It was good not to have to think about work stuff during vacations… but what I could not help thinking about was Webjam. Without the pressure of the daily email backlog though, it was easier to step back and I ended-up fine-tuning the answer to a simple question: what were we trying to achieve, was that inspiring for both our clients and employees, was that simply doable.
Looking back at the type of discussions we had with clients about stakeholder engagement, I like to think that we are trying to solve, or more modestly trying to contribute to solve, a very interesting issue : how conversations build knowledge and how knowledge fuel conversations. What has indeed struck me as we work on corporate social networks is the shift from database-centric knowledge to people centric knowledge : what used to be the most important was the ability to find very easily all documents about any topic; what our clients are discovering is that it is much more important to facilitate the discovery of conversations about any topics : while it is necessary to have at your fingertips the last market survey to decide whether to launch a new product for example, what is much more helpful is to have access to various live conversations and work groups about this, usually ranked, with indeed some documents as Appendices. From a conceptual point of view the ability to access libraries of conversations speed up the graduation from Data to Information to then Knowledge and finally Wisdom, the so-called DIKW hierarchy, pioneered by Jonathan Hey.
In short, what drives the workflow is the conversation, not the file, it is the people, not the database. This has huge implication on the document and content management industry as what they are becoming are “appendices” to conversations; on the other side, stirring internal conversations within a company to foster knowledge sharing and innovation takes the center stage. In addition, making sure employees stay engaged in large companies will have to borrow from CRM tactics, especially to get the initial community to take-off.
Some might find it a bit ambitious but I find it very exciting to be tackling on behalf of our clients very hot issues about human interaction: how knowledge is created and transferred, what type of connections between people should be fostered to accelerate that process, and how to make the whole circle self-sustainable.
According to Hitwise, an online competitive intelligence service, social networks are now more popular than search engines in the UK.
Although it might be argued that the report is not exactly comparing apples with apples, I see it as another interesting indication demonstrating the evolution of the Internet and the way users are engaging.
In the past decade, the world wide web has served its propose as a de facto tool for research and many other information gathering activities. In fact, some of us might still be old enough to remember the painstaking experience of spending hours or days at the local or university library doing research for a paper; the Internet could be the best thing technology has brought to our daily lives.
However, the days when consumers are using the Internet purely for one-dimensional information gathering are on their way out. To many (including the generation who has never lived without a computer or the Web), they expect a lot more from technology…
Perhaps it is not surprising to hear about Yahoo’s extended partnership with Facebook, the search company’s latest attempt to provide deeper integration with the social networking site. Internet users now demand two-dimensional interactions when it comes to receiving information, either from friends or people they trust or share a passion with through social networks.
With this new evolution of using the Web, information and content is still king, but instead of just receiving and absorbing information passively, it is an ‘information exchange’ where general users have the power to be part of the collective intelligence. For example, users can add, amend and request to remove a certain piece of information on Wikipedia.
Opinions are no longer a privilege of a small group of people, everyone is entitled to their opinions and via reviews and ranking features on most websites, they can express them. A good example is a user-generated content site called Qype where users recommend and review shops, restaurants, bars, gigs and services based on their personal experiences.
We are entering a world where information is truly available to everyone, not only as a one-way reference, but also as a collective intellect built upon conversations and discussions among the general public via websites, forums, blogs and social networks.
As is often the case in technology adoption, consumers are leading here, but the revolution will be even bigger on the corporate side as companies discover that the elusive knowledge management that they have always been craving for will not be driven by powerful search on douments but by the ability to engage employees in contributing to conversations that can then evolve in proper innovation. People and their ideas are back to the center, documents are the back-up, the mean, the output, but certainly not where it starts and getting this process started is the difficult part.That will be the topic of one of my next posts.
Social networks are often associated with external communications due to the success of many high-profile promotional campaigns cleverly created by companies such as Dell, Cadbury and Burger King, trying to generate additional buzz via popular platforms like microblogging site Twitter or building their own like Time Warner UK did with Webjam for its NME magazine (part of the IPC media Unit). More and more organisations see the rise of social networks as one of the best channels to keep in touch with their customers and other external audiences. But how will this trend evolve in corporate environments?
As the popularity of social networks continues to grow and gradually replaces traditional communication channels such as email, they can be used more than simply as an internal communications tool to share company news and corporate updates. Instead, there are at least three key areas where social networks can make a difference within an organisation.
If you are interested in looking further into these business cases for internal social media, and exploring the challenges as well as solutions for implementing social networks internally as we have recently done for Unilever, my full article is now available on Figaro Digital Magazine.
Great discussion Monday at the Enterprise Social Media Forum, where I had the chance to talk about “Maximizing Employee Engagement” in Corporate Social Networks. One of the issues at stake is to what extent learnings from B2C networks can be applied to internal corporate networks where behaviours are likely to be at least slightly different, especially in large companies with an established culture.
While somewhat limiting if you take them at face value, simple frameworks always help to kick-start a debate and I would argue that it always help to start with what I would call the 3Ps of corporate social networks, ie People, Passion and Purpose. One of the interesting challenges in building a corporate network is to decide to what extent key consumer behaviors should be emulated within a company.
Great networks will look at finding the optimum combination between these 3Ps, first making sure that they fit with both the company overall business objectives, ie what is the goal, and the companies values, ie how do we want to interact together to get there.
Interestingly this is often an iterative process as corporate social networks are by themselves “change agents” that will help crystallise the company culture. The ultimate success indicator is often that passionate employees start by themselves new discussions helping the company to move forward as an organisation, both in terms of projects and atmosphere; but it usually helps to start and then nurture some “top-down triggers” to kick start-discussions and activity. While depending on the overall purpose of the network, these initiatives need to be in any case both relevant and useful to employees’ interests that should be identified upstream; such interests are likely to blend anything ranging from sharing team-building pictures to discussing what the competition is doing or working on a specific project.
Stay tuned as we talk soon about measuring engagement...
As companies look cautiously at the outlook for the year while wondering how to make the most of social media, these are the questions marketing departments should be asking themselves :
• Who is best positioned to talk about the product : the customer or the marketing director ?
• Is the marketer’s role to broadcast a message or to foster discussions about the company’s products or services ?
• How much of the marketing budget should be spent on retention and education to foster word of mouth rather than straight customer acquisition
Answers to these questions are likely to accelerate the following trends :
• From launching one-off campaigns to building lasting relationships
• From editor or product manager to community manager
• From SEM to engagement via social media, to also foster SEO
• From Content Management Systems to Community Management Systems
Of course solutions will differ on a per company basis depending on their business and how ready they are in embracing these trends. A good example is what we are doing with leading book publisher Random House on http://vintagereadinggroup.co.uk/ where readers can join or even create their own book clubs on topics and authors they are passionate about.
What is going to be as exciting this year is that companies are discovering that a lot of their engagement strategies for customers could also work to re-engage with employees. But that will deserve another post...
With most of the specialized press heralding the need to “do social media”, I can see through various discussions, most lately when presenting last week at the Media Tech 100 Invest, that marketers are still torn between two ways of managing a brand: broadcasting a message about product features and brand values in an environment they control or struggling to influence erratic conversations one cannot really control on social networks or forums.
Marketers should move to the next stage and actually purposely blend their official message with the informal conversations of their end-users or clients in what I would call Social Media Hubs. The reason is very simple: people now trust first “a person like me” above experts as highlighted in the Edelman Trust barometer. And with recommendations from these “people like me” (even though you may not know them) influencing more and more purchase decisions, getting your reputation right is paramount ... And reputation is not what you say about yourself on your site but what people say about you in their online conversations... And you are likely to be rewarded if you take this into account rather than hide it.
Too many companies are still creating facebook pages and twitter accounts to tick the “social media box” but they are missing the point if they don’t see these tools as a live giant feedback loop, which is what the internet has actually become from a marketing prospective. It is interesting that while twitter still presents its philosophy as answering the question “what are you doing ?”, their new homepage now says “See what people are saying about ...”. The real opportunity now is to indeed listen to what people are saying about you there, import it on your “official site” which needs to become an anchor for your community, run there a poll about some of the issues raised and then export the results back in a facebook group for example. As fellow co-founder Alberto Barreiro said in the Wow 2.0 conference last week, “Activity is the new Content” as conversations define reputations; the role of marketing today is less and less about controlling an agenda and more and more about fuelling these conversations.
As I said in a recent article about Climbing the social network ladder in Computer Business Review, “Companies need to make followers aware of the brand, not just the medium”. The issue is not to look cool by having a presence on the latest web2.0 sites but to show that you are actively listening and reacting. That won’t happen by keeping separate a “safe” official site and a few groups/feeds here and there. Both have to mingle and brands need to be comfortable with what they want to say about themselves sitting alongside what people say about them by :
We facilitate that process on Webjam by enabling our clients to create such Social Media Hub(s) so as to generate the activity levels required for the collective construction of their brand identities.
For the second-time running, Webjam was named last Monday a Guardian Tech Media Invest 100 company, topping some of the previous awards we had over the last two years and confirming our presence on the UK tech scene. This is great news for our clients and partners and of course a source of pride for all of us here, especially given the overall economic outlook.
What do we do now? Well we grow ! in uncertain times, a key reason why many of the companies in that list have been selected is that they have found the virtuous combination between the product, market and business model. What is paradoxical is that the market is not ready to finance anything these days, with VC funding in the whole of Europe less than that of the Silicon Valley in Q2’09 according to Venture Source quoted by Guardian Richard Wray in the Guardian supplement. It remains to be seen if banks will be capable to lend and fund working capital requirements and long sales/partnership cycles: I find it amazing that our bank, HSBC, can only extend the corporate credit card limit to the amount we are ready to freeze on a separate account. We are actually lending money to our bank while they are collecting recurring monthly fees ! This is not a mundane issue for many of the companies mentioned here who usually have in common the need to finance the upfront development and commercial work required to continue gaining paying clients and subscribers.
In any case, I’d rather enjoy being on the side of the entrepreneur these days, with great new clients in the pipe and new business being brought by existing clients: these awards are a celebration of entrepreneurship and it is fitting that our relationship keeps growing with Make Your Mark, the organizer of the worldwide “Entrepreneur’s week” and whose communities across 77 countries are powered by Webjam. I would definitely share the enthusiasm of Mike Butcher from Techcrunch that this is a good time to start a company, simply because the slump makes competition healthier with everybody zooming on providing real value to the client. It has never been easier to be focused !
As for Webjam, we will continue building on the three trends that make our industry so exciting :
Congratulations to all the companies in this Guardian Tech Media Invest 100 list where in many case we have friends and with whom we could end-up partnering at some point !
We had the privilege yesterday evening to have more than 200 of our clients, partners as well as social media experts from the London media, marketing and social networking scene attend the Webjam Summer Celebration party at Whisky Mist in Mayfair, London.
It was a good occasion to share the gospel about social media, the fact that it is not a specific use of technology but simply about people, about transforming passive readers into pro-active and engaged contributors if not publishers. That is exactly what we allow our clients, large companies or smaller organisations, to achieve and we were fortunate to have had four leaders in their respective field speak about their experiences using Webjam yesterday :