My recap of Social Networks for Business Success (29Sep09 webinar)

In case you missed the event (the replay should be available for about 90 days in the archives at Social Networks for Business Success).

Here’s my recap of the event…

I really liked the diversity of the four speakers:

  • J.B. Holston, CEO & President, NewsGator
  • Catherine van Zuylen, VP, Product Marketing, Americas Attensity Corporation
  • Mike Vertal, President & CEO, Rivet Logic
  • Debra Louison Lavory, Director, Product Marketing, Digital and Social Media, Open Text

Each presentation represented the unique perspectives of their presenters

  • JB – a leading bolt-on to Sharepoint that adds great features for improved collaborative experiences
  • Catherine  – cloud-based text analysis of social and other sources supporting the “conversation driven enterprise”
  • Mike – use of open source tools to build your social computing capability
  • Deb – extension of the familiar process-based content management suite to enable social work patterns

but they all reinforced the benefits of driving Social Computing and in their own ways how to remove barriers to adoption.  It’s good to see The McKinsey report that recently came out is being quoted everywhere. Here are the main thoughts I took away from the presentations:

J.B. emphasized some of the key notions of social computing in a business setting that are very similar to the consumer social computing tools.

  1. I’m in the center of everything, it’s all about what’s I need
  2. Although it’s about me, I want to find others like me and the stuff those people produce.  Somehow community needs to be easy to find, easy to join and make it easy to share.  Part of the trick to adoption is figuring out who is like me. In some business cultures (large insular ones, for example), you may want to allow communities that don’t seem to be core to the business to let people get used to the tools, get used to sharing, have some fun and build some trust.
  3. To draw in those who might otherwise not be bothered to participate, leverage workflow integration.

Catherine presented the challenge of exploding information from all over the internet that your firm may want to be aware of.  There were a lot of places the conversation could have gone (CRM, HR and policy compliance), but she kept her examples to more of a CRM vein.  The Attensity Cloud offering allows for the mining of blogs, discussion fora, microblogging, and mainstream news sites for trends on topics you choose (your company and products, competitors, etc.), parses it and presents the information on a dashboard using different presentation techniques (trendlines, conversation cloud, etc.) to allow for real-time assessment and action.  The key takeaway for me was that you don’t have to be ignorant in the “river of information” you can keep a finger on the pulse of all the media, social and otherwise, and leverage it to your business advantage.

Mike brought the interesting perspective that the tools enabling good social computing are not necessarily expensive and propietary. He points out that many of the consumer social networking tools we’ve become familiar with are build using open source components. He cites Gartner’s “Tutorial: Social Context, Not Technology, Defines Social Software”, 30 May 2008 that asserts that social software is about improving connectedness, promoting unplanned collaboration and capturing informal knowledge.  From there he shares that the cost of entry into social computing can be very small.  Many of the open source tools are free to download and the cost of setting them up may be as small as asking an intern in the IT department to play around.  One point Mike makes that I think is key is that you shouldn’t start so small you can’t get value.  The basic requirements for any social computing environment are profiles and a directory (ideally this is an index to all the profiles).  The fact is that most of the toolsets include so many features, it would be very easy to deliver a pretty feature-rich environment, so the challenges will be in adoption and driving the change in the organization.

Finally, Deb gave a good discussion about what’s really different in the new world. I really liked her perspective on “thinking collaboratively”.  We really need to get our heads around how teams amplify our strengths and diminish our individual weaknesses.

Prevailing Norms Collaborative Norms
Knowledge is power Sharing is power
I need to be perfect We need to be perfect
Build my expertise I need to learn from others
I’m on my own I’ve got your back, you’ve got mine
We improve each other

In her discussion of barriers, she indicates that people will ultimately use the collaborative tools when it’s easier to use it than not to. Deb finished up with a discussion of ROI. At the end of the day, there has to be a return. Deb mentions three kinds of measures

  1. Tactical ROI focusing on what you can save through reductions in communication latency, redundant storage, process improvements, etc.
  2. Strategic ROI focusing on solving problems such as enabling dispersed teams and avoiding brain drain
  3. Visionary ROI focusing on changing culture, driving innovation and becoming something “else” for the future.

Parting thoughts:
Social computing today is where email was in the late nineties. Nobody had the right measures of success, but we finally reached a tipping point. If you think about it, this leads us back to the discussion of where work gets done.

For so many knowledge workers, work is done in the email client whether Outlook, Lotus Notes, or something else. I have been saying for along time, the “killer app” is the integration of all my communication sources in one place. In my opinion, the Rich Internet Application (RIA) needs to be much more about letting users configure their spaces to aggregate the kinds of information they need and to interact with that information in a constructive way. Wouldn’t it be cool if you could right click on any object and tag it, rate it, route it, or connect with the author to respond to it?

That would truly change the way work gets done!


Understand your population, improve your adoption rate

I read this White Paper from Cisco today entitled Collaboration: Know Your Enthusiasts and Laggards.  It’s a thought-provoking piece.  I think they do a nice job segmenting the universe of potential collaborators into four distinct populations:  1) “collaboration enthusiast“; 2) “comfortable collaborator“; 3) “reluctant collaborator“; and 4) “collaboration laggard“.   I think it’s a great idea to use “habits and beliefs” to factor the general categories (I found it hard to ignore the part of Table 2 that had a breakdown by organization type, role and years in position; it is my experience that often the newest in roles are the most enthusiastic collaborators).

I thought their finding “The most enthusiastic users are managers in for-profit companies who have held their jobs for 3 to 9 years.” to be counter intuitive (they don’t give the number of respondents in for-profit vs not-for-profit enterprises;   I did an engagement a number of years ago with an NGO and their whole world view was that of making connections and getting more out of less).

Give this article a read.  It gives some useful shape to the adoption challenge.  The conclusion on page 6 (summarized/paraphrased here) resonates with my experiences:

  • Recognize that attitudes and culture are [at least] as important as the tools
  • Introduce tools where people will accept and use them
  • Encourage executives to model desired behaviors
  • Provide formal and informal recognition
  • Implement [and reinforce] formal collaboration processes [I would add, blend old and new tools to smooth transitions]
  • Make sure the tools, IT support and training are available.


COLLABORATE! is a blog for the discussion of anything related to how we achieve more by working together.  On the pages here, I plan to comment on things I see in my experience as well as the press and others’ blogs.

I will be inviting others to share their observations and opinions too.

This is my first attempt at this, so I imagine things will be a bit unpolished at first.  Nevertheless, I hope you find the pages interesting and will weigh in.  Any on-topic dialog will advance the body of knowledge.