Modern agencies are leaping on the social bandwagon. Even traditional agencies are rapidly acquiring small collaborative development groups who lack a real sales organization and structure, to bolster the 'interactive side of the business,' which their clients are now asking them to provide in earnest.
What's driving this change? Clients are seeing the growth, because the numbers are visible like never before. Not with traditional print ads, and not with email blasts, and not with billboard campaigns can you simply Google the numbers that measure Twitter's benefit to brands.
As more and more firms get more sophisticated technology for measuring and reacting to social conversations, and as the mediums themselves specialize into social and relational search engines, there will be a wave of winners who are able to capitalize on their mathematical genius for customer relationships. That's why agencies are up-tooling. Their clients are demanding the math.
Of course, savvy consumers--the kind who can create a new market for a business with a single tweet--will wise up, and the price escalation bubble between people with followers and brands with messages will expand exponentially, only to burst when the real value of a person's audience stock is visible and measurable to everyone.
When the new social bubble bursts, what will be left? What will we get, as a society, from the splash? Collaboration is the upside. Social tools within businesses are already proving their mettle. Hierarchies are flattening, firms are giving away more critical knowledge in free communities, and customers are being invited to the back office. These are all side effects of social, caused by the external pressure exerted on the individuals at work.
Yes--the people. Remember them? When people go home to Facebook, they wonder why they can't bring it to work. Not for their family, or games, or friends--for their job. People have never been as informed as they are about their friends and loved ones. Surely they're concerned about their co-workers as well? The social conversation at work has a different core topic, but it's still social--and businesses who create social communities for their employees at work, for work, are winning.
Even after social conversation realizes a defense for the analytical engine of the brand lab and the economy pops, the environment of transparency and collaboration within organizations will remain, and be stronger. That's what makes collaboration the long play: it's the ultimate insulation from economic transitions.
Whenever we are asked to present on social media to an audience--sometimes an industry group, sometimes teachers, sometimes in private forums--the invitation is usually focused around Twitter and Facebook.
"We've organized a group of industry leaders. Can you come talk about Twitter, Facebook? Help them understand what this is all about."
I love presenting and engaging a group in discussion. So do other members of the Brigade, like Kevin and Jenn. We always accept the invitation. And then, we try not to talk about Twitter and Facebook.
Instead, we talk about collaboration, and language, and sharing information. I know it's sneaky--people want us to talk about Twitter and Facebook. But these tools are just expressions or techniques of deeper ideas, and most organizations will only be ready to use them when they have learned how to listen to the conversations happening within their four walls.
I like to open the conversation about social media by starting with the alphabet.
The alphabet is incredibly high technology, compared to Twitter. it's social media--it's chunkable, it's replicable, it's portable, you can use it in all kinds of mediums--and it's thousands of years old. What a stable platform! The use of language in an organization is the foundation of its communication, and therefore, its collaborative potential.
I like this analogy because it keeps things simple--the hype around social business and social media is as confusing as health care reform, and even more daunting to the unfamiliar. What's worse is that the relationship between social media and collaboration isn't clear. Most people think the big win comes from using social media for marketing and branding, which is why they ask us to talk about Twitter and Facebook. That's what the hype is saying. But the first win has to come from collaboration.
The business leaders I talk to are concerned about collaboration. They understand the value it can bring. They know their top talent wants to collaborate--and that by doing so, the team will create more top talent. They know that power can't stay in the silos. Right now, these leaders are trying to innovate as fast as they can, and their intuition is telling them a story about social media.
"I don't know what the value is, but I can tell there's something!"
The first place to look for that "something" is within the walls of a company, and in the eyes of its people. Whatever a leader wants to do with a brand in the world of Twitter and Facebook, that leader will do better with a team that is engaged in the world of meeting room and water cooler.
Bolting a social tool into your organization is just like getting another phone line, and plugging it into another call center, and setting up another CRM system to track your newest customer issue queue. Progressive business leaders know this is not the way forward, but see the activity and buzz and can't quite tell if it's real, useful, valuable.
That's why talking about collaboration is much easier than talking about Twitter. These leaders aren't sure what Twitter is good for, yet. Twitter might be an enabler, and there are plenty of ways to use Twitter to foster collaboration--but as Evan Rosen recently wrote in BusinessWeek,
"When tools fail to create value, it's usually because decision-makers adopt tools before the company's culture and processes are collaboration-ready."
I don't want these business leaders to give up on Twitter because they tried an experiment and failed. I want them to get a new tool and have a culture that is ready to use it.
When I describe what collaboration is like for me, using stories from my own daily work life, in an organization rooted in collaborative practice, eyes light up. Most business leaders dream of working in an environment where
just about every day. That's what collaboration is like, and kick-starting it means using more 'alphabet' and less 'social media' at the start. Asking people questions, and giving them all an equal place to share their answers can be a simple start.
Once things are rolling, using Twitter and Facebook will seem as natural as riding a bike to most of the people in an organization--after all, they're already doing it personally. Get the practice established in the safe, policy-controlled walls of the company before you try it with the millions on Facebook. You will know you are ready.
Does everyone in your workplace know what your mission is? Do you trust them to understand it and act upon it within the context of their ability, curiosity, and passion? Then give them a story to tell.
Instead of thinking about, and investing in, the tools, culture, and process inherent to secrecy, enable the people in your company to share their stories where everyone in the workplace can see them--anytime. Make as many facts available as you can, and keep making it easier for your employees to find, analyze, and contribute to those facts.
Make it mandatory to blog, and you are bringing the company into the bathroom. Make it hard to edit "the intranet," and you're taking the soap out of the dispenser. Give your employees a file server, and the garbage can is always full of slightly used paper towel.
What if you put a shelf in the bathroom with a nice hand wash dispenser, a couple of nice, fine linen washcloths, and velcroed an iPad to the wall, directly above the shelf? Then anyone can add their piece after they've added their piece. You are listening to people where they are. (And if the crapper analogy seems too crass for you, think of the water cooler or the hallway or the elevator. Where does everyone have to go anyway? Go there and give your employees the tools they can use to share there.)
What is the risk? There's math we can use to quantify the risk. The risk is measurable using the ruler of your company's social media policy. Are you afraid your employees will out secrets that could damage your bottom line, if you encourage them to use social media? Go ahead, admit it. You are afraid they will talk about you behind your back. Too late.
The only reason they are doing it in the crapper instead of your office or the conference room is because you've created an environment without full transparency and flexibility.
Collaborate in a transparent information environment. Make all of the substance of work visible to everyone in the organization, even down to the level of compensation, accounting, and cost. The initial mistakes of perception that lead to bad outcomes--customer loss, employee loss, missed deadlines, litigation--are far less likely to occur in this environment. The risk of error goes down over time the more attention dedicated people pay to anything.
People who want to do bad things don't like the light, and tend to self-select away from such environments. No one will have to police your culture if it is always visible. This leaves your organization free to focus on its mission, which will increase its value over time to your employees and their families, your customers and their customers, and your community.
Today, all of your employees are guaranteed to have one mission in common: taking a crap. What can you do to make the cultural, social, and communications foundation of your company's mission as certain as that?
Recently I participated in a high-level discussion hosted by HNi Insurance. Perhaps 20 owners of transportation and logistics companies were present. One participant, Joe, told us the story of the urinals in his company. "It's the best place for me to get information from my drivers about what is going on within the organization, and it's the best place for me to update them. I know they'll be there, so I use the urinal to communicate with them. If I write the information on the wall that I want them to know, or hang it there, they'll see it." This Joe runs 100 drivers around the country every day--no small feat. His company urinal is his social media.
Everyone in every workplace, everywhere in the world, every day, goes to the bathroom. More and more, social media is the one thing everyone in every workplace does, every day. In fact, your employees are using social media while they are in the bathroom, because you prevented them from doing it at their desk when you blocked Facebook. So they do it on the crapper with a device that fits in their pocket.
The question is not "How do we stop people from using social media?" or even, "How do we stop people from using social media in the bathroom?" The question needs to go the other way--not from the company into the bathroom, but from the bathroom into the company.
Here's a new question:
"How do we make the story about what our company does every day something that people would want to share with others?"
Fundamentally, everyone wants to tell stories. Every single human being is capable of telling stories, and does so, throughout life, as soon as the first language is acquired and thereafter until death.
Every job involves storytelling. Engineers on the shop floor tell stories about the machines with numbers. Customer service reps tell stories about their customers, who tell stories about the customer service reps to their customers. Executives tell stories about the past, present, and future, and board members suspend their disbelief for at least a third of the conversation. Sales reps tell stories about customers to other reps, their sales manager, the vice president of sales, and other customers. Marketing people tell stories about the executive's vision of the future, and hope the vice president of sales was in the meeting that day.
Knowing that this is true, and knowing that people will do what they need to do to tell those stories--up to and including an extended crap session--means that resisting this is futile. It's stupid. Give up. Control is a waste of your time: your mission is more interesting than whatever control you exercise over it, and your mission is the only thing your company does that will inspire your people to tell stories about it.
(Check back in a week for part two of this story.)