Thursday, September 30, 2010

Can 'one size' fit all for employee participation in Social Media?

As companies begin to realize that employee participation in Social Media is a key component of future strategies, they often jump right to the conclusion that all employees should be trained and encouraged to participate.  This has worked in previous deployments, so why not for social participation?  Shouldn't it be as easy as training employees on how to use the tools?  Or, perhaps an across-the-board HR initiative to have managers include participation in everyone's performance reviews? 

We are learning that there will be a spectrum of participation, based on many factors,many of which are not related to social.  Think about it:  it's dependent alot on one's personality.  Some people are outgoing, while others prefer to work in small teams.  Some are good communicators, while others prefer to focus more on project execution.   It's clear that you can't force participation.  If you attempt to require and measure participation, people will find a way to 'game' the system to meet the numbers.  Unfortunately, this will not help to achieve your overall business goals.  The recommendation is to encourage and enable those employees who are interested.  Allow them to put together their personal plans, provide them with easy ways to help them measure their progress, and set appropriate levels of expectations.

This is a journey, not a sprint.  Motivation will come by showcasing successful examples of people who have gained benefit (both personal and business) from participation.  It's helpful to showcase a wide range of people, from peers through executives.

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Social 'radio tuning' : static or single station....which is best?

When I talk to friends and co-workers about my role in enabling social computing strategy,I get some interesting reactions.  Many of them say that Social Media (especially Twitter)  it is just a bunch of 'noise'.  As a novice user, I also struggle with wading through the millions of pieces of available information to find the ones that are valuable for me.  But, isn't that what makes social media different than traditional websites?

A radio analogy has been used in my interviews with IBM experts on this topic. Some say that it's best to have everyone participating on different radio frequencies, which could be perceived as 'noise' to some.  It's up to the listener to figure out which they want to listen to.  Their view is that it would get very boring if without the variety of social 'radio stations'.  On the other side of the spectrum, some experts belive that employees should clearly understand the company message, and work to strengthen that common message.  In this way, it makes it easier for the listener to 'tune in' to a clear station and participate quickly.  The downside of this view is that a repeat of the company 'line' is not very interesting to many.  They could get this same type of one-way communication from traditional marketing channels.

I personally think that differing opinions and views are what make social media successful.  But .. if you want your message to come across clearer than other 'stations', you need to get validation from your peers.  Convincing listeners to listen to your 'station' is the hardest part of this new social world.  In some ways, tips and education can help you achieve that goal.  More importantly though ... you have to have a message that is interesting and unique. Without uniqueness, you will fall into the static.   This needs to be balanced with supporting company goals.  Employees who participate in social networks on topics related to their day job (in their own voice) have a responsibility to understand what their company is trying to accomplish, and think about how their social participation fits.  It's an interesting balance, and is one that will evolve over time.

Companies need to think about what their strategy is, so that they can provide appropriate guidance and education to their employees.  There is not single answer here, and I welcome discussion.  What do you think?

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

“Character is like a tree and reputation like a shadow. The shadow is what we think of it; the tree is the real thing.”

The quote is from Abraham Lincoln, and was included in a speech made by Jon Iwata (IBM SVP Marketing and Communications) to the Institute for Public Relations in November of 2009.

Jon's comments reflect a new paradigm shift for companies.  "What will determine success or failure in the coming era will be not whether your people show up on the global commons, but what they do once they’re there. The key, in other words, is to build the eminence of our workforce. What do I mean by “eminence”? No matter what their industry, their profession, their discipline or their job, people with eminence are acknowledged by others as expert. It’s not simply to know a lot about Tuscan villas, digital cameras or banking. You need to be recognized as an expert. And when you show up – in person, or online; in writing, or in conversation – you are both knowledgeable and persuasive. Because being an expert and being good at communications aren’t the same thing, as we all know.... We have to take the next step and build the eminence of our workforce."

Every company has Subject Matter Experts (SME's).  The challenge is to enable and encourage them to participate in relevant communities, where they can demonstrate their expertise.  With on-going participation, they will begin to build credibility and influence with their peers, which has benefit for them personally as well as benefit for the company that they work for.

How do you go about building eminence?  I conducted a series of 30 minute interviews with 20 IBM SME's who are recognized as having eminence, and asked them for their insights.  I'll summarize them here, and then go into deeper details on each one in future blog posts.
  1. Focus on the perceived value for clients.  I talked about this in my previous blog post (Need to focus on perceived value for YOUR client .. not just activity).   It is important to listen to your customer and collaborate with them in their preferred medium (which may include both social non-social).
  2. Need to understand your goals - both personally and professionally.  How can my participation in social media help to promote the mission of my company?  What are my personal goals?  Building eminence is a long journey that requires commitment.  You need to stay flexible in identifying and measuring your goals over time.
  3. 'One size' will not fit all.  There will be a spectrum of participation, which should be encouraged.  Participation can't be forced,  but rather should be encouraged.  Individuals need to measure their own success.
  4. Without on-going support and encouragement, involvement declines.  Companies need to assure that all levels of management understand that social participation is a priority and is business appropriate.  Feedback mechanisms and executive visibility are key factors in supporting the paradigm shift.  Visionary leadership by example can be very powerful.
  5. Promoting workforce eminence is transformational. Often, activities are treated as stand alone pilots. Successful transformational efforts are supported by top level executives, are long term, require an integrated end-to-end approach and need culture change.  There needs to be consistency and commitment from across the company.
  6. Enablement needs to be viral.  Passionate individuals need to actively communicate 'real' examples for 'people like me' ... in a fun way.  With the appropriate cultural support, employees can think "I can do that too'. 

Thursday, September 9, 2010

Need to focus on perceived value for YOUR client .. not just activity

Digital Eminence is one of the new 'buzz words' today.  What does that mean?  It's not just about your expertise... it's about how others in your network perceive your expertise.  If you are eminent, your opinions are valued and you have influence and credibility.   Often, people will 'jump in' and get their 'social numbers' high ... e.g. number of followers or number of tweets,  This may look good on your profile, but is it really increasing your eminence?   One of the insights provided by a Subject Matter Expert team on this topic:  Social media participation should not be measured by the activity, but the value/impact it has

It's interesting to think about what that means for me.  Do I know who my clients are?  What do they value?   Do I understand their needs?   How can my expertise provide them value? These sound like easy questions to answer, but in reality, it's not so easy.  As I started my journey to participate socially, I thought it would good to first listen to the conversation.  Hmm ... there are millions of tweets out there.  How do I sort through the 'noise' and figure out where I can add value?  With the help of some co-workers in this area, I am starting to learn how to use free tools such as TweetDeck and HootSuite to begin to categorize conversations that are of interest. 

With a project management background, I'm coming to the conclusion that this challenge is no different than managing a successful project.  It always starts with understanding who your stakeholders are (i.e. clients), and what their needs are.  Once you understand that, you need to get clarity around what are you trying to accomplish (i.e. what is your goal), based on your skills (i.e. your expertise)  ... and how you will measure success.   The element of resource availability also comes into play here.  Your goals need to be dependent on how much time you will be able to commit to it.  As an example, if I commit 2 hours per week, it will take X months ... but it will take twice as long if I commit only 1 hour per week.   Another critical success factor for projects is to assure that there is sufficient time spent upfront in the planning phase.  As part of your planning, you need to take time to listen to the current conversations, understand who the current experts are and determine what is driving their influence.  This planning phase will also give you an opportunity to understand where your clients are collaborating, so you can be visible where they are.    

We need to keep in mind that your clients may value non-social forms of eminence, perhaps more than digital eminence.  Once you understand your goals, you can include things such as presenting at conferences and participation in professional organizations.  Companies can't be too prescriptive on activity metrics or which mechanisms to use.  It's all about demonstrating value for your client.

So ... understand who your audience is, what their goals are ... and how your expertise can provide value.  Give yourself enough time upfront to put your plan together.  That will get you on the path to establishing your eminence!  I'm just starting on the journey, and welcome your thoughts and insights!