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.

No iPad in the Bathroom

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.)