Tuesday, January 17, 2012

Social Media Skills And Influence starts with building confidence

Forbes published an article entitled 7 Ways to Improve Your Social Media Skills and Influence.  I found it very interesting, and certainly worth the read.   The first element is critical to successfully grooming Social Business skills within the organization ... How to deal with your confidence.   

Companies are beginning to understand the importance of Social Business.  You don't have to go far to see company's references to their Twitter or Facebook pages on just about every advertisement ... to just about every product you buy (everything from Orange Juice to that big screen TV you just bought)!     It's great that companies are leveraging social media, as long as they can fully understand and participate in the conversations that it will generate.   This could be an overwhelming task for the typically small social media team.   Participation in social media has significant opportunities, but If companies don't respond in real time to those social channels, it could negatively impact their brand perception.   What is really needed?   Social participation from all employees to provide perspectives from all aspects of the business - from sales, to development to support.  This is a grand challenge, with each company's enablement being different based on their culture and strategies.

This challenge brings us back to the confidence factor.  While it will be different for each company, employees typically face a huge hurdle around how to deal with their confidence to participate externally.   Many feel comfortable with collaboration within the safety of the firewall.   When it comes to sharing insights externally, there is uncertainty and fear of the unknown.   Questions like ... what should I say?  what will people think of it?  what happens if I say something wrong? 

So, what can be done about building confidence?  The article suggests that the key is having a point of view, which is very powerful:.  "What I mean by a point of view is an unshakable belief in the rightness of what you are doing, at the core. It could be your point of view requirement is sated just by blogging, for example. If you believe that we are all entitled to be up here having our say, then that is a strong point of view."

Based on my discussions with Social Media advocates, having passion on a topic is a key enabler, and one that will continue to drive conversations ... but it may not work for everyone.   It's interesting to think about solutions based on different personality types.  Some people love to be vocal about their ideas at a party, while others would rather have more personal conversations.  For these people, perhaps a group blog is a good alternative ... which provides a way to vet ideas before publishing and establishes some confidence within a small community.    Or, maybe the establishment of social mentoring ... where social media advocates  'just like me' can help me get started and be available for questions I have.   Of course, the best option is to have support from your management team, starting with strong support and guidance from first line management.   Companies should evaluate what option would work best for their culture and strategy, and begin to enable the broader employee population.

I envision this challenge getting easier in the future as employees begin to embrace social media for their personal lives.   This is a long journey ... and one that companies need to focus on and reward/recognize behaviors.

Thursday, October 13, 2011

Pesonal Branding for Social Business ...'what's in it for me?"

This is an evolving topic,and one that is written about frequently.  As an example, I enjoyed reading Why Personal Branding Matters to Big Companies.   It's interesting to think about the question 'what's in it for me' from both the company and employee perspectives.  On the flip side, these benefits come with risks.   Successful Social Businesses will be able to balance these elements to drive value.

So what are the benefits?
  • From the company's perspective, the ability to empower every employee to be the 'voice' of your company's brand is very powerful. Think about it ... it's an opportunity for the company to benefit from the personal and professional networks of every employee.  It provides a transparent vehicle to demonstrate the expertise of employees through interaction, which goes beyond typical marketing and advertising. 
  • As an employee, it provides an opportunity to build their personal eminence, and be recognized outside their company.  This could have benefits for their performance rating in their current job.  It also provides a mechanism to make them a marketable skill for their next job, and provides an on-line resume if they were to get terminated by their current employer.

How about the risks?
  • In order to fully realize the value, companies need to have a high level of trust of their employees.  There is certainly a risk of one employee speaking unfavorably of the company, or behaving inappropriately in social conversations.   If this employee is influential, this activity could have negative effects on the brand.  There is also a risk of employees not being able to answer questions from a key current or future customers.  Another risk often discussed is the risk of loosing key talent to competitors.
  • Some employees may perceive this activity as an invasion of privacy.  Often, it's difficult to keep you professional and personal persona's separate.   How much information do I want to share about my job with my network?  What happens if I say something wrong?

This You Tube video summarizing the Forum on the Future of Leadership has some some terrific insights here I'd definitely recommend you taking 5 minutes to take a look.  One of the quotes from Jamie Dimon (CEO, JP Morgan Chase) is both comical, but true:  "I was in a meeting the other day where we were going through Twitter and Facebook ... we have all these laws and restrictions ...I said to them ... if we invented the phone today, we would not be using it for 20 years...because you guys would be saying ... oh ... information is going outside the company... people are saying what ever they want, and you can't control it ..."

The point here is that the value of participating will far outweigh the risks.  The risks identified today are driven by today's culture.   Companies need to change their culture to trust their employees, to open lines of communication and encourage dialog.  That's when companies and employees both will see the benefits of becoming a successful Social Business.

Thursday, September 1, 2011

How do you become a a Social Business? Create your A.G.E.N.D.A.

Check out this YouTube video by Sandy Carter, Vice President, IBM Social Business Evangelism and Sales.  The concepts highlight key focus areas in support of building your Social Business ... and is easy to remember :-). 
  • It all starts ALIGNING organizational goals and culture.  Sure ... companies need to define goals, but that's the easy part.  The real challenge is about transforming organizational culture, which could take years.   Culture change needs to be driven from the highest executive levels in the company, and be adaptable across the vast geographies that many companies operate.  
  • Once companies have a well documented and communicated strategy and a supporting culture, GAINING friends through social trust is the first step in the journey.  Employees should be encouraged to define and nurture their social eminence - their professional profile.   This again, is a journey and could take months/years to develop.  
  • Building eminence is about ENGAGING in relevant conversations and providing valuable insights to your peers ... i.e. building social trust.  Gaining friends and effectively engaging will be most effective as part of a supporting corporate culture that provides clear guidance and incentives that align to the overall goals.  
  • Once companies have established these elements, they can begin to NETWORK changes into existing business processes.  Social is one of many 'inputs' to your business processes, and Social will be one of many 'outputs' to that same process.  The way to effectively scale to a Social Business is to seamlessly integrate social into the way businesses operate.   
  • The last two bullets are focused on risk management and metrics.   Your customers are talking about you.  It's important to DESIGN a response process to assure that you are able to listen ... and quickly respond.   This is not an optional step.  If you don't respond, it's possible that your competitors will.  ANALYZING your data provides you with an opportunity to learn about what works and what doesn't.  Having a feedback loop and being iterative in your Social Business journey is essential!

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Social Business - what is your company's risk profile?

Enabling employee participation in social discussions does come with risk.  It also comes with a an opportunity to provide significant business value.  Companies need to think about the risk/benefit tradeoff, and how it aligns with their company's values.

It's an age-old issue .. if companies are risk-adverse, their rewards are likely to be minimal (safe).  In some regulated industries, there are strict guidelines that must be followed that may restrict employee participation in social discussions.  If we put regulated industries aside, companies that have a risk adverse culture will find it difficult to trust their employees to collaborate directly with customers and partners.  They rely on the traditional 'push' messaging, which requires approval through an established process.   It's interesting to consider new risks for this model.... the risk of loosing existing market share to companies who enable social conversations.  Companies need to realize this new risk, and evaluate their response based on their corporate culture.  Not participating at all is probably not a sustainable position long term.

On the other end of the spectrum, there are start-up companies that are in business to take risks, with the goal of significant rewards. While this is a small percentage of companies, they may be best positioned to take advantage of new white space opportunities in this new social era.  Since they have minimal 'rules' and process, they are able to create a stronger voice in social channels than their competition.   They are best suited to meet the needs of the 'new' customer who will make purchasing decisions based on my personal interactions and support. 

The environment is changing, as are customer expectations.  Companies need to understand the changing landscape and take a hard look at their risk profile.  What has worked in the past may not work in the future. Exciting times ahead :-) 

Thursday, June 30, 2011

Social Business - is your company ready to provide guidance around personal/professional persona?

To continue the theme of talking about readiness to adopt Social Business, let's take a deeper dive into the topic around the blurring of personal and company persona.   As companies start to encourage and enable employee participation in social media to drive business value, it's important to consider how to or if employees should include their personal social interactions with social business discussions.  Should they have a single profile?  Or, separate profiles for work and personal?   This is a tough issue, with advocates on both sides of the spectrum.

Many believe that employees should be encouraged to blur the line between their personal and professional persona.  The benefit of this is to give the 'userid' a personality, making even the business conversations warmer.  It also provides an opportunity to network with business collegues on non-work related topics.   I've heard numerous examples where important relationships have formed over topics such as gardening, biking, traveling, etc.  These relationships could reap business benefits and connections that would not otherwise be made.

Others believe that it's best to have separate identities on social networks.  The concern is that my relatives and friends do not really care about work related topics, so why should she be exposed to them.  When you blur your persona's, it makes it difficult to keep selected personal topics private.   Some say that it is possible to carefully set your privacy settings in social networks, but it does take continued diligence to assure that they are kept up to date.

So, which is best for Social Business?  I've come to the conclusion that 'it depends' on what the employee wants to accomplish.  Rather than diving right into creating and linking profiles, it's critical for employees to take the time to put together their social eminence plan.  What do they want to accomplish professionally?  What level of engagement do I currently have personally?  What are the advantages and disadvantages to blurring personas vs. keeping them separate?   This plan is also critical to have upfront, so you can think about what conversations you want to listen to, and engage with.  Without a plan, it is easy to wonder aimlessly in social spaces.  I know we have all felt that frustration on the internet ... and the same thing applies with social networks.

My advice for companies?   Encourage your employees to participate in social conversations.   Give them tips and education around how to put a plan together.  Establish goals for yourself.  Once you understand your goals, you can then go ahead and start setting up your profiles.

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Social Business - is your company ready to go beyond pilots?

 To continue the theme of talking about readiness to adopt Social Business, let's take a deeper dive into the maturity element that was highlighted in the HBR article "Taking Social Media from Talk to Action".     "For many companies, social media use is still viewed as an experiment." There is a Social Business maturity curve for companies, which should drive their focus areas.  Let's look at companies at both ends of the maturity curve.
  • For companies just starting this journey, their focus should be on defining their strategy and future goals.  As a secondary phase, they could begin to experiment with justifying value using pilots.   That's terrific, and should be encouraged.
  • Companies that already understand their Social Business strategy typically understand the inhibitors/ actions that need to be taken.  They have taken the time to understand the value, and often have the benefit of pilot results.  The challenge?  Many identified inhibitors are very hard to solve, and require company wide transformational actions.  Examples include the elements discussed in my previous blog posts:  Strategy, Culture, Demonstration of Business Value, Funding, Training, etc.   The question then becomes ... how and when do you get out of pilot mode?  It takes significant company commitment to implement a pilot solution across the enterprise.  If you leave it to the typical company processes, these large transformational investments require inclusion into the yearly Financial planning cycles ... which could delay roll-out for a year.  With the changing landscape, the solution will be seriously behind competition and are at risk of de-prioritization against current needs.
Getting beyond pilot mode is the next real challenge.  It's easy for executives to say 'Yeah, we're doing that'.  In reality, it's been a successful pilot that relies heavily on passionate volunteers in their spare time.  What is needed is a new way to think about prioritization of enterprise wide scaling.  This is an area that is yet to be solved, but it's becoming recognized that a new business  model needs to emerge quickly.  If it doesn't, then the risk is that small start up companies (who have the flexibility, are agile, and have access to Investment sources) can gain some of your current market share.

Couple of ideas have surfaced, but this is definitely still work in progress.    Below are some 'food for thought' ideas in this area.  I welcome your thoughts and suggestions!
  • Consider the investment as part of the sales and marketing budget, rather than through the typical  POR (Plan of Record) budgets (i.e. IT spending, HR training, existing strategy).  Maybe this could be thought of as more of an investment case for a new Social Business revenue opportunity?
  • Perhaps a business justification based on the risk of not fully participating?  This would not be the typical investment to revenue case, but rather an investment to protect a loss in current revenue streams..
Taking the step out of pilot mode is a difficult one.  The companies that transform their culture and fully embrace Social Business benefits and enterprise wide investments will take a leadership position in this significant emerging market opportunity.

Wednesday, May 11, 2011

Social Business - is your company ready with a supporting culture?

To continue the theme of talking about readiness to adopt Social Business, let's take a deeper dive into the culture element that was highlighted in the HBR article "Taking Social Media from Talk to Action".     "Many organizations seem to operate under old paradigms, viewing social media as one-way flow marketing messages, instead of capitalizing on the opportunity to monitor, analyze, and participate in the millions of conversations between consumers"    In my opinion, there are two main drivers to this:
  1. Companies are not listening to what is being said about them
  2. Employees are not given 'permission' to engage in a dialog with customers because the perceived risk is too high
In terms of listening, the HBR article points out that "...while more than half are using social media, only about one-quarter of users said they could identify where their most valuable customers are “talking” about them. And, less than one-quarter (23%) are using any form of social media analytic tools, with only 5% using some form of customer sentiment analysis."    Why is this?  You would think that companies could just buy an off the shelf listening capability.  However, it's not that simple.  This is an example of culture change that needs to start with long term commitment.  This commitment needs to include transformational changes including training, resource allocation, funding prioritization and on-going management focus.  While there is significant benefit to listening and engaging with your customers, it could be a bigger risk if you start down that path and then are not prepared to support your end of the conversation.  Listening is the first step to engagement.  Is your company ready to fully support all aspects of the response you will be sure to get?

To the second point above, let's say that companies have established a listening capability.  Typically, Social Media managers will monitor the conversations and route them to the appropriate employee for engagement.  Are your employees ready to engage (beyond the small number of external communications professionals)?  Have they been given 'permission' to speak on behalf of their company by their management?  Are they adequately trained?  Do they know where to go for help and support if required?  On the surface, this also looks easy ... but in reality it takes culture change. It requires trust and a willingness to accept risk (with appropriate mitigation in place like training).

It easy to leverage social within the boundaries of the old paradigm, but that's not Social Business.  It's a journey, but the rewards can be significant.