Social Business

Luis Suarez spent many years at IBM in knowledge management and social business. Earlier this year, he branched out on his own. He's a popular speaker at conferences and advisor to many about the practicalities of social business.

One of his recent blog posts about social business challenges in the workplace spurred me to respond – something I should do more of (like blogging) but rarely get round to.

Social business at senior management level is not always appreciated or understood. In fact some (many?) actively resist it. I tried to take the management perspective with comments like:

It would be interesting to know how many of the 'resisters' of a top-down mindset are in fear of losing their power?

Perhaps they've acquired it through inheritance, accident, shareholding — anything except merit.

Or maybe they consider that their unique perspective wouldn't be understood by the 'lower orders', even if they were to share it.

When email first came in, analysis revealed that many middle managers were just 'message passers'. People just started leaving them out of conversations and they were exposed and, presumably, moved out of the way.

It's a bit different at the higher echelons of the company. I guess the answer is to find those senior management willing to engage socially and show the non-participants the value (e.g. better understanding of what's going on — in both directions) and see if participation spreads. If it doesn't then 'engagement' should perhaps be raised as an agenda item at board meetings.

Luis' responded quite fully (and harmoniously) and my response to this included:

Agree with you. Including your point on the restrictiveness (ie non-social) aspects of email.

I think that 'effective working' should always be the goal. I worry a bit when the goal is expressed as 'social' anything. Social is the mechanism, not the destination. It's something a lot of 'evangelists' (not you, of course) seem to miss.

He responded again so, if you have any interest in the subject of social business practicalities, I really urge you to add Luis' blog to your list of thought leaders in this area. He's widely known as Elsua, if you want to search for him. (Saves you ending up with loads of footballer hits.)

Something for would-be writers and spokespeople


Tebbo's Tips

All the above are free.They help you get started with handling the media or with business writing.

I created them because organisations need to influence their prospects, customers and other stakeholders either indirectly through the media or directly through their own efforts, whether they're self-published (company website/blog) or through submission to a media company. (See Tom Foremski's EC=MC: Every Company is a Media Company if you want to read more.)

The top image links to two videos, each broken down (if you want) into eight mini-videos of approximately two to five minutes duration. The bottom two link to downloadable pocket-sized memory-joggers. (They're actually A4 and come with printing and folding instructions.) If you prefer, just go to which also includes some useful links.

I offer all of this free of charge. In one respect it's me 'giving back' and sharing my knowledge. In another, I hope they reflect favourably on me and my work and attract people who'd like me to work with them. They're all Creative Commons – share by all means, but please don't alter them.

The videos are hosted on YouTube and the memory joggers are hosted on Google Drive. I had some fun writing the delivery script for the Tebbo's Tips memory-joggers, but that's another story.

I hope you enjoy what you see. I showed a few of my more critical friends and they've been very kind.

I'm enormously grateful to Alison O'Leary for agreeing to work out some questions and grill me for the videos. And, of course, to all those customers, friends and colleagues that have helped me throughout a most enjoyable career. Which, incidentally, I hope is far from over.

Does this interest you?

In December we gave a new blog a low-key launch. We wanted to get people with interesting points of view based on their life experiences to share their views and advice with others. We called it The Right Thing To Do.

Then along came Euan’s book (see the previous post) and he reminded me of what I’ve known for donkey’s years – that a question mark is an invitation to read and maybe participate, whereas its absence suggests a ‘know-it-all’ exhortation.

In the past, I used the question mark a lot with magazine cover lines and column titles. But when it came to The Right Thing To Do, I forgot.

Euan is right. Isn’t he?

Euan Semple’s “Manager’s Guide to the Social Web”

My holiday reading included Euan Semple's, Organizations Don't Tweet, People Do: A Manager's Guide to the Social WebIt inspired me to write a review which I'll also submit to Amazon.

Here goes:

SempleBookA simple question mark, for me, symbolises the difference between the old way and the new way of managing and working.

The old way is about command and control and hierarchies while the new is about personal responsibility and networks. The old way was predicated on authority (whether deserved or not) and the new way on inspiration.

The question mark I mentioned represents the difference between being closed (do it my way) and open (how do you think we should do this?).

Given a choice, who would you prefer to work for – someone who bosses you or someone who inspires you?

These, and numerous other thoughts, are what Euan Semple's "Guide to the Social Web" triggered. I reckon that if a book shifts your thinking in a significant way, then it's worthwhile. That makes Semple's book extremely worthwhile. It's a book about management thinking much more than a book about the tools available, although they can't be totally avoided. And it's rooted in practicalities, although you may find yourself resisting some of them. I'd say, "keep an open mind until you've read the whole book."

I'm someone who's been actively involved in social web stuff since just before I first met Euan in early 1985 and I've held several management jobs as well as being a writer and a columnist. (Yes, that's partly a disclosure – I interviewed Euan for a magazine article about his experience of introducing social networking tools to BBC employees and we've stayed in touch ever since. I also mention it to show that I have lived through the old way and the new way and have a certain perspective.) 

I've always, right until I read this book, been a bit wary of Euan's evangelistic tendencies. But he's drawn his conclusions from the university of hard knocks and tends, when conversation time is short, to be long on conclusions and short on explanations. But this excellent book changes all that. It is a book of profound depth which reveals his innermost thoughts on each of his conclusions and practical suggestions while staying humble enough to acknowledge that other ways may suit certain organisations.

He's convinced, though, that successful organisations will all adopt social tools to a greater or lesser degree. This book is a way to accelerate management's insight and understanding of what the social web means and the potential it holds for transforming the workplace. It is not a black and white book that says, "do this, or you're doomed". Semple knows that companies have their own systems and their own ways of doing things and, indeed, that social web tools can be complementary rather than replacements.

It is a business book, aimed at business managers. And it's written in a way that each short chapter is designed to stand alone and can be read on the train, in the bath or wherever else takes your fancy. This inevitably causes some minor repetition, which you notice if you read it straight through (as I did). And, one chapter left me slightly puzzled about something, but this was the topic of the very next chapter. So I was only puzzled for a few minutes.

Have I got any complaints about the book? Well one; I really don't like the white type on a grey background which is used to introduce each chapter. Anything bigger? Hmmm. I wondered why he didn't mention 'search' very much. Then I realised that he's much more in favour of asking questions and getting recommendations than wading through search results of variable quality.


The book is 296 pages, it's published by John Wiley & Sons.

ISBN-10: 1119950554. ISBN-13: 978-1119950554.

An evening with PR/Marketing Guru, Larry Weber

Back in May, I trotted off to meet with marketing/PR guru, Larry Weber and a bunch of other interesting people, including Jack Schofield (IT man at the Guardian for donkey's years and erstwhile competitor – we both edited PC magazines in the early eighties) and Bill Nichols an academic and marcomms/reputation consultant who, when Jack and I were competing, was Clive Sinclair's PR man. They were both on the speaker panel with Larry. The other notable people were in the lively audience.

The occasion was the UK launch of Larry's (then) most recent book: Everywhere. It's about social networking being at the heart of the future of business. He calls this 'anytime, anywhere' access the the fourth wave of computing. (I ought to know what the three earlier waves were, but I've forgotten. Maybe it was brains, internal networking and internet, or something.)

No surprises so far then. But I don't think Larry set out to surprise us particularly. More that he wants to share his familiarity with the subject matter in a non-frightening manner. After all, the people who really need his insights are those who are probably the most fearful of openness, transparency and genuine dialogue. You might think of them as the 'command and contol' brigade. While this has its place, it's probably not where the rubber of the corporation hits the road of the marketplace.

Sorry, I should be talking about Larry's evening. (And, if you're wondering why it's taken me so long, it's because I was suddenly pitchforked into a new company and I've been more than a tad busy. My conscience was pricked by a Facebook post about his recent presentation to the Public Relations Student Society of America. The headline of the post was "Social media's impact bigger than television's.")

At his book launch, he predicted that, by 2015, "you'll be hard pressed to find any newspapers or nightly news on TV." He says, "TV ads have got to die sometime." He may not always provide answers but he knows how to provoke fresh thinking. Let's hope the revenue replacement doesn't put the TV companies even deeper in hock to corporate sponsors.

With regard to the Fourth Generation thing, he told the story of how he sent off for brochures from all the prospective colleges for his daughter. She didn't look at one  of them. She'd already done her research online. Except she didn't refer to it as online. When Larry once said to her, "I'm going online", she replied "Oh Dad, we don't go online any more. We just are." Online, that is. And a lot of people reading this will know what she means. If you're not one of them, then it's likely that his book will interest you.

Another thing he talked about was Innocentive. Companies give it problems and money and it gets its community of 'solvers' to apply their brains. Larry gave examples of $100,000 here and $25,000 there. It's all online (of course). And the winning contributor exchanges their IP for the cash. That's a great commercial application of crowdsourcing. Related to this were his comments on how social networking allows for the intense, focused, sharing of knowledge. I think his book goes further and talks of micro-segmentation of the internet so that you can find a community and go deep into just about any subject that interests you.

He is very clear that successful companies (especially consumer-facing) will have to become radically transparent, be willing to share and also to stand for something that will resonate with customers and prospects. Core values that permeate the company's business. Larry doesn't claim it will be easy, but he sprinkles his conversation with stories old and new of how companies have turned on the proverbial dime. Dell, of course. BP to a certain extent. And so on.

I was quite taken with the idea that, "big sites will die under their own weight." He said this because he believes that all the power is now in the network. Not sure that a behemoth like IBM would totally agree with this sentiment, despite its strong advocacy of social networking values. With statements like this, the evangelist in Larry seems to pop out of the closet. (My views of evangelists are here.)

Let's turn to one of the other speakers, Bill Nichols. He scored a hole in one for me with his observation that "People respond to emotion and fairness."

I have the sense that the former has been faked and the latter missing for a long time.

If Larry and Bill are right, we would seem to be heading towards a better and much more harmonious world.

Let's hope so.

Media Skills 101 (reprise)

First of all, apologies for radio silence. I’ve been on holiday. Very nice it was too. We hired a motorhome and stayed at four sites in Dorset. We hired the highly specced and almost new vehicle from Ferndown-based Abacus which turned out to be a very professional company. Highly recommended if you fancy that sort of holiday.

Before I get stuck in to blogging again, I thought you might be interested in some posts I wrote over five years ago about handling the press. While a lot of the press appears somewhat emasculated these days and the new media folk are largely more kindly, the suggestions I made then are no less valid for shaping your outlook and approach to the media of any kind.

Frighten the kids, or encourage the grown-ups?

Have you seen the Act On CO2 'bedtime stories' advertisement that our dear government has spent £6M on? Although it's a cartoon, the words are real enough. Fundamentally, it tells children that they're victims of grown-ups' actions and, if the grown-ups change their ways, they may (note: only 'may') be saved. According to the advertisement, over forty percent of the emissions of CO2 are caused by 'ordinary things' that grown-ups do, like warming homes and driving cars.

The Advertising Standards Authority has received hundreds of complaints which it plans to investigate. Good luck to it. According to a BBC report, "An ASA spokeswoman said the watchdog would be investigating whether the claims about climate change could be substantiated and whether the ad complied with taste and decency rules."

The ASA hasn't a hope in hell of validating the climate change science. It should concentrate instead on the taste and decency angle. When Sky News wrote about the ASA complaints, it received masses of contradictory comments (I ploughed through 94 of them). Goodness knows who Lisa is, but she made a good point when she said, "Upsetting children can never be right … Why worry them so young when they can't do anything right now?!" Quite.

What is clear (if you didn't know already) is that climate change has become a religious debate and, if the Sky News commenters are representative of the population at large, the non-believers greatly outweigh the believers. And the powers-that-be are at their wits' end to turn us into believers.

The stupid thing is that the more rabid they become, the more they will turn off even the most reasonable citizen. Somehow the debate needs to become less accusatory and more inclusive. It might want to take into account that not everyone is the same or driven by the same values.

The latest EcoPinion Survey Report from strategic marketing agency EcoAlign parsed the attitudes of 1250 USA citizens and, in the process, identified five different categories of consumer. In terms of motivation to use new technologies and participate in new energy programs, they were: Cost-Conscious Saver (41%), Value Buyer (20%), Environmentalist/Green Consumer (19%), Traditional Consumer (10%) and Tech Enthusiast (10%).

The same messaging can't work with such a disparate set of people. Judging from that list, only 19 percent look as if they might fit in the 'believer' category in the USA. In Europe it may be different, but you can bet that the different categories exist. And it's therefore clear that a single message is going to fall on largely deaf ears, unless it happens to focus on the needs of the Cost-Conscious Saver.

And maybe this is a clue to the answer. Forget global warming, climate change, CO2 or any of that 'big-brotherish' terminology. Talk about simple financial and environmental sustainability through energy and fuel savings, through the avoidance of waste and other pollution and through the minimisation of raw materials.

In this way, instead of negative, frightening stories from those in power, the environmental tale can become a  positive one put out by everyone who is making an effort to improve our collective lot.

Evangelist: beware

Evangelists. Plenty of them hang out in the sustainability and collaboration fields where I work. Some irritate while others are acceptable. And this isn't because they necessarily reflect my views. (In case you were wondering.) The trick is to spot, early on, which variety you're faced with and make your excuses and leave if they're the 'wrong' kind.

Last week, the Free Software Foundation, wrote to the Fortune 500 companies (well, it didn't bother with Microsoft) essentially telling them they'd be mad to upgrade to Windows 7. The story was widely covered but few publications would have ended up with such a rich discussion as the Register. This is a hugely popular online IT publication which takes no prisoners. It has attitude and a healthy disregard for some of the tripe that emanates from the industry it serves. Readers are encouraged to comment on items and, this particular article quickly attracted 145 comments.

The interesting thing is that the article was about an evangelical organisation and it attracted evangelistic commentators, both pro- and anti-, as well as your everyday commenters. The end result is that anyone with the willingness to work through the comments, evangelistic or otherwise, would end up with an independent point of view, providing they read through with an open mind. If they didn't, they'd end up just strengthening their own prejudices.

The sustainability and collaboration folk are no different. The evangelists are noisy, in your face, on conference platforms, lobbying whoever and wherever possible, frequently on the web with their blogs, Tweets and comments. They exist everywhere, and always have. The big difference today is that they can be more readily heard.

You can get positive evangelists who show how life could be better. I have a lot of time for them, even if they turn out to be wrong. At least they're trying to help. Then you have the negative ones who are more intent on tearing down than building up. "This is wrong" or "you shouldn't do that" rather than "try this alternative" or "why not do this?". In pop psychology, the former are the I'm OK, you're not OK brigade – the same mentality, incidentally, as criminals.

A lot of evangelists are so immersed in their blinkered view of the world, that they forget (or ignore) the fact that, if adopted, their wheezes might cause more problems than they solve. We're shutting down coal and nuclear power stations to cheers from the acid rain and nuclear waste storage evangelists. But how deeply have they considered where the energy is going to come from? Or, alternatively, what impact on our lives a profound cut in consumption will cause? I venture to suggest, 'not a lot'. Out here in the real world, we have to find solutions, not just state problems.

In a way, the easiest ones to deal with are those that have 'Evangelist' printed on their business cards. They're being paid by someone to persuade others of the folly of their ways. You'll find these folk in many major IT companies. Others are not so obvious. Perhaps a company has plied them with gifts or other, more subtle, bribes. Recently I was talking with a Toyota (non-employee) iQ evangelist. Turns out she'd 'won' the car for a six month trial, in exchange for blogs and other social media outreach. Others are just total believers in 'the cause' simply because it makes sense to them within their own frame of reference.

The answer has to be to filter them as quickly as possible. Find out who pays for their evangelism in money or in other ways. Ask them what alternatives they know about in detail. And get them to tell you what the long term implications of their advocacy are likely to be. Some will slink away from the interrogation. Some will bluster, so you can take your leave of them. Those that will remain probably have a good and well thought out story to tell.

Salesforce/Twitter: genuine help or fake sincerity?

Interesting that Marc Benioff (boss of should choose to announce the addition of Twitter to its Service Cloud on Monday. Why? Because it won't be available until the summer. Part of me suspects that the reason was simply because Twitter is a very hot topic today and it might be tepid by June. The official reason, I think, is that the deal with Twitter had just been inked.

The news might have passed me by had we (Freeform Dynamics) not received an official announcement from the company. The covering letter said, "…enabling companies to search, monitor and join conversations taking place on Twitter…" Without being a expert, I was worried that a whole bunch of sales types or, worse, machines would start trying to insert themselves into Twitter conversations.

In fact, the pitch is somewhat more genuine than that. It suggests that organisations can monitor Twitter (a free addition to the $995/month 'Service Cloud' which already provides access to a number of online services such as Google Search and FaceBook) for mentions and, when they relate to problems, do something about them. That something will end up as either a comment to the Tweeter with a link to a solution to their problem or, if lots of people have the same problem, a general announcement-type Tweet. (Or maybe a bunch of direct messages – I don't know if the Service Cloud can do that. Nothing, apart from the tedium, to stop the help desk people doing it though.)

All sounds pretty reasonable, right? Back there in land, the client organisation will have a whacking great database of customers, prospects, queries and answers. Each can be clothed instantly with relevant Tweet threads. I quite often appeal for help online. If someone were to help me, and I said "hooray, it worked!" or similar, then this thread would be collected for future reference by support staff. A bit cheeky perhaps, but quite understandable. It expands the company's own knowledge base at little extra cost.

Getting a bit more sinister, it would be possible for a sales person with access to the Service Cloud to hoover up personal information about a prospect before making a call. ("Sorry to hear about your recent illness. How are you feeling now?") These things aren't impossible today, but because it's built right into the Salesforce system, it is actually quite powerful. A tremendous aid to fake sincerity.

And this is the point, isn't it? If the service is used for the genuine benefit of the customer, then people will welcome it. If, however, it's used to exploit the Tweeting public, then the backlash will be swift and unstoppable.

But who will the backlash be aimed at? Twitter for allowing access? The Salesforce customer for abusing the system? Or Salesforce itself for providing the Service Cloud?"

Any thoughts on that, Twitter?

Sidestep formal structures for effective change

Many companies like to think they understand all about business processes and change management. They spend fortunes on consultancy, design, structures, processes, training, roll out and management, then wonder why they don't get the results they expected. So they have another go…

Well, maybe things aren't quite that bad, but I bet you can think of plenty of examples of 'change initiatives' that just don't get the buy-in of the grass-roots people who are supposed to implement them. Part of the problem is that they quite often try to appeal to reason. They use PowerPoints with lots of bullet points to try to hook the intellect and forget the emotional dimension. Maybe they think there's no room for emotion in their business.

But why do people go to work generally? Especially so-called 'white collar' workers. It's for the satisfaction of doing a job well and for recognition and this doesn't just mean in the pay packet. Not a good motivator at the best of times.

Part of the problem is that we've become accustomed to treating business as a mechanistic process. And a predictable one at that. Do this, force it through these process pipes, and consistent results will pop out the other end. In truth, many of the most important business processes are chaotic. Think of sales and marketing, for example. Untidy real life gets in the way. Reality has little to do with the org chart and formal processes and much more to do with endless workarounds and informal communications.

Yes, of course some processes or workflows do what they're supposed to. Regulations have to be followed and suchlike. But these are a bit like the unconscious processes of the human body. We can walk down the street while we pump blood, breathe and digest our food. But our attention is on the interesting conversation with the person walking with us.

So it is in business, the interesting stuff and the stuff that is likely to do the business most good in the future is probably the stuff that lies outside the fundamental formal systems of the organisation.

Leandro Herrero has written a most interesting book on how organisations can bring about change by acknowledging that all is not what it seems in the body corporate. He alights on the fact that, alongside the 'organigramme', lives a communication network in which all employees and business partners participate to a greater or lesser degree. Some people are highly connected, others only slightly. These are the strong ties and weak ties beloved of social network analysts. His book is called Viral Change.

It investigates how these social networks can be put to work to bring about transformational change in double quick time – months rather than years – and without any of the complexity of traditional change programmes. Apart from the acknowledgement and exploitation of social networks, the book is heavy on behavioural psychology. In fact, for anyone interested, it contains a 16-page PhD psychology course, which is then summarised in a couple of pages at the end of the chapter.

As someone who's spent several years deep in the social network world and a further thirty plus years as a behavioural psychology advocate, the book resonated rather well with me. But the point that Herrero makes is that behaviour can be observed. It is unequivocal. Bring about behavioural change and the culture will change as a consequence. And you don't need more than five defined behaviour changes to bring about massive transformation. The trick is, of course, in finding and defining those which are most appropriate.

Diving off slightly to one side for a second, why did the iPod catch on the way it did? Apart from it being a neat piece of kit, don't you think the white headphones and leads had something to do with it? People were curious, they enquired, they copied, it became a fashion. But Steve Jobs didn't directed this take up to the nth degree. Apple seeded opinion formers and influencers and let the network do the rest. So why should influence spread any differently in organisations?

Why not seed the movers and shakers – the people who are well connected and, therefore almost certainly respected too – with what needs to be achieved and let them start infecting their closest connections. Then as they and their behaviour change, others will notice and, if they respect or admire the folks who are adopting new ways, they will copy too. Especially if adoption is periodically recognised or reinforced, to use the vernacular. Before you know it, you have an epidemic on your hands and change has permeated. It becomes the norm.

Of course, this is a gross simplification of a 400-page book. But the book does strip away a lot of nonsense associated with traditional expensive and long-winded change management programmes. And, yes, the author is undoubtedly pushing the services of his company, The Chalfont Project. You won't agree with many of the things he suggests, but then you're probably not expected to. If he infects you with the fundamental principles, it's up to you to figure out how to make it work in your world.

The book is a useful catalyst to exploiting the power of social networking and behavioural psychology to accelerate needed change in organisations.

If you're happy to provide your details you can download a free eight page overview of the approach from Herrero's website.

Even if this piece has irritated you, I think it's worth a look. You never know what you might be missing.