A trade journal of a still-emerging field, written by Adam Tinworth.

Posts from the Corporate Social Networking Forum Category


Christopher Murphy, writing for Multidisciplinary Design on “human resource”

It’s no wonder monolithic businesses often fail. They grow and, in so doing, lose sight of what matters; people become humans and, in that subtle, but important semantic shift the people – the passionate individuals who drove the business forward, who gave it its lifeblood – become disillusioned and leave. The business, however, moves on, like a giant machine, unable to comprehend the significance of what it just lost, unable to understand the consequences of its now mindless actions.

Here’s a thought: this shift often coincides with a business losing its strong sense of “why?” Why does it exist? Once, that would have been to “do a great job of providing X”, where X is their line of business. At some point, the answer becomes something between “to continue existing” and “to provide stable income for senior management”. 

Humans are very motivated by “why?” – they are very unmotivated by those other questions. Never underestimate the power of “why?”.

Caroline Lucas 

We need to throw away the old box, not think outside it. We need to give up on the idea of continuous economic growth. Its costs are too high. We need to see the economy as a possession of the environment, rather than the other way around. 

The green economy is more labour-intensive than the fossil fuel economy. It provides jobs to be a route out of our current economic difficulties. Globally, subsidies for fossil fuels are six times higher than for renewable energy. Imagine if that was refocused. 

We’re stuck in an odd paradox. We have companies trumpeting their environmental credentials, even as the situation gets worse. Planes may be getting more environmentally focused – but as the planes get more green, their use goes up. It’s a net loss.

There are some signs of hope. No-one wants your products – they want the use of them. B&Q realise that people want a hole in the wall, not a drill. So why not rent them? The need gets met, but resource consumption goes down. A human-powered MP3 player that looks like a plaster… Skype and Spotify stop us using planes or the plastic for CDs. You can make carpet tiles from recycled yarn

What would replace the mechanism of capitalism that requires endless growth? This is a dangerous idea. But growth is creating dysfunctional, unequal societies. Happiness does not reply on it – that’s about happy families, meaningful work and connected societies. Right now – unless there is growth, people lose their jobs, taxes drop and public services erode. We need a new macro-economic model that takes account of the limited resources of the planet. If the biosphere isn’t getting any bigger, the sub sphere has to achieve a steady state. 

A steady state is not a failed growth economy. A helicopter is designed to hover. An aircraft… is not. We need a helicopter economy. We need the same amount of better stuff, not more of the same stuff. We need to reform taxation, working hours and practices, pay structures, It’s ambitious stuff – it need shift is attitude of politicians and the expectations of the public. We need to make the future we aspire to more positive than the fossil fuel driven one. We need enlightening people in business, in politics and in every walk of life. 

Unless people like you care – nothing will happen. 

Stowe Boyd

Stowe Boyd is encouraging us to actively imagine a future where we ahem to rethink the fundamentals of business and society. Too much “social business” thinking is just too timid, he suggests. We have a challenge – we are always one step behind. We can only see the present clearly once it has become the past. But he’s gonna help us try…

We’re moving from a solid to a liquid world – the rate of innovation is growing exponentially. Great for medical research, for example, but bad for newspaper business models and the funding of investigative journalism. Social business has been an attempt to adapt to these changes. Things that arose in the social media world started to infect the business world. The big picture drivers are more important than the marginal economic benefit. Social business is post-modern. 

The loosening to connection to employers and employment has been largely negative. Huge tranches of jobs are being swept away by automation and computers. Are taxi drivers next, killed off by automatous vehicles. 

We’ve renovated our business by sanding the floors and painting the walls, not moving the walls around. 

This is a concept used by the military to define decision-making problems in war:

  • V = volatility
  • U = Uncertainty
  • C = Complexity
  • A = Ambiguity

It applies to our lives now. Cities, like social networks, increase social density. People move there because they’re cheaper, you can make more money there. They innovate out of proportion to their size. New York has low numbers of gas stations and air-conditioning costs because of that density. 

VUCA undoes the conventional style of leadership. 

Marketing latched onto social media as another channel – but they got infected by it. They started using it internally as well as externally. They wanted to do more of it – and it infected the whole business. But the old company is still there – it just has a new layer on top of it. Research shows that if you increase people’s social density – give them more connections in the business – they’re happier and more productive. This is independent of any other changes in the business. People will use these tools to make work better – even if management do nothing. Businesses are going to get more porous – weaker barriers between departments, weaker barriers between the organisation and the rest of the world.

Companies are decreasing their office space and allow employees to work whoever hey are. A Citrix study suggests that companies are planning 6 seats for every 10 employees. 

Swift Trust: human beings have the capacity wired into us to co-operate. That’s why freelance style projects – like Hollywood movies – work so well. People will come together and suspend their disbelief, do their work, and not bother with the battles for dominance and power in established organisations. It’s projected to be 40% of the creative and professional working the US. This means companies can be more agile and experimental. That means that there’s less commitment to workers, to their skills, to their pensions… 

Social business doesn’t really support social business yet. The tools don’t really facilitate it. They don’t interoperate very well. 

So, what do we need to imagine? The Schutze method – that allows a huge number of people to vote on particular issues.

We need to move from exploitative models, to models based on people’s relationships with small groups, that builds up based on the fact that everyone is connected.  Our leaders are not giving us visions of the future. We need to do that for ourselves. 

The Thames from Ludgate HouseI’m in the midst of a small but interesting piece of work for some old property industry contacts, and it’s really caught my imagination. I’m talking to some businesses that have successfully transformed their company with input from a firm of consultants, and the stories that are emerging are compelling and inspiring.

I’ve long wondered about the way publishing businesses have tried to go through this period of transition. Change management is hard. It is, in essence, a whole set of skills in it own right, a discipline if you like. And I’ve seen precious few – if any – publishing businesses call in the professionals. They’ve instead relied on internal change agents, people who agitate for change from within. People like I was for RBI, for example.

There are two problems with this:

  1. The change agents often have the required craft skills, but have to learn change management as they go along.
  2. They are part of the company’s hierarchy, so anything they say will be filtered through the internal politics of the organisation.

The advantage of bringing in an outsider to do some or all of this work is a powerful combination of skills, focus on change management and providing someone to challenge and provoke who isn’t invested into the political infrastructure of the company. 

This isn’t any great insight, I admit. But having worked as an internal change agent, who is now doing some initial projects as an external change consultant, I’m beginning to see that the latter might be the more effective role. 

British Telecom Trimphone

Back when I started training journalists in blogging (which must be close on seven years ago now…) I noted a tendency for them to try and understand blogging in terms of concepts they already knew. They looked at blogs. They realised that virtually all blogs were written in a personal voice. What kind of journalism is written in a personal voice? Opinion columns. Ergo, blogs are opinion columns.

They then went on to write 500 word opinion pieces on a blog three times a week, and wondered why no-one came to read them. Blogging, of course, wasn’t just opinion columns. It’s a new style of publishing which has a distinct, personal voice. The much-neglected term “personal publishing” captured that brilliantly, I think. Those journalists identified the right characteristic of blogging, but they went on to misapply it.

As I look around the corporate social media world of today, I wonder if the same thing isn’t happening there, too. Companies are looking at social media, understanding that it is in some way important, but are trying to understand it through the lens of the old. “Social media is about connecting with people. Ergo, it’s marketing.” And I think that’s a mistaken assumption and one that prevents companies from truly grasping the power of these new social tools.

Let’s substitute another communications medium into that sentence from above:

“The telephone is about connecting with people. Ergo, it’s marketing.”

That’s nonsensical to modern eyes. Everyone in a business has a telephone and is expected to use it to communicate with their colleagues, clients, suppliers and partners. But telephones were heavily regulated and controlled when they were first introduced into businesses, and only became  ubiquitous over time as people realised their worth to the whole business.

So, we have at least two transitional stages:

  1. Try to understand new medium through lens of the old
  2. Restrict new medium to certain departments

Here’s my thesis: companies that manage the transition in such a way that they avoid stage one completely and pass as swiftly as possible through stage two into more useful models, will be the ones that gain competitive advantage. And it’s not like I’m the first to articulate this: the Altimeter Group have been producing research on this for a while.

So: here’s my question. Why are so many companies in the UK hung up on equating social media completely with marketing? Sure, it’s a great marketing tool. But that’s not all it is.

[Hat-tip: Neville Hobson]

2nd panel discussion, hosted by Iwona Petruczynik of Frost & Sullivan

What is web 2.0?

Olivier Crieche: the stuff people use at home and are now starting to use at work
Zeinab Lenton: It’s about sharing and community
JP: It’s what the web should have been

How to implement?

JP: get on with it. Look at e-mail. How much never leaves the company – is there a better way to do that?

When it goes bad?

Dominos Pizza: reputation damaged
KFC: had to cancel a promotion because bloggers spread it too fast and it was costing them too much.
One clent of Six Apart complained about the lack of feeds in Movable Type – which are built in. The UT department just didn’t understand the product.
JP: you need both benevolant dictatorship from top and bottom-up adoption. If cost if repair is same as cost of entry, you suceed. If enough people can inspect information, you can make it good. You need a pincer movement on the immune system in the middle.


OC: use it to monitor customer problems with products, so they can reach out to them.
ZL: Teaches people new behaviours with low cost of entry.
JP: Twitter is publish/subscribe. 2. Is brief. 3. Assymetric follow. 4. 31 million reasons you carry on

[Switched to iPhone due to laptop battery death – please excuse typos]

Thijs Sprangers of Krem is up, asking why we aren’t talking more about LinkedIn. Krem have defined five relationship roles, and think it is important to figure out what relationship your network is serving.

Look where your audience are active already and head there. It’s not only business doing this, it’s politics, it’s banking…

Menno Braakman up now:

POST Method:

Who are your target group and what us their online participation?

Objectives: Determine the goals of the community

Strategy: how will the goals change the relationship?

Technology: Then choose the right social tools, based on the above.

eg Alumni networks are a useful source of business referrals and recruitment. So they built a network for ORMIT Alumni, and connected with LinkedIn. Use the Alumni group on LinkedIn to advertise the functionality of the private group.

Lee Bryant’s thesis is that businesses cannot afford big expensive investments right now, but that social tools can give us decent returns from low investments.

Deliver more for less, and investing things that save money

Social tools can rejuvenate old systems by putting a social layer on the top. 
Trust is fundamentally cheaper than control.
In the late 1990s intranets and the internet forked. The Internet went social, the intranets didn’t. The internet has had umpteen users testing and feeding back on all its products. The intranet has lacked that evolutionary pressure. IT are rarely good user experience designers, and most people don’t care. eBay’s reputations system is 10 years old – nothing like it has appeared on intranets yet.
You need to look at the concept of network productivity. Over time, the network becomes more productive. We need to look at that, rather than just individual productivity. Cisco has reduced business planning from 6 months to one week using these tools.
We’re wasting too much brain power in our organisation. We spend a lot of money on people, and sit them in front of Neanderthal tools. We also need to make use of hidden data and shared intelligence, like people’s searches and click-streams. Microblogging gives us ambient awareness of what people are doing – and thus improve decision-making.
More and more platforms are including small elements of social networking, because these status updates are vital.
People start to negociate meaning for themselves – planned taxonomies are passing away…
It takes one to two years for good adoption and up to five to really transform businesses.

How do you launch social media in a company where every second of an employee’s day is timed? That’s the challenge Sonia Carter, head of online internal communications at AXA UK is talking about.

Intensive Customer Experience (love the name, so much room for innuendo…) training courses created great motivation, which wasn’t sustained in the office, because too many other people hadn’t done the course, and it was business as usual for them. one of senior management asked for “a blog” – was that what he meant? Did he mean that? Or a forum? Or a wiki? How can 12,000 people use a blog effectively?
So they decide to create an online community instead: OurSpace. Distinct separation between opinion/discussion space and the intranet which is the “hard facts”, including visual cues in the design. Used a vBulletin forum. Guest hosts lead discussions on particular topics. The CEO as guest host melted the system.
  • 6 weeks to launch
  • £4k to launch, then another £6k for a nice design later
  • vBulletin for forums, WordPress for OurIdeas – heavily customised
  • You need to hide from/ignore/bribe IT, Security, Risk, Compliance, etc…
Majority of discussion is work-related. Fewer examples of best practice and success stories, more question answering. Using blogs for ideas, which people can discuss and vote on.
Site was promoted during training event, and followed up with e-mail invite. Simple acceptable use policy means little is inappropriate. Only 2 breaches so far in 18 months, one of which lead to a disciplinary. Not bad, given that there are 12,000 people.

James Garner is leading a reasonably robust panel on the pros and cons of social networking.
Panel are Euan Semple, a social media consultant, Trish Hunt from Dell and Dirk Singer of Cow.
Euan Semple – People confuse the internal and external use of social networking. But the line is blurring. I’m hearing more and more stories of people going home to work, because they can be more effective there. Doesn’t want to respond to corporate Twitter accounts, because he doesn’t know who the person is.
Trish Hunt – Yes, blurred. If you’re speaking on behalf of the company, you should have responsibility. (She keeps calling Twitter “Tweeter”)
Dirk Singer – First job with internet, they had to collect e-mail, for control. That’s gone and will go with social networks,
ES: 10 to 20 years for command and control to go. Social networking is fun but does it add to the ROI of the company? Same can be said of meetings…
TH: People finding that they can share information and avoid meetings is a big benefir, especially if the can come into the office less.
ES: HR is embodiment of C&C backed up by IT – they have the most to lose, but the biggest opportunity.
TH: Disagree. From a  Dell perspective, we’re committed to it, but there is monitoring and management.
DS: Survey after survey after survey shows that most companies are taking a different approach, and are becoming more restrictive. Laurel Papworth is a good source for this. 
One of the audience asked about the death of e-mail. Euan siad he didnt think it was dead, but people need to learn to manage it better. Trish agreed. The questioner asked then if e-mail was more considered than Twitter, which Dirk countered by saying that 140 characters forces consideration. 
Biggest Blockers?
ES: Culture
TH: Sales force who think it gets in the way of the sale
DS: Bosses, who don’t think it’s work.