programs I’ve been working on at IBM relates to creating a system that enables IBM’s experts to appear in digital experiences at scale — this means going beyond the age-old editorial system for identifying key spokespersons and, instead, creating a web service to identify and describe tens of thousands of experts and put their pictures and profiles in relevant digital contexts.  That first bit, it turns out, is the easy part.  The tougher part is, naturally, trying to devise a system to make the expert interactions valuable and safe for all involved.  I’ll talk about that more another time, but the past few days I’ve been thinking about the word expert itself.

I see a lot of companies using it in their web presences — Cap Gemini, Intel, Siemens, GE etc.  But I wonder what the implications are in digital social spaces that, for one thing, span new cultural boundaries and cross new legal hurdles daily (sometimes with varying degrees of success) and how we can scale up the interactions meaningfully.

Despite its power as a word, I have always had misgivings about the term ‘expert’ because…

  • I don’t think it is a culturally neutral term (as traveled to Korea, Japan, France etc last year I found that not every language uses this word in the same way…and not every group of people have the same level of comfort with declaring their expertise publicly as many Americans do.)
  • The credibility of ‘experts’ is not always greater than the credibility of ‘just some guy.’  I’m in the midst of buying a new A/V receiver and have read countless reviews from ordinary consumers along with reviews from expert audiophiles…I’m balancing both inputs to my decision.
  • I think people who self-proclaim as ‘experts’ can be in a pickle…it is hard to be wrong when you are an expert.  My dad used to say “an expert is someone who can’t admit they are wrong.”  That may be an unattributed quote from somewhere else, but still 🙂 Basically, I think the typical understanding of the term ‘expert’ isn’t really compatible with IBM’s notions of collaborative innovation.
  • Asking people to self-select as an ‘expert’ can actually work as a passive filter that excludes people who would be worth including (such as extremely humble subject matter experts who might be the best face of our brand in digital interactions!)
  • There is potential legal landmine here — if someone is declared and ‘expert’ by your company and they say something wrong, your company could be exposed.

How is your company/organization qualifying experts?  Have you found a clever way to describe individual experts in your organization (I’d really love to hear about it!)?

By the way, you can see examples of the expertise-locator system we’ve built on IBM’s centennial site and IBM’s smarter planet site…we’ll be adding the service to many more sites, blogs,  apps and experiences this year.