Enterprises are always looking for ways to help employees communicate with each other more effectively. The reasoning is simple: better communication leads to faster and higher-quality work, which, in turn, drives increased productivity.
The rise in social networking has breathed new life into efforts to improve internal collaboration. Social technology has changed the way consumers interact, and enterprises naturally want to harness that proclivity toward better communication and collaboration within the enterprise. That’s why seamless collaboration is one of the emerging IT trends in our recently released Accenture Technology Vision 2013 report, which outlines our predictions on which technologies will have a significant impact on organizations—for both their IT departments and their businesses overall—in the next few years.
However, many enterprises are viewing social collaboration trends through the wrong lens. Consumers widely use Twitter, but deploying Twitter to employees won’t solve the communication challenges a company faces. Facebook’s e-mail and document-sharing features are not enough to make the wildly popular social network appropriate for the corporate world. At work, people are motivated to get their job done as quickly and effectively as possible. Using social tools as designed today, to follow coworkers en masse, often becomes more of a time sink than a time saver.
But social technologies can and do work for enterprises. A 2012 study by Nucleus Research found that adding social capabilities to CRM drives an average increase in sales staff productivity of 11.8 percent. The key to capturing the benefits of a highly collaborative, social workforce lies in integrating social technologies into the systems and processes that employees use every day.
For example, adding the ability to comment, instant message, or follow a product through its activity stream within an order fulfillment application promotes a free-flowing exchange of ideas otherwise absent within a distributed supply chain. It facilitates dialogue and education, enabling colleagues and business partners to easily share knowledge and learning.
Embedding social collaboration into business processes
Some packaged-software developers are already adding these new capabilities to their applications. SAP, with its Jam tool, and Oracle, with its Social Relationship Management platform, now allow companies to connect collaboration tools into their ERP and CRM packages. In addition, Salesforce.com has integrated its Chatter collaboration tool into its PaaS and SaaS applications. Collaboration platform Jive allows companies to layer collaboration on top of specific tasks, such as software development. The ultimate result: embedded channels combining search, knowledge management, workflow, and collaboration, which deliver the prized ability to help users more easily and effectively do their jobs.
By tying the integrated collaboration experience to business processes, disparate channels evolve from separate applications into a single user experience. For example, startup Clearspire is using social technologies to reimagine how a law firm is built. It has created its own cloud-based platform that embeds social and collaboration efforts between lawyers and their clients into the processes. Matter diaries, budgets, and task applications are shared seamlessly with those who have access, allowing lawyers and clients to work on their cases collaboratively from any location. The collaboration technology isn’t layered onto the process; it has become the process.
Such integrated systems deliver a richer experience for individual users. But just making a tool available doesn’t mean employees will adopt it. If the usefulness of a new tool isn’t obvious, businesses will never see any ROI. Embedding collaboration requires a cultural shift within the enterprise to change the way it looks at both its workers and its business processes.
What seamless collaboration will look like
The new face of collaboration will show up first as social interactions are integrated into business processes. When employees are able to chat, share information, identify specialists, get recommendations, and find the right answers to their questions directly within the context of their work, they’ll quickly become smarter, more responsive, and more productive. It will be clear who’s participating and contributing, just as it is on social-media sites today, and it will be easy for employees to reach out for information.
But that’s just the start of what’s possible. As part of the broader movement to consolidate siloed IT capabilities into business processes, we expect to see deeper convergence of search and knowledge-management activities that complement collaboration. The underlying challenge is to create a user experience that helps employees get the information they need when they need it.
Enterprises that take advantage of converged collaboration have an opportunity to see significant productivity gains. By enabling employees to work smarter, they are more aware of important context for their decisions and actions. Workers will be more likely to identify problems sooner, reliably find the fixes they need, and share the solutions with the right people.
Further, as enterprises quantify their collaboration efforts, they will reveal a more complete picture of how their employees and their business processes actually work—and they’ll be able to make them even more efficient going forward.
To learn more about seamless collaboration and other 2013 IT trends, download the Accenture Technology Vision report.
Alex Kass and Manish Mehta
What if work could be more like our favorite games? This question has been inspiring growing interest in bringing “gamification” to the workplace, which means leveraging games and game mechanics to help shape workplace behavior.
The idea that businesses might leverage the enjoyable – even addictive – power of games to engage and influence both consumers and employees has a powerful appeal. You can see this in the growing number of blogs (e.g., Gamification.co and Zdnet), books, and conferences demonstrate. This appeal has been further enhanced by the emergence of gamification software vendors, such as Badgeville,and Bunchball, who make it relatively easy for an enterprise to get started with gamification. Technologies now exist to help “gamify” existing applications, processes, and interfaces by weaving in game mechanics such as reward points, leaderboards, badges, and the ability to ‘level up’. Enticed in part by the onramp these vendors have created, many companies are exploring gamification, and some, such as LiveOps, have made gamification of work a core part of their service delivery model.
The same techniques that keep Farmville players working their plot seem to have real application in the workplace as well, but how broad and deep are the potential impacts? Is it limited to providing employees with small nudges to perform chores like turning in surveys, filling out expense reports on time, perhaps even moving customers through a check-out line a bit faster? Or is gamification something that can address deep-seated and complex behavior change? Can it be used to help change beliefs and priorities? Can it be used to promote behaviors which will take intensive effort to learn, or which employees don’t even realize they need? And can games be used to create change that lasts even after the game is out of the picture?
The answer to all these questions may well be yes, but it will take an expanded repertoire of gamification techniques, specifically designed to address a broader swath of the behavior-change lifecycle: One key insight from the literature on persuasion and behavior modification on a range of topics from cancer to computing is that behavior change often follows a stereotyped pattern of stages and that each stage presents different challenges. The stages in this behavior-change lifecycle each pose different kinds of behavior-change challenges that must be understood if we’re to create game-based techniques to all the stages.
Here’s a 5-stage version of the behavior-change lifecycle which we have adopted from the literature:
- Raising awareness: Understanding exactly what the as-is behavior patterns are, and recognizing that there is opportunity for improvement.
- Building buy-in: Committing to the commitment of time, energy, and resources, needed to execute the change.
- Learning how: Understanding the mechanisms and techniques that underlie the target behaviors
- Initial adoption: Trying out the target behaviors, getting used to actually executing them.
- Maintaining and refining: Perfecting the new behaviors through extended practice so that they become they eventually become self-sustaining.
Most gamification we have seen focuses on Stage 4 and, to a lesser extent, stage 5: promoting the initial adoption, and then the maintaining of target behavior patterns. Stages 1-3 are often all but ignored. This is fine in situations where raising awareness, building buy-in, and understanding the basic mechanism of the target behaviors are not crucial issues. In some cases, merely motivating initial adoption of behaviors is sufficient to generate buy in because the initial effort is not too great and the advantages become self-evident once the behavior is adopted. For example, if you can motivate someone to exercise for several weeks, he might start feeling good about himself, start enjoying the activity, and thereby start exercising on a regular basis.
But in many more challenging behavior-change scenarios, stages 1-3 play key roles in an effective behavior-change program. Consider some examples: An employee who uses a condescending tone with customers may not even realize they are doing so, which would mean that raising awareness of the problem is a first, crucial step toward sustainable behavior change; an employee who is too blunt or cursory with colleagues may not buy into the need to provide more tender-loving care, because there is no explicit connection made between that behavior and the morale or retention problems that it causes; an employee who does not understand the mechanisms for carrying out a new business process will be unable to respond to incentives to execute the new process – regardless of how well game mechanics are used to provide that incentive.
One game mechanic that can be effectively used for achieving buy-in is cause-and-effect game simulation. These simulations can help raise awareness of the impact of the user’s existing behavior patterns and the need for change. A simple example of such a simulation is Stone City game commissioned by Cold Stone Creamery, in which employees learn to scoop the right portion-size ice cream. An aspect that we see as critical to achieving buy-in – and thus to sustaining motivation beyond the confines of the game – is the game illustrates the long term repercussions of incorrect portioning behavior on the profitability of the company. Simulations can make long-term consequences, which motivate change, visible in a compressed timeframe. Outside the enterprise, games such as World of Warcraft motivate hours of detailed work, planning, and skill building, by making clear connections between that work and a big mission that players find meaningful.
The concept of gamification is currently enjoying a successful stint as a kind of ‘child star’ but now it is time to see whether it can transition to equally-successful work in adult roles. The true potential is not fully known, but we expect that as more organizations recognize the need for a more extensive behavior-change toolkit, exploration of more advanced gamification will produce a range of effective –and affordable – techniques to produce complex and and sustained behavior change.
Alex Kass and Jordan Buller
Enterprise Social Collaboration (SoCo) technologies are rapidly maturing from their origins as internal corporate versions of the public, consumer social-network services, like Facebook, Twitter, Blogger, and others. What’s emerging is a new kind of collaboration platform, which we see transforming the way enterprise knowledge work gets done.
Unfortunately, while the technology has been evolving, the thinking about how to use the technology has not always kept pace, so let's review what's been changing and why: Enterprise SoCo began as a new channel for sharing thoughts within the enterprise: The initial focus was on supporting blogging / micro-blogging, and discussion groups, and using the social graph to channel shared thoughts to relevant/interested participants throughout the enterprise. This conception of enterprise social proved useful, but not as earthshaking as the impact of social networks has been outside the enterprise.
To understand why an evolution was needed to drive more impact, let’s look at the two premises of public social networking services:
1. Most sharing in consumer social networks happens by someone taking time away from their day-to-day activities to go onto a collaboration platform and write a blog entry or status update.
2. Content on consumer social networks is consumed by someone take time away from their day-to-day work, to go onto the collaboration platform and read what others have written.
While these assumptions led to incredibly rapid adoption of consumer social networking, they didn't work nearly as well within the workplace: Experience has shown that while a few dedicated blogger-types will actually take time from their day-to-day activities to produce content on these networks, most employees can’t, won’t, and perhaps shouldn't. Most enterprise knowledge workers are very goal/task-oriented while at work. As a result, within the enterprise, social technology is unlikely to see heavy, sustained use until going onto the social collaboration platform leads directly to getting day-to-day work done more effectively and efficiently. This is exactly the evolution we’re now seeing in leading SoCo platforms: By combining social technologies with key knowledge management and groupware functionality, they’re becoming comprehensive cloud-based social collaboration platforms. In particular, we’ve started seeing enterprise social networks augmented with functionality like task and project management functions; collaborative document authoring; customizable team pages that serve as collaboration cockpits; wikis the can be used to share (and even crowd-source) everything from meeting notes to group mission statements; and integration with the desktop, enterprise, and cloud- based applications knowledge-workers already use. Instead of places knowledge workers go when they can take time away from your day-to-day work, they’re becoming places that they go to do their day-to-day work, and the means through which important information about that work is systematically shared, with very little effort on the part of the sharer. The point of adopting SoCo in the enterprise is not to create an enterprise of bloggers, it’s to leverage the social and interest graphs to driveactionable awareness of what others are actually doing.
The potential benefits are far-reaching:
· Providing distributed teams with fine-grained awareness they need for effective coordination of day-to-day activities;
· Helping members of adjacent teams to maintain the systematic peripheral awareness of what related teams are doing they need to ensure alignment;
· Allowing colleagues across the enterprise - or even the extended enterprise, including customers, suppliers, and contractors – who may not even know each other, to avoid duplication of effort, and seize opportunities to join forces which might otherwise have been missed; and
· Giving management the birds-eye view they need of the collaborative activity patterns within their organizations.
We’ve begun using one of the leading SoCo offerings to carry out our own R&D work. So let us give just a couple of small examples of the impact we’ve felt on a day-to-day basis.
· When one of us needed to assign a task to another team-mate, we used to send an email. Now we use the social collaboration platform’s ‘create task’ feature instead. When tasks are completed, that’s logged on the platform as well. In addition to adding a bit of structure, making it easier to track, and making it less likely that the task will simply get lost in the email stream, this approach has the benefit of making the work we’re doing much more transparent: Team-mates can immediately see what’s on each other’s queues and management can get continuous visibility on status. And most excitingly, the social features of the platform mean that people we don’t talk with much, but who either follow one of us, our group or track a content tag attached to the task see it as well: Maybe they’ve already done something similar, and add a comment about lesson learned, or maybe they know someone else who has a need for what we’re working on.
· When we co-author documents we store them on the social collaboration platform, and use MS Office extensions that integrate Office with the platform. This means that we are using the tools we’re used to, but our work in progress is visible from an early stage. Tags we attach to the document can bring it to the attention of some relevant colleagues, and the platform’s content-based recommendation engine brings it to the attention of other. We can benefit from the enhanced awareness of what we’re doing as well as the early feedback we sometimes get from colleagues we may not even know have expertise related to our content.
The examples above are representative of two key modes through which these platforms share our day-to-day work. The first is SoCo Platform as Web-Based Workspace, where features like wiki’s and web-based task management supported directly by the platform are used to do work (which is then shared as a matter of course). The second way to achieve frictionless sharing is SoCo Platform as Collaborative Data Hub, where work is done in other desktop or enterprise applications, which have connectors to the SoCo platform, allowing activity performed in those other applications to be shared through the platform’s social network.
The evolution of SoCo is far from complete. These platforms are becoming very multifaceted beasts, and no single vendor’s offering leads every facet. The platforms don’t easily interoperate, so companies adopting the technology still need to set priorities carefully and make tough choices. At a deeper level, the entire SoCo community is still learning about how to make the most from combining social technologies with collaboration and knowledge management at scale. As knowledge work increasingly moves onto these platforms, a number of questions will become increasingly important. For instance: When the content is spreadsheets, marketing plans, product designs, and actions related to those, as opposed to the clever thoughts, happy-birthday wishes and cute photos that are shared on consumer networks, how should that content be routed, filtered, presented to support various forms of collaboration while avoiding information overload? What mechanisms can be used to shape the way users interact with these systems to provide maximum benefit? How can the flow of knowledge work through these platforms be used to provide management with useful insight about what the collaborative activity patterns look like? As SoCo vendors, their customers, and R&D labs like ours gain more experience with these platforms, and develop increasingly sophisticated answers to these kinds of questions, we expect the power of these systems will continue to grow dramatically.
The success of the modern enterprise depends, as much as anything, on the ability to bring the best thinking to bear on every project and problem. Geographic distribution and organizational silos can make this especially challenging. We use the term, ‘Fully-Networked Enterprise’ to describe companies that have the ingredients to overcome those challenges. Of course, technology is only part of the puzzle: it’s most crucial to have the right people and culture, but it’s also critical to make it convenient for those people to co-create, coordinate team activity, stay abreast of developments in related parts of the organization, and to learn from each other. The newly-emerging social-collaboration platforms promise to provide the technology needed to make the fully-networked enterprise a reality.
10 years ago, I was researching some of the new capabilities of the Xbox and PS2, which seemed poised to reinvigorate interest in console games, and generally change the way people behaved in their living rooms. At the time, I asked several of our TV-related clients if they were thinking about developing video games. They gave me a look like I was slightly batty (a look I’m familiar with) and said no. My logic was this: if we assume the business of a cable company or TV network was to entertain you in the living room, the mode of that entertainment was about to shift and it would be logical to shift with it. Perhaps first person shooters are not the core competency of a cable operator, but evidence suggests that their core competency is getting fewer and fewer eyeballs every day.
Fast forward to today. The change in the TV space has been slow, but I still hold to the questions I was asking at the time. Also, I now can make similar observations for other industries. The other day, I was asked to say something about how devices like the iPad would affect large textbook publishers. As a fanatical Kindle owner, I remarked that books, and especially textbooks would certainly move to the digital format very quickly. When the choices are a heavy backpack or a slim device, the choice seems obvious. This led me into all sorts of theories about how the business model would change when books no longer wore out, or when the books themselves were not limited by physical factors. One day, I might say more about that, but in the meantime, I want to focus on another aspect of the shift to digital. I started to ask “once textbooks are digital, should they even be books at all?”
The idea of a book is very old. Printing data on a sheet of rock, papyrus, or paper is where it started. Soon those sheets were put into stacks, and then those stacks were bound into books. Knowledge or any importance was put into a book format because, well, what other distributable format would they be in? However, once I put that book on an iPad, why do I need pages? Why do I need chapters and “books”? Physics “textbooks” should be interactive sets of experiments and observations. Biology “textbooks” should allow me to virtually dissect a frog or watch a plant grow. Of course these books will have text, but they don’t need to be a book. Also, “Pride and Prejudice” will still be in book form for an English Lit class, but it’s the exception that proves the rule. Even history books are arguably better done as multimedia experiences. Omar Bradley’s “A Soldier’s Story” is one of the many good books that show that war is as much a matter of logistics as about fighting. A good WWII book would include interactive graphics showing troop movements, images from the battlefront, audio from propaganda broadcasts, and much more than text. If you’re going to talk about the Battle of the Bulge, show the Bulge.
This leads me to ask: If I’m a textbook publisher, how quickly should I be shifting to become a software company? Probably pretty quickly. It might take the world some time to catch up with the technology, but in the meantime, I need to figure out how to write software for iPad, Kindle, and more. I have to figure out how to design experiences and rich UIs for devices like the iPad. I need to select a business model (subscriptions instead of sales?), and a DRM scheme that I’m comfortable with. I need to hire interactive designers and 3D artists. There’s a lot of work to do, and it needs to start now.
I have a tongue-in-cheek observation that I refer to as “Dempski’s Law”, which states that “utility is inversely proportional to hype”. Of the two dimensions, “utility” is fairly straightforward, it is how useful something actually is. “Hype”, by my definition, is the kind of breathless hysteria that goes along with certain products, leading to bold announcements on the covers of magazines that embarrass the editors 18 months later. Certain coworkers of mine are quick to point out flaws in Dempski’s Law, but I think they lack vision, and I’ve told them that. Sure, I could point out all the problems with Kepler’s Law, but I’ll leave that to other blogs and focus on the relationship between utility and hype.
To understand the beauty of Dempski’s Law, consider the common toaster. Here is a product that has a high utility (who doesn’t like toast?), and no hype at all. On the other hand, consider the Segway. Consider the news articles, interviews, and books written about the Segway and the way it was going to change the world. Now, consider the sales of the Segway, or the fact that you can replicate Segway functionality with a 3 wheel scooter like the ones seen in the Frankfurt airport. The toaster and the Segway occupy two ends of the graph representing Dempski’s Law.
Next, consider Java. Some have pointed out that it had a high degree of hype, and is highly useful. I agree, although I contend that the most hyped aspect of Java was the idea that it could run in any browser, which turned out to be either untrue or uninteresting, and that the useful aspects of Java, such as the server side uses, were largely unhyped. On the other hand, Flash, which never really had the wild-eyed press coverage that Java had, was arguably a huge factor in the advent of Rich Internet Applications and sites such as YouTube. I could make similar arguments for Twitter vs. SMS. The latter has orders of magnitude more traffic, the former has orders of magnitude more press coverage. At CES next month, the floor will be covered by hundreds of 3DTVs. Considering the amount of available content and general response to 3D, I’d say 3DTV also adheres to Dempski’s Law.
Yes, you can think of exceptions (I’ll get to that in a bit), but let me defend the law just a bit more. If you step back, you’ll see that the idea isn’t that controversial. Washing machines, while very useful, don’t help sell issues of Wired. Bloggers are drawn to speculate about something new, different, and cool, more than they are to talk about “utility”. Trends in advertising and media in general have shifted toward emphasizing form over function. Just as engineers toiled to support Moore’s Law, the media is working to help me prove Dempski’s Law.
Keep the form over function point in mind when we talk about exceptions. Dempski’s Law is not meant to be a true law any more than Moore’s Law is, but occasionally, people will feel the need to point out exceptions like the iPhone (or iAnything, for that matter). The iPhone was both heavily hyped and heavily useful, but one observation I would make is that in many of these cases, “hype” is an intrinsic part of the product or the brand. Go to the Apple store, and you’ll see a level of fervor that is unmatched in almost any other retail store. Hype is part of Apple’s brand. The same could be said for Linux, which is useful, and is greatly hyped in its own way, but that zeal and passion is somehow part of the Linux brand. How does this happen? A full discussion of Apple’s brand is a long discussion, but I’ll focus on one facet that I call the “Good Enough Observation”. The GEO basically says that once the underlying technology of a given product segment is “good enough”, differentiation in form becomes more important than differentiation in raw technology. Intel-based notebooks are largely technically undifferentiated, but Apple has managed to capture a market with sleek lines, metal bodies, and glowing logos. This is especially true for the many people who buy Apple notebooks and then run Bootcamp. In segments where the GEO holds, many products appear to break Dempski’s Law, but only because the hype is around the non-utilitarian aspects of the product. Apple’s hype is supported by their great design. Linux benefits from a near-religious attitude of many users. So, utility is inversely proportional to hype, unless “hype” is an integral feature of the product.
Have I made a convincing argument for the reality of Dempski’s Law? I don’t know if it matters because I’m only half-serious, but hopefully I’ve planted a seed in your head that will bloom into skepticism every time you see a wide eyed magazine article, or read a sentence that ends with “…,the valley’s hottest new start-up”. Who knows, being aware of Dempski’s Law might one day save you from making a very bad investment.
I read a book a year or two ago called “The Digital Plague”, set in the not-too-distant future, in which a character had to distract the guards throughout a facility they needed to wander around. The character did this through an interesting means of ad-personalization-hacking. Basically, they first dug up all the names of the guards in the facility, and found out where they were at any given moment. Second, they purchased ads against that person’s profile and put up advertisements on the displays lining the facilities they knew would appeal to each guard enough to distract them. (in the future displays were everywhere). You can imagine late-breaking news about your favorite sports star, movie star, a dress you want on sale, etc. etc. Of course, in the book it worked perfectly.
In real life, I recently started thinking about the new wave of personalization technologies on the web. Companies like Exelate and Blue Kai offer the ability to buy ads to searches based on very detailed profile information. The cost is only pennies per impression. With Zip+4 and a few other profile items, I figured it would be easy to target an individual with a set of ads. So I’ve been wandering, what type of ad-attack could I get for $20? Could I take-over the ad-space on someone’s searches for an entire day…a week… a month?
My good buddy Andy told me about a story on NPR where someone did just this. An advertising-executive looking for work bought online ads that targeted profiles of the top execs in the company he wanted to join. When the company execs searched the web, there was his smiling face all over saying “hire me”. Needless to say, he got the job. I could instantly see lots of subliminal ways to start influencing people based on this technique. It could be just as easily used for bullying, for harassing colleagues, competitors, etc.
How will people handle it … will anyone notice… will there be junk-ad filters in the future that work like today’s junk-mail filters? Will people pay even more money than advertisers to take over their own ad-spaces?
*Charles Nebolsky is the Global Director of Development for Accenture Technology Labs.
A few years ago, everyone seemed to be interested in talking about “Web 2.0”. I’m usually suspicious of such buzzwords, and I tried to avoid it whenever possible. This was especially true when people started to use it to talk about “whatever new thing I want to promote”, or when they tried to extrapolate to Web 3.0 and beyond. I finally threw up my hands in disgust when someone asked, in all earnestness, “isn’t that really Web 3.5?”
So, without using version numbers, I want to talk about two distinct generations of the internet. The first generation was mainly about using the network to move content from point A to point B. We created, if you’ll excuse the term, a superhighway for information. FTP accomplished this, followed by the web. (I’m old enough to know what gopher is, but not old enough to care.) Content, they said, was King, and this King, like so many others, was typified by broadcast messages from few to many, with very little listening.
The second generation, which has no distinct start date (what important generations do?), was a shift away from pure content delivery to an internet that connected people and supported relationships. We could say, in a sense, that “Contact is King”. Yes, it’s not perfect, but I’m trying to maintain the rhythm of the original cliché, and in any case, you know what I mean. I tell people in presentations that this is nothing new. People have prioritized interpersonal relationships for a long time. It’s just that the technology has finally evolved to support it. In fact, many different electronic technologies are evolving in the same direction. The most successful games are highly social, location-based services have finally achieved some relevance in the form of social applications, iPods are now video conferencing devices, and now Apple has added more social capabilities into iTunes in the form of the Ping service.
At this point, I have no idea whether Ping will take off, although I do have personal opinions about its viability as a stand-alone social network. Instead, I only want to highlight the fact that social connectivity is now an undeniable part of everything we do. It’s part of how we experience a product, it’s part of how we inform ourselves as customers, patients, and friends, and it’s part of what we expect from vendors. In a few cases, the incorporation of social functionality is gimmicky, but in most cases, it’s a logical extension of a service that is used by actual human beings. To my legions of long time readers, I likely sound like a broken record, and I promise that the next posting will be on a different topic, but in the meantime, the point is that “social” is not optional. Very soon it will be the baseline, just as basic HTML websites were simply expected of businesses in the late 90s. If “social” is infused into everything that matters, how are you taking advantage of that?
It’s dangerous to state the obvious. When stating the obvious, you run the risk of looking like you don’t know that your point is obvious, when in fact, your whole point is that the obvious isn’t obvious to everyone. Obviously.
A couple of weeks ago, I spoke at a social media conference, focusing on ensuring that your social media activities lead to relevant and measurable outcomes. At the end of the presentation, I was asked for advice on how to start a successful social media campaign. My answer was in the form of a question, asking what the person wanted to accomplish. Were they looking at social media as a way to increase sales? Build brand image? Get ideas from their customers? What was the definition of “successful”?
I find myself asking this question a lot, in part because social media is still a “shiny new thing” for many business people. Human beings, like cats, are bedazzled by the “shiny new thing” (henceforth, the SNT), whether it’s a new phone, a new kitchen appliance, or a new algorithm. We are hypnotized by its brilliance, and we begin looking for ways to use the SNT whether it’s useful or not. Anyone who has bought an appliance like an ice cream maker knows this.
So, social media is a new SNT, and people are desperate to use it. They are probably right to do this. Despite its shininess, it is a very useful tool. However, it’s a tool that is most powerful when properly directed. Therefore, when people ask a general question about social media, I ask them to first articulate what they are hoping to accomplish. Is it a goal that is well served by social media? Sometimes it’s not. When people ask me whether or not they should tweet or blog, I ask them what they want to say, and how do they expect to benefit from their work. Often, the answer takes a while to come out. Such is the power of the SNT. As we do social media strategies for people, we begin by asking these questions. What are the success criteria overall? What is the business goal? How do people expect to measure the results? In other words, tell me what you want to accomplish, and I’ll tell you if and how social media can help you, along with guidance around the channels, content, and organizational structure.
Starting with a definition of your end goal might seem like obvious guidance, but it’s a point worth highlighting because the allure of the SNT is so strong. It can often get you using the right tool for the wrong reasons. Each campaign, and even each post, should be done with an outcome in mind. So, you might ask, what is the point of this post? Good question. I’ve briefly mentioned some of the things we’re doing with social media strategies for our clients, crafting strategies that target different business challenges across different social channels, taking into account governance, metrics, and a host of other concerns. At the risk of stating the obvious, my hope is that we can work with you to create such a strategy. But be forewarned, I’m likely to answer your questions with questions of my own.
A while ago, we started an R&D program called Integrated Digital Experiences (IDE), where our goal was to develop solutions for new digital channels such as social networks, and to integrate those channels to provide a single consistent multichannel relationship between our clients and their customers. The previous sentence will take many blog articles to fully explain, but today I want to focus on social networks, social media, and all things “social”, and set the stage for later, more detailed articles.
I often have the pleasure of presenting to clients and conference audiences about current trends and opportunities around social. By and large, people now recognize that sites like Facebook and YouTube can be powerful marketing channels, but I still get people who ask if Twitter is a fad, or if the excitement around social networking will die down. If you’re reading this, I’m probably preaching to the choir, but I want to spend some time answering those questions, and give some examples of why I think we’ll be talking about Facebook and social tools in general for quite some time.
Let’s talk about “social” in general. If you’re over 30, Facebook feels like a new fangled tool, but it (and many others) is simply supporting a human behavior that has existed as long as we have. We communicate, we share, we express our interests, and we align ourselves with different communities and interest groups. Facebook didn’t invent these behaviors. It simplified them and, in the process, made them more manageable and visible to others. Similarly, we can describe Twitter in Web 2.0 terms like “microblogging”, but the important part is that it’s a manageable communication channel between individuals and the people who care about them. These are capabilities that people always wanted, but technology didn’t allow us to do this in a scalable way. So, what are people doing with these “new” social tools? They are doing the same things they’ve always done, in dinner parties, postcards, fan clubs, and reunions. The difference is that they are doing it more broadly and more easily.
Now, let’s talk for a moment about businesses using these tools to communicate with their customers. I will say much more about this in other posts, but I’ll talk in broad strokes here. If the consumers are communicating on social networks in a way that is both personal and social, then the same should be true for businesses. However, many businesses are locked into a mindset of mass marketing and broadcast messages. This leads them to do counterproductive things like sending mass emails to their Facebook fans instead of recognizing the fact that their fans have established a much richer connection with them over Facebook itself. Instead, businesses need to reset their thinking to match the new capabilities of social channels. They need to adopt the mindset of the small town shopkeeper. This was a person who knew his customers’ faces, their names, their habits, and their friends. He said hello to them when they came in, and chatted about the things that were important to them. He listened to them. He didn’t scream slogans at them when they walked by.
Everything I just described can now be done on Facebook, at a global scale for millions of customers. In later posts I’ll talk more about how to do it successfully. In the meantime, ask yourself where you are on the spectrum between mass marketer and shopkeeper, and if you need to change your mindset.
*Kelly Dempski is the Director of Research for Accenture Technology Labs, Sophia-Antipolis, France. He can be followed at @accenturesocial.
** photo by Gauldo.
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