We Are Always Arriving, Part 3: The Center of Opportunity

"One must pass through the circumference of time before arriving at the center of opportunity." ~Balthasar Gracian

I bet that sounds like a high-minded philosophical quote to you, right? Well, it is. Balthasar Gracián y Morales was a Spanish jesuit and writer. The quote comes from "The Art of Worldly Wisdom", a collection of maxims on politics, practical tips for professionals and is deemed as relevant today as it was in the 17th century. Some things just last.

For example, the way we learn - unless you're a super-genius, you don't go to high school before you've mastered the skills taught in grade school, right? You've gotta learn the foundations of things before you start zeroing in on the details. And you don't just start speaking a foreign language suddenly one day. You have to learn the grammar, the syntax, the mouth forms before you can become fluent.Social media is kind of like that.

Begin by creating a basic, safe environment for learning. A private site just for your company to publish, comment on, and create conversation around the sharing of information about what happens within your corporate walls. Give your employees the ability to shoot out quick status updates about projects and communications with clients and customers. Create a global knowledge repository for your company. It's useful in so many ways. For example, you'll see a decline in internal email and people who are more up to date on the things they need to know. Fewer formal meetings (especially status meetings), yet an increase in productivity. Conversation becomes more meaningful when everyone feels comfortable participating.

Once you've created a comfortable environment for sharing internally, it becomes natural to extend the conversation externally. Creating blog posts your clients and customers can read and  comment on. Creating a community forum for your employees and clients or customers to talk more deeply about the things your clients and customers want to talk about.

Once you step out into the clouds, into tools like twitter and Facebook, your external site communications create the content you share and converse about in the Twitter and Facebook sphere. It's a slow graduation. Think of internal collaboration as social media grade school, external corporate site conversation as middle school, and Twitter and Facebook are for the more advanced kids - high school.

And remember - tools used improperly are weapons of destruction.

Previous Editions: 
Part 1: We are Always Arriving 
Part 2: A Good Traveller

Why I'm quitting Facebook today

It was an interesting ride while it lasted, but today I'm deactivating my Facebook account. I know it is a trendy thing to do, but I've got some good reasons.

1. OpenGraph - There is a slide from the Facebook developers conference, f8,  which sums why the name OpenGraph is crap, it has all websites and identity go to and from Facebook.  This kind of setup is not open, federated or decentralized, and makes the Vint Cerf and Pete Prodoehl  in me very suspicious. It is as though it is now going to be expected to use the social web you need to have a facebook account

2. You must have a Facebook account - What? In order to play with other people and interact and annotate I can only use one social network? This is again not open, and worse, captive by nature.  I don't see a login with twitter button when I want to sign into Facebook, and twitter is where I feel my real digital identity lives and breathes every day. Facebook's history with using this social meta data, which they own and control, has not great either, see beacon.

3. Yet another non-open standard - Why is OpenGraph needed? Data describing data, we have RDF. Friend of a friend, we have FOAF and  XFN. Federated login, OAuth. This "new format" is not needed and intended to create a standard that Facebook controls. Ask anyone that writes Facebook applications, the API is always changing without notice and one of the worst to develop for. Also when times get tough over at Facebook, how much of your meta data are they going to be willing to sell with a simple Terms of Service modification?

4. Kevin, Google has more of your information than Facebook! - Yes they do, but there are two main differentiations between them, utility and portability. Google provides my life with enormous utility, free email, calendar, docs, IM, all with nice interconnections with my phone and the services themselves.  Not withstanding Google Buzz, which I just turned off from the start, Google has made it clear that these tools are at your control.  There focus on open API's, protocols, and portability give me the piece of mind that I can move my data whenever I want, I have the exact opposite feeling with Facebook.

5. Facebook is now a waste of time - Even before facebook, my micro messaging/status updates are on twitter, open richly geo/text/fav/person tagged photos are on flickr, and IM indexed and searchable through Gmail.  Facebook for me has not changed any of this over the years. I've gotten work offers through twitter and linkedin, never fb.  From the early application spammers, to people that invite me to every stupid fun run, I get more spam then ever before. And don't get anyone started on Farmville's sins of the father.  

6. Default Privacy - Without overstating it, Facebook tricked its users last year with the mandatory pop-up privacy changer. It defaulted all of your settings to "everyone" thereby opening your info to the web and more clicks on Facebook. They called the program a "success" with 1/3 of the people changing the settings, however this means 2/3 clicked "everyone" and opened up their profile to the world. This kind of move shows malicious use of your Social Graph purely for the good of Facebook Inc.

It is really all a combination of diminishing utility, real privacy concerns, and bad internet citizenship. I'll still be plugged into the internet, I just won't be able to like things. Until OpenLike takes off ;)

All I will really miss is 200 people wishing me a happy birthday. I'm still human.

Follow me on twitter @KeVroN

UPDATE: Check out this amazing infographic about default privacy settings

UPDATE2: My post has been made into a cartoon! Thanks for the great viz @bengillin



My continuing/just started weekend video series: Unconferences

A good description of unconferences and what they are. Between the RWW pitch, there is a good description of an unconference in there.  

Socialnomics in 4.5 minutes

So cool to see the update of this powerful piece from version 1, with updated metrics now, even better.

Collaboration is the Long Play

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.

We are Always Arriving, Part 2: A Good Traveller

photo by E3000

“A good traveller has no fixed plans, and is not intent on arriving.”
-Lao Tzu

So if social media is a perpetually moving target, as new platforms are developed and new functionality added to existing platforms, how do we set our sights on a goal? What if social media really were about the journey and not about the destination? Because truthfully, I don't think there is an end to this journey.

As users of public social media platforms like Twitter and Facebook, we've been trained on how to function in the sphere. We learned in our travels through the various mediums. Doing it for ourselves, most of us didn't have a goal, it was really was and still is about the experience. But now, we know how to listen, we know how to talk. We listen for our interests and we talk to people talking about things that interest us.

In a professional context, however, most employees experience fear. Many companies do not practice social communications. Being a part of the voice of a whole company... a company with a marketing and/or PR department is just plain scary. We seem to forget that there are lessons from our personal experience with various social mediums that we can take with us into this new context. Consider the lurker. (more on that later)

The segmented nature and lack of flow between cells in a company work together to create anxiety when CEOs and Marketing Directors think about social media. This removal control of the "message" of the on-going story being told about a brand gives folks in a position of responsibility for the brand pause, even as they get excited about the potential of the medium. From their hands the message is wrested and delivered into the hands of the consumers of their products and services. These are the people who truly control and steer the message in a social media sphere. Even if your company is neither talking nor listening, there's a good chance your consumers are. The reality is, it's always been about the users. In the social media sphere elaborately engineered messages tend to get ignored and authenticity becomes the modus operandi. And in large organizations with diverse product lines, that means there shouldn't be just one point of contact. Experts within your organization being given a voice - that's scary. And the really scary part of losing control is the social empowerment of people you've maybe never heard from within your company.

But there's a solution for that.

Next edition: The Center of Opportunity

photo by e3000

What's collaboration like?

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

  • team members anticipate each other's needs
  • everyone knows what they are talking about
  • they know what everyone else is talking about
  • there is less email
  • other people finish what they start
  • other people start what they finish
  • customers say, "Your entire team seems to share the same understanding of my needs and details"

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.

No iPad in the Bathroom, pt 2

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.

Left screen shows event calendar for Bucketworks, and network speed. Right screen shows twitter updates for members.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?  

REMEMBER ALL CAPS EMAIL? Let's not do that again.

So we have been using email for a while now and feel pretty comfortable communicating with it to people inside and outside of a business (maybe a little too comfortable, but we'll get to that later). But our mastery came at the expense of mistakes, just like leaning anything new.  

How many times did you used to GET AN EMAIL FROM SOMEONE ALL IN CAPS? That person did not know that in the medium of e-mail, all caps was considered yelling, and they eventually learned the art of the shift key.

Almost everyone has a story about hitting reply to all instead of reply. That one causes embarrassment for everyone and not just you.

What about a nefarious BCC including your boss on a conversation that you don't want people to know that you are letting him/her in on.  This kind of behavior breeds mis/distrust in team work environments.

E-mail was never intended or designed for the multitude of uses we have shoehorned it into for our business "needs".  I get why, it is a ubiquitous simple and extensible communications platform that everyone is familiar with, for this reason it is also not efficient for 90% of real business needs.

Your business now realizes this and wants to get all social media'd up and talk with your customers in the twitter and the facebook.  You know you need to because it is the future, and you think you need it all now. So what do you do? Buy "social business software" and hire social media experts?

No! You're kidding yourself, this kind of change is more than a technology solution.

If your business communications and workflow are currently in outlook and post-it's, people in your organization WILL MAKE THE SAME KIND OF ETIQUETTE MISTAKES THEY MADE IN E-MAIL (no more caps, I promise), but this time in front of the world to see and Google to keep a record of forever. People in the workplace need training on these new communication methods, just like any new tool. 

If you plan on embracing these new collaboration tools with the outside world to find new customers or business to transact with, how do you manage the messages internally? Turn tweets into e-mails and send them to the correct resource (I've seen it)? Pick up the phone and leave a voice mail?

Point being, if you cannot use the tools to manage your business internally, how can you have hope of interacting with people or businesses outside your 4 walls?

Try and keep your business off this site, practice first.

Series: We Are Always Arriving

"If we are always arriving and departing, it is also true that we are eternally anchored. One's destination is never a place but rather a new way of looking at things." -Henry Miller

In this series, we explore the roots of social media, its adoption and how we can think of it as a new way of looking at things, instead of something at which we arrive. Because as the technological landscape changes beneath our very feet, we find ourselves always arriving.

For those of us who began our lives in the world permeated by computers, the introduction to "social" media took years. It began with tinkering, chat rooms and forums, self-publishing in a digital format or keeping a "web log" or what is now more commonly known as, a blog. First, we started reading them. Then we commented on them. Which created a conversation between the writer and the reader in a way that hadn't existed before. And then, for some more brave folks, the next step was to start our own blog. This has allowed us to publish content and receive feedback asynchronously.

After the blog craze began the social networking craze. For most of us, it all started with Friendster. (For some of us it started with BBS's and The WELL in the late 80's and early 90's.) You linked up to your friends, exchanged status updates about your lives, posted photos, etc. After Friendster, we all moved over to MySpace. Which was more customizable. Originally created as a place for those who took the initiative had the opportunity to really make their social network profile their own (for better or for worse). In 2006, Facebook was launched. Where Friendster was largely for early adopters and abandoned quickly, MySpace had millions of users. There are still some hangers-on over at MySpace, but with a clean and simple user experience and a greater, clearer number of options as far as types of information you could share (and no auto-play option) Facebook quickly overtook MySpace. What it taught us was invaluable. It taught us how to receive and disseminate information to a large group of self-selected individuals quickly.

In the same year as Facebook was launched, Twitter came on the scene. A lot of people didn't "get" twitter. There were loud complaints about "why would I care what you ate for breakfast?" but strictly speaking, that's not the value of Twitter. The value of twitter is that it gives users the ability to send out information that can be picked up and carried to variety of users. Events, sales, links, launches, specials, accidents, requests for information. Twitter gives you the power to mobilize your network around a common purpose quickly. Now we're not just sharing with our personal network, now, we can share with the world.

As the platforms grew, so too grew the comfort and familiarity with the technology by the users. Sharing information among some users has become something casual, easy, reflexive.

Next edition: Exploring a new context