Does your company have a Facebook, blog or wiki?

IMG_0068The National Marketing Day in the Netherlands proved once again that marketing without the term ‘social’ is to no use. Well, talking about it actually. As hungry hyenas the Dutch marketers swallowed all with the name extension ‘2.0’. And the dutch marketers are not the only ones. We see this happening all over the world. Whether that is a good of bad thing is part of another, much broader discussion. Fact remains that companies now suddenly see that having conversations with their customers, preferably authentic and transparent, could prove extremely important. And that’s always a good thing.

But what about those employees of these ‘2.0-savvy’ companies? Or even those ‘1.0’ companies, still figuring out these new trends? To which extend has 2.0 communication penetrated within organizations? Let’s be honest. If 2.0 means that people create stuff in an open, constructive and transparent way it shouldn’t be difficult to imagine that companies jump into this like they did into Web 2.0. Which manager doesn’t want to have employees who perform much more in less time and come up with real customer-focussed products and services? And have fun along the way, too? At last, Cubicle Utopia!

Unfortunately, things won’t change overnight. But changes are imminent, that’s for sure. The rise of Generation Y/Millenials/Generation Facebook/Digital Natives (basically all the same) within the walls of corporations determines for a great deal the way we are communicating (or are going to communicate) between colleagues and higher management.This is the generation that doesn’t know that you could ‘dial’ on a phone and that music was distributed on a kind of plastic called ‘vinyl’. MP3, computer, internet, 24/7 availability and Facebook have found a place in their vocabulary. This will be the generation pulling the strings soon. And may be soon is sooner than you think. In the Netherlands 800,000 babyboomers will have to be replaced by only 450,000 GenY-ers. And in the US half of the workforce is marked GenY at the end of 2010.

What does this all mean for communication and collaboration? Time to find out on the fourth Enterprise 2.0 conference in Boston, USA.

Enterprise 2.0

IMG_0063The number of participants going to the Enterprise 2.0 (E2.0) Conference is growing steadily. No surprise, because in six tracks the organization promises all kind of inspiring sessions. How about ‘Implementing Enterprise 2.0: Exploring the Tools and Techniques of Emergent Change’, or ‘How to Build Collaborative Software That People Will Actually Use’? And let’s not forget ‘The Evening in the Cloud’. With these kind of titles I at leas was intruiged. Started three years ago with only 750 participants, now the world’s biggest event on Enterprise 2.0 with this year more than 1,500 participant of various nationalities (though no Duchies, to our knowledge).

Dion Hinchcliffe started the program on Monday morning with a three hour session about the current status of E2.0. Dion should know, since he is blogger on the popular ZDNet, has his own Enterprise 2.0 show, is President and CTO of his own consultancy Hinchcliffe & Company and in his spare time set up Web 2.0 University. A busy bee, to say the least. Passionately Dion explains that social media tools such as blogs and wikis are more or less accepted by the mass and that in some way many organizations are already experimenting. Mainly because for many people the border between work and private life is diminishing. Employees work from home and ‘Facebook’ at work. “But”, as he explains, “we are at the beginning of the curve. Plenty of opportunity to improve.” And to what should we pay attention, according to Dion? “Community Management, social media guidelines for employees, change management, increasing acceptance and measuring results are focal areas which every company starting with E2.0 should take very seriously.”

Results don’t lie. A sound E2.0 program may gain a better distribution and usage of knowledge, increased productivity (in some cases even more than 20%), transparent business processes and improved innovation. The advantages of E.0 are plenty, and Forrester Research estimates that this market will have a value of $4.3 billion in 2012. “Most probably this will be even more”, said an optimistic Hichcliffe.

But aside these halleluja-stories of course also challenges lie ahead. Plenty of challenges. Many of these challenges were discussed in most presentations and can be, in my opinion, broken down into the following subjects:

Safety
Company data not on the company servers, but outside the firwall. Very scary for most companies. Put many servers together and call it ‘The Cloud’. Cloud Computing is hot, sufficiently hot to dedicate an entire evening to this subject. In a panel discussion between users of cloud solutions and vendors (such as Google, IBM and EMC) it became obviously clear that there are many advantages (among other things scalibility, flexibility and lower costs) but that a healthy distrust remains. “I want to know exactly where your servers are located. Not somewhere in a country with a doubtful regime”, said a user to Rajen Seth, the inventor and developer of Google Apps.

Acceptation by policy makers
Making policy can be interpreted in many ways. For E2.0 roughly four groups play a significant role: Human Resources, Corporate Communications, Higher Management and IT. And not all are equally convinced about the advantages of E2.0.

IMG_0058A nice example from the audience: “My company loves video. We even have our own Youtube channel to inform our customers. However, when I type ‘www.youtube.com’ in my browser the site is blocked by IT. And thus I have to watch these company videos on my own computer at home. Still many companies do not understand that the majority of the employees can be trusted and can use tools like Youtube and Facebook in an honest way, perfectly in line with corporate guidelines. A nice lecture about this from Metthew Fraser, co-author of the book ‘Throwing Sheep In The Boardroom: How Social Networking Will Transform Your Life, Work and World’.

“Human Resources prefers to talk to customers instead of with customers”. said a frustrated Fraser. And this is exactly what I see around me all the time. Don’t expect any help from Corporate Communications either. Fixated in old thinking patterns most organizations still send out press releases in the name of… yeah, in whoms name anyway? “Just send this out in the name of a true person, with a face, and so”, Fraser preaches.

The co-operation with IT is a different story altogether. I wrote in a previous blogpost that in general IT is not first in line to implement these new tools. That I wasn’t alone with my hypothesis became clear on this congress. At most, if not all lectures IT was mentioned as the major hurdle to take. Reason for this is beyond my understanding. Of course I understand the fear of placing data outside the firewall. But one should think that IT, of all disciplines, should jump on board of these new and exciting IT-related developments? Don’t get me wrong, there were a few examples where IT was not the problem, and even a catalyst to get things done. But these were exceptions to the rule.

Measuring
The good ol’ ROI dilemma. Also here people were wary about how to measure Social Media. Do we have to measure it anyway? As a ‘best practice example’ the introduction of the phone after the Second World War was given. The US government had the ambition to put a phone on every desk in the country (that vision was later borrowed by Bill Gates and the ‘phone’ was replaced by ‘computer’). “Ridiculous”, people said. “Before you know it everybody is going to call everybody all day long.” Well, the phone came and the world didn’t collapse, nor did we morphed into a brainless communication creature (come to think of it, some of us did). Can you imagine doing your work without a phone? And did you ever see the ROI calculation of the phone? It reminds me about the same discussion I had on e-mail, internet and mobile phones. All difficult at the start but were eventually adopted without ROI calculation and changed the way we work. IBM had a nice suggestion to measure effectiveness of E2.0: Return on Contribution: how much views did a specific type of contet had. Anyway, we didn’t quite finish the discussion on ROI, and I have a feeling that this subject will emerge frequently on various congresses.

Acceptation by end users
E2.0 is all about sharing knowledge. As much as possible. But wait a second… What about the well-known and often abused ‘knowledge is power’ mantra? “Social Media causes the first real generation gap since Rock ‘n Roll”, I read in a tweet. “back then the older generation didn’t understand the fun of dancing with your hips. And now the older generation doesn’t understand the importance of sharing knowledge”. Whether it is this strong or not, fact is that a separation on the working floor seems inevitable. Time to focus on implementation.

Robbie and Madonna

A whole shopping list of challenges. Pessimistic readers might conclude after reading this blogpost so far that a marriage between Robbie Williams and Madonna is more likely than letting E2.0 succeed. Don’t worry, fortunately a lot has been said about acceptation and implementation as well.

IMG_0055A well-known condition of a successful implementation is linking the tool to a real business problem (as opposed to first develop the tool and find a business problem to use the tool later). A bit obvious but still very true. Next to that, find your evangelists and experts. People who get excited about these tools and developments. Give them a specific task when implementing. Another major motivator to consider is recognition. We human beings seems to be a but basic as far as status is concerned. Social Media can utilize this by implementing Reputation Management, for example.

Lee Bryant of Headshift provided in his presentation entitled ‘Transition Strategies for E2.0 Adoption’ an obvious though unique tip: “Don’t mention the S-word”. In other words, don’t throw difficult Social Media words like blogs and wikis to your people, but link them to existing tools. RSS technology? Just call it ‘e-mail which you don’t need to throw away’. Or how about Crowdsourcing: ‘your customers want to talk to you. And a wiki is ‘the intranet with big fat edit buttons all over the place’. Awesome!

The best tips however came from Gentry Underwood. Head of Knowledge at IDEO. Just his title alone must indicate that they take E2.0 pretty serious at IDEO. IDEO is a design agency. Design in the most broadest sense given the fact how his presentation was layed-out. In an all-inspiring session Gentry told the audience how IDEO has created their social platform themselves, based on existing technologies and tailor-made programming. Their platform ‘The Tube‘ was without doubt the most lickable, clickable and workable system that I’ve seen till now. All internal, so unfortunately not accessible to third parties. Also not for sale, regretfully for some interested people like myself. What Gentry did want to share was his vison on the acceptation by users. Outlined in 5 principles, learned by doing:

1. Build pointers to people
Put the employee centrally. Sound familiar but in reality difficult to put in practice. Everybody at IDEO gets their own blog, and on their profile page one can put personal info. The platform shows who’s available and how they perform.

2. Reward individual participation
Provide employees the personal recognition if they participate on the platform. Link this to career development and 360 degrees feedback.

3. Demand an intuitive User Interface
Employees not only ‘consume’ the information of the platform, they are also contributors. And if you can’t find your way around or need 200 page manuals it’s likely users are not going to share anything. Make sure the platform is easy to understand and minimum training is necessary.

4. Take the road more travelled
Integrate new procudures into the daily routine of people. For example, summarize the platform activities in a weekly e-mail, or place a flatscreen at the watercooler to showcase platform activities.

5. Iterate early and often
Life wasn’t perfect from the start, so don’t expect your platform to be. Start with what you have and implement small changes fast. Rather 15 small updates in one year than 1 major update each two years.

Especially this final point is considered Microsoft’s SharePoint Achilles heel. Looking at the Twitter feed I did notice some severe critical claims towards the patform. Guess it doesn’t really matter whether you are a diamond sponsor or not in the authentic and transparent E2.0 world. Especially the slow update pace (every three years one major update) and the ‘they don’t get it’ feeling was overall present. Nonetheless it remains the biggest platform on which intranets run and thus the biggest potential for breaking into corporations with E2.0. If they do it right.

Besides Microsoft there were plenty other vendors of E2.0 software. It’s still a very young field so vendors come and go. It still is unclear which vendor provides a solution for which business problem. But that’s charming in it’s own way too. Like in the old days of computer technology: so now they have this device, but for what are we gonna use it for?
I myself am involved in the implementation of an internal community based on innovation. From the collection and selection of ideas till the process of starting a project once ideas have been selected. But this platform needs to host our weekly podcast too, our blog and, while we’re at it, why not our wiki and RSS reader? We haven’t been able to find a solution which suited our needs for 100%, so we had to (re)design certain elements ourselves. But the solution we’re using now (www.spigit.com) is flexible enough to facilitate our requirements.

Awareness

The E2.0 congress lasted for almost 4 days. Next to several very interesting sessions during the day also the evenings were accounted for. We could choose between various sponsored cocktail parties and tweetups. We came home with the belief that the E2.0 trend might be even bigger than Web 2.0 trend. Think of it: internal communication remains important, and sharing knowledge may become even more important. Companies knowing how to facilitate in these processes might find themself some interesting competitive advantages. But be cautious about the pitfalls, too. Many employees are critical towards new ways of working. Whether true or not, be careful with implementing too much, too fast and too technical. It all starts with the awareness that things need to change, and that things can change. Eventually people will accept that things will change.

3655641854_972f31d45a1We see around us that Enterprise 2.0 is still in it’s infancy. To create awareness we have the idea to organize a Enterprise 2.0 Bootcamp, somewhere in the Netherlands. Kind of ‘Enterprise 2.0 for dummies’. We don’t know yet the details but we want to keep it simple, straightforward and practical. Should you be intested, just drop me a line at erik at digiredo dot nl.

One Response to Does your company have a Facebook, blog or wiki?

  1. SayWhat says:

    3.0 ladies and genlemen, get on board. If you Twitter, Facebook, MySpace or anything else you’re so, well…yesterday. Have you heard about the fabulous flying machines…no? We’ll let me tell you about this lovely bridge I own in NY that I will sell to you for a mere shinny penny. Interested, I knew you would be. You can park your car on it and tweet all day long, heck you can even friend your little sister on Facebook. Nice, what fun it will be!

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