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5 posts from January 2009

January 29, 2009

Food for thought for possible futures

This is a real case of 'if we build it they will come' thinking.

Imagine what the next 18 years may bring in terms of social connectedness.

January 27, 2009

How to support an organization with social media

Social media is incendiary stuff. For many organizations it's a direct challenge to existing norms and the way things get done, the sort of direct challenge that spells potentially profound consequences to the basic shape and fabric of existing business practices as we know them.

People like Gary Hamel, who've written about best practice management for years, are saying that management must be reinvented. It's a voice that can turn into a clamour when social media becomes part of the equation. Change from without is a challenge, but it's also well established that change is rarely well effected entirely from within.

So when David Gelles at the FT writes about 'firefighting' as the point of social media within corporates, I must confess that I get ever so slightly sceptical. When 'companies are using Twitter to douse public relations fires before they erupt' it's worth asking how much emollient can be dispensed at the same time as facilitating the real opportunities that businesses need to reinvent themselves?

I'm part of Seth's tribe. We recognize the quite heretical element in many of the conversations that social media is starting and because of that we often talk more about starting fires than fighting them.

Tribes casebook

This is a picture of firefighters who start fires, record the moment, then put them out as part of their training. That's what well trained firefighters do. The casebook's a free download for your viewing pleasure full of stories where communities have been set alight because of the spark of imagination that being social allowed them to generate.  Download TheTribesCasebook

And as the established world view of many businesses comes pressingly and perilously close to the white heat of customers who care through social media, the challenge becomes how to deliver the best interests of organizations in terms of how they engage with it.

With the opportunity to integrate social media into business practices opening up, real conversations can start to influence strategy. Cost effective transformation can happen to replace the tedium of the monologue that the diet of traditional media has been serving up for some time. Beyond that there lies the question of how to 'operationalize' a tribe. As Bob Pearson of Dell puts it in the same article, "social media is much more than getting out there and having conversations, it transforms a business if you use it correctly."

Socialwash is an unfortunate and emergent reality, more CRM 2.0 than a new management opportunity for a radically different era. The question worth asking is what are the responsibilities and opportunities that belong to the new corporate masters of social media and what will their paymasters let them be, a point of PR or agent of potentially profound change?

January 22, 2009


Last night I headed over to NESTA who hosted the first webank event in London. The focus was on social lending, the key question whether people can replace institutions. Many thanks to Rohan Gunatillake for hosting such a stimulating evening.

It showcased Zopa, Kuberamoney and Midpoint & Transfer, all as examples of a new wave of social lending platforms and alternatives to traditional financial services.

And they’re interesting not least because they listen and replay how their audience describes them – an ‘anti-bank’ was one description, ‘like ebay for money’ was another that have both been used as descriptions for Zopa. And it listens to that, it’s a business that knows its identity is located to a great degree in the minds of its audience.

New social lending platforms tend to welcome the ways in which consumers choose to engage with them far more than established financial services do; they’re set up to be fluid social networks as a fundamental and maybe that’s where the rub is.

Nesta webank 210109

In a lively panel debate, James Gardner represented the conventional banks well when he speculated on whether or not the 'people-replacing-institutions-model' can scale and, as long as the focus is on functional transactions rather than on social contracts, he may well be right to have his doubts about this.

Open source economics tends to turn somewhat around things that people can believe in. It turns on soft intangible attributes like confidence and trust, the lack of which has hit the markets so harshly. ‘Beware the moneylender’ has been a call handed down through the ages; it’s hard to believe in money for money’s sake and this is where many financial service providers are arguably becoming vulnerable to new platforms and competitors.

As brand trust for financial institutions is on the floor we have to ask where did it all go wrong? As the economic downturn has garrotted profits we’ve seen banks retract from the consumer rather than embrace them, and sweat over transactional value as opposed to relationship value, creating a real sense of alienation. In this regard, no amount of socialwash can save them.

There’s a need for the personal investment and lending markets to switch sides if they are to be resuscitated. There’s an opportunity for banks and financial service providers to re-examine the core of their purpose and brand essence to find the philanthrophic idea that can form the bridge to new markets and opportunities.

In his Inaugural address Barack Obama referred to alienation in society as being one of the single most divisive issues we face today. The philanthropic ideal is real and pressing. It’s this that powers businesses like Zopa.

If asked in that context whether people can replace institutions, it’s not a matter of scale and it’s not a matter of margin. The question becomes whether a social contract or a functional contract is paramount and to what degree they can sit together as part of a viable business plan.

Given the choice, the pre-existing trust network is a far more attractive platform for any kind of business than the factory. Given the choice between retracting back to transaction or connecting because of the social contract the answer here too is very probably, ‘yes we can’.

January 13, 2009

About the company we keep

On the day when industry figures released have been labeled as no less than ‘frightening’, and as we wait for a continuing rollcall of businesses to fall by the wayside, this is a thought about what’s going to get many out of the ditch and how we view the company we keep.

Honest face

No matter how seismic this current redefinition of commercial drivers seems to be, one thing that remains the same is that the platform for growth and change has always been people.

The singular piece of IP, the unique process, the first mover advantage, the heritage and culture behind a unique offer, none of these build or sustain a business without the people who are behind them. They’re the ones who have the ideas, the vision to open minds to new ideas, the ability to be inspiring, that helps businesses turn corners.

McKinsey are talking about and highlighting the upside of investor and operational transparency. It’s becoming clearer by the day that the people who build blatant integrity and transparency back into businesses and the way they work, and that can encourage that most precious of commodities, investor and consumer confidence, back into their businesses, are the ones that will win. This is not management land, it’s about real and honest relationships.

As the brand is being marked down as a bygone buzzword, with compelling stats telling the narrative of their sorry decline, what’s becoming the most credible story for tomorrow is that if you don’t have a social brand it’s likely you may not have a sustainable business.

Acording to this article, 'a Mediaedge:cia study found that 76 percent of people rely on what other people say versus 15 percent on advertising, and 92 percent of people now cite word-of-mouth as the best source for brand information. Universal McCann found that 74 percent of global Internet users write reviews online, while 75 percent of people consult blogs before they buy, according to Bazazarvoice. Brands have nowhere to hide.'

And as organizations wipe the slate a bit and redefine many of the numbers that add up to their corporate reputation and what it’s worth, now’s the time to start supplementing it with new value.

The value that’s set to increase is the personal reputation of the people that are associated with a business. What's beginning to matter more and more are the leaders that have a voice, who blog, who twitter, who bring a position and a point of view, a platform for action and a following to a business proposition because they believe in it.

There’s lot of talk right now about how to monetize, or not, these relationships. What that boils down to ultimately is the same thing that has been the make or break of many a business for some time - how well it’s overall DNA is aligned to deliver its vision, how well the synapses actually do work as a connected entity. This is the hallmark of visceral businesses.

This is the time for many businesses to be doing a lot more to encourage the talent that’s already in their business to rise up to the surface and find a voice, and it's something that can happen from within and without to the point where both become seamless. That way businesses and organizations can constellate themselves into social brands that are open, transparent and able to command a following.

It all boils down to the company we keep. And the type of company management we leave behind.

January 09, 2009


Synchronicity facebook pic

Today I thought I'd join the Synchronicity group on facebook and various events happened synchronistically that led me to doing it.

As soon as I joined the group, the fact that I had came up as an entry on my facebook feed.

That moment was an act of synchronicity too. 

Synchronicity and facebook

The point is there’s an instantaneousness to how we're getting things done now. It's becoming very powerful, suggesting that the net worth is in the network.

I’m a big fan of Chris Brogan, and Chris is writing about how social media has enabled him to scoop the best journos at CES09 by communicating news and ideas fast, directly, to an online audience, and to get a dialogue going using twitter.

As with the facebook story the ingredients are part human and part technical. It's how we engage today. The really big story both these things illustrate is that affinity is stronger than structure, which has profound consequences for every marketer and managing director.

Crowdsourcing and flash mobs are often thought of as going hand in hand as what happens when an unruly random mob flock to either an idea or a venue. The dynamic is seen as the same, unruly. Now though we can pick our friends, build networks of our own and attract people who are interested, committed, enabled, or who’d like to be.

The thrill from the random meet works for a while but sometimes one needs a little more. People connect rapidly in times of distress. That’s when they need to connect, and connect well, with things that matter to them.

One of the most important predictions about 2009 I've heard is that people are going to get a bit choosier and more selective when it comes to thinking about who they connect with online. It’s going to happen because people haven't got much time, and as Stefan Stern has mentioned recently, they have very little attention.

Networks matter because they tell you where the other people who care about something that matters are going to be.  The strong networks will be the ones that can build that interest, sustain the energy and lead and transform. Put it like that and networks become the 2.0 version of what used to be called organizations.

Brands need attention to thrive, so why are so many not working with the laws of natural attraction? And why are they not working in real-time connected to social media environments that can engage their audiences and support them by allowing them to contribute? It’s the storytelling, in conjunction with others, that engages.

This is a difficult time for many organizations, they’re desperate to raise interest and get their share of attention before the money runs out. It’s easy to ignore what the step change of social networks offer, and what community management provides when what you’re used to is media management, not people management.

Read Seth Godin’s latest blog and you'll read about ‘the kneejerk rejection’. It’s an easy slide to consider getting back to the way things used to be done, fear promotes that kind of visceral reaction, but the real twitch for brands is coming from the synchronicity of interests, from affinity trumping structure because that’s where the attention lies.

That’s where the synchronicity of the network makes everything happen, a little bit more easily and a little bit quicker.