Posts Tagged ‘Technology’

Tip5ForSuccessfulESNThis is my 5th post in a series of tips on how to build a successful enterprise social network (ESN). In this post, I’ll address the importance and place of the decision regarding the platform to be used. Tip #5 is:

Pick a good platform, but don’t focus on the technology.

In this tip, I allude to two concerns: the role of IT in the decision-making process, and the capabilities of the platform itself. First, let’s consider the role of IT.

The decision of which ESN platform to use is too often determined solely or largely by IT departments in an enterprise. That’s a mistake. Of course, IT departments have to be involved in the decision-making process as a stakeholder, especially if the ESN is installed on the company’s servers and not provided by a hosted solution. Even in a hosted solution, though, there will be matters related to integration with other platforms and security considerations that necessarily involve IT.

However, IT is just one stakeholder among many in an ESN, and in my opinion they are not the primary stakeholder and should not have the dominant role or decision-making authority in the platform decision. Why? Because an ESN is about communication. It’s about connecting people. It’s about developing relationships. It’s about learning and changing the way we work. IT isn’t the right area to drive any of those initiatives in an organization.

Consider for a moment the typical problem in a company of “we don’t collaborate or communicate well enough together.” What will IT’s solution to that be? They’ll purchase another tool and install it, or they’ll spend mass quantities of time and resources developing another tool or contracting with a big name vendor to consult about the tools and processes they need. Then the next year when the same complaint arises again that “we don’t collaborate or communicate well enough together,” they do the same thing again, and again, and again, ad infinitum, ad nauseum. The people problem never gets solved because they aren’t the right ones to solve it.

The list of ESN stakeholders includes IT as well as areas such as HR, communications, learning, marketing and others. ESNs are used to build a community of connected people. IT isn’t the right business area to be driving that. IT should have only a supporting role as technology security and integration partners in the process. If an ESN is about connecting people and getting them to relate and work well, then another business area has to drive that – one that understands the people aspect of the experience. That includes selection of a user-friendly, effective platform that meets the business needs and takes into consideration how people relate to one another and what effective, modern communication looks like from a human – not just a technological – perspective. In most organizations, I suspect that will be either HR or internal communications or some combo of the two.

The second aspect of this tip deals with the capabilities of the platform itself. This will, of course, be driven by the business requirements that are hopefully thought out and agreed on by all the stakeholders in advance of the purchase decision. But beware of a danger here. You do not necessarily need the latest and greatest ESN with, for example, 60 fantastic features when your users will on average use maybe six of those features. Know the difference between must-haves and nice-to-haves. Understand that users can be overwhelmed by interfaces that offer too much as opposed to friendly interfaces that are beautifully simple and intuitive to use.

In our environment at work, it’s important for people to post messages, comment on and like posts by others, create and participate in special interest groups, follow people, share public and private messages, integrate streams into various other platforms, create custom streams, give kudos, and a few other things as the main, day-to-day uses. Having 50 other capabilities would not improve the user experience. In all likelihood it would detract from and complicate it.

Do your homework about the platforms available. You’ll find a variety of vendors offering solutions from those that are stand-alone to those that are completely dependent on integration into other products. You’ll find on-premise and hosted solutions. You’ll find that most are really strong in some areas but have weaknesses in other areas. Talk with clients of any platform you are considering to find the good, the bad and the ugly so that you can make an informed decision. Use published comparison studies such as the Forrester Wave for Social Depth Platforms, Gartner’s Magic Quadrant for Social Software in the Workplace, compiled lists like the ones herehere and here, and this one that focuses on ESNs and their mobile clients. We’ve even had an #ESNchat on the subject of platform comparisons you’re welcome to check out.

Know your users and what you need them to be able to do. Don’t be enamored by the bells and whistles of the latest platforms. Know what you need in a platform to build a community, help connect people, and enable people to do their work more effectively and efficiently. Your ESN needs to easily be integrated into where and when and how people do their work, so the platform needs to support that. Do not go with a stand-alone platform that ends up being yet one more destination for people’s already busy work lives. You will quickly be disappointed in its limitations. (I’ll write much more about integration in a later post in this series.)

Picking a platform is an important decision. Who makes the call in choosing it is a bigger decision.

In the words of tip #5, Pick a good platform, but don’t focus on the technology.


See the following posts for previous tips in this series:

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We’ve seen this past week the impact of what happens when expectations are not met for something to happen quickly. In the rush of last-minute buying and shipping of Christmas presents, untold numbers of packages went undelivered by the “guaranteed” delivery dates. As a result, people either had to do without presents on the intended day, or they had to rush out and buy something else. I saw on the news one lady who was upset that her shipment of live lobsters didn’t arrive in time for the family get-together and meal (definitely a first-world problem – poor, poor lady). I’m sure starving children around the world will weep for her inconvenience.

Fingers are pointing everywhere in the aftermath. Retailers are blaming shippers. Shippers are blaming last-minute shoppers, fewer shopping days between Thanksgiving and Christmas this year, and capacity that was simply overwhelmed. Consumers are blaming retailers and shippers. I don’t think I’ve seen people or organizations yet raise their own hands and take responsibility.

In the case of Christmas shopping, I don’t have a lot of sympathy for last-minute shoppers, although a guarantee is a guarantee and the buyer should be able to trust those guarantees to be honored. Hopefully there is a lesson learned: shop earlier next year. It’s not like December 25 is going to pop up out of nowhere on you regardless of when Thanksgiving comes. Get it done earlier and quit your whining.

But the expectation of immediacy isn’t limited, of course, to shipping presents (in spite of the interest in Amazon immediately shipping things by drone beginning in a couple of years). We expect pretty much everything when we want it.

  • We expect news and immediate details of unfolding events, and news organizations feel obligated to be the first to report, even when they don’t know the facts, making their so-called news mere speculation.
  • We expect to get in touch with whomever we want whenever and wherever we please regardless of the intrusion that causes for the receiver or rudeness displayed by the receiver in taking such messages in other settings.
  • If we have a customer service issue, we expect a call, tweet, or other social media post to yield immediate resolutions as if we are the only customer for that Fortune 100 company that actually has millions of other customers.
  • If we see an ad for something we like, we expect to go online on our portable device and get it right now.
  • We want fast food, fast transportation, fast profits, fast credit, fast weight loss, fast beauty, fast ownership, fast training, fast relief, fast satisfaction, and relationships that are perfect quickly – none of this waiting or working for decades like our parents had to do for the same results.

I certainly have nothing against some things happening quickly. It’s convenient. It meets a need and then we move on to whatever is next. But something is amiss when the big story of the week is a package ordered on Monday not being delivered by Tuesday to a home on the other side of the country. Something is out of whack when the social media channels of businesses are clogged with complaints from people who tried to do something at the last minute and then expect the staff levels and processes of established businesses to wildly fluctuate to accommodate their tardiness.

Is our culture of immediacy a symptom of a growing self-centeredness in society? Is it a consequence of enabling technology that has slowly morphed our expectations? Is it both? Is it something else? I’m not sure. Whatever it is, it isn’t always healthy or reasonable to expect whatever we want now.

There is value in learning patience. There is value in contentedness. There is value in planning ahead to avoid the need for so much to happen at the last minute. There is value in leaving room in our schedules for the unexpected. There is value is wanting less.

We are blessed as a society with many advantages, conveniences and opportunities, but I think we have a lot of room for personal growth and maturity. Less dependence on immediacy will be one indicator of that maturity.

Double Standard

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As one whose work responsibilities center around the use of internal and external social media, I am no stranger to hearing questions about the ROI (return on investment) of social media.  Business leaders want to know if there is a hard, calculable, financial return to the business for using social media.  I understand the question.  I understand the motivation behind it.  Businesses don’t want to spend money on something that does not return a value at least equal to the investment, preferably much more.  Only in the case of regulatory requirements are businesses accustomed to having to spend on things that do not contribute positively to the bottom line.

So in this post, I want to accomplish two things:

  • Suggest some specific ways that the ROI of social media can be measured, acknowledging some challenges, but then…
  • Explain why using ROI as the basis for whether or not a business uses social media is wrong-headed and demonstrates lack of understanding of the medium.

Do I think it’s possible to demonstrate a positive ROI from using social media?  Absolutely.  There are a number of books that have been written on the subject.  Doing so requires measurement of many things businesses may or may not be willing to invest in to determine the ROI, however.

For example, if I claim that using internal social media provides answers to employees’ questions quicker than via other communication means, that would require that we measure how long it takes throughout the enterprise to answer a typical question via email chains, phone calls, voice mails, personal conversations and all the referrals and deferrals from one person to another before the answer is received.  What business measures that?  None that I know of.  Consequently, a major value of using an enterprise social network – getting random questions answered more quickly than other ways – may be the personal experience and testimony of thousands within a company, yet impossible to measure in terms of ROI without the comparison data also being gathered for other forms of communication.

Consider another commonly touted benefit of enterprise social networks – greater awareness of other areas of the business along with the additional contacts and relationships established via social media compared to businesses that do not use such networks.  But how do you measure the ROI of that?  There would be few that would claim such a benefit doesn’t happen or that is isn’t important, yet putting a financial figure to it is difficult at best.

Fortunately, there are more evident opportunities for measuring enterprise social ROI, if we are willing to measure the right things.  For example, is there a difference in employee satisfaction and, therefore, retention rates of those using social media compared to those who do not?  If so, what is the cost savings of that greater retention compared to bringing in new people more frequently?  (Naturally, we must remain aware that correlation is not the same as causation).  Is there a difference in productivity between users of social media compared to non-users?  Does its use shorten the time required to make a new employee productive at a certain level?  Do users lessen their use of other more costly, time-consuming means of communication compared to non-users?  Does its availability reduce the amount of formal training required in favor of just-in-time performance support from colleagues via the network?  Does the user-to-user online tech support between employees reduce the help desk call volume of certain types of questions?  Are innovative ideas shared and followed up on that subsequently add revenue or reduce costs?  Are open career opportunities filled without requiring more expensive talent acquisition processes?  Does quick feedback from a larger audience yield better solutions in a shorter time and reduce the number of iterations that process, policy or software/product development would otherwise require?  Does online conversation reduce the frequency and length of time multiple bodies are held captive in meetings?  Does the medium provide a valuable means for leaders to engage with employees in ways that do not just push information from the top down, but that encourage dialogue, build trust, and result in a greater sense of belonging and shared purpose as measured by valid survey instruments?  Does the always-on, single place for housing discussions hasten communication among project teams compared to previous reliance on email?  Does the knowledge capture resulting from working out loud on a social network aid the company and especially new associates since publicly shared knowledge of former employees is retained?  (Remember, “Email is where knowledge goes to die” – Bill French.)

The above questions regarding internal social media can be answered if businesses are willing to generate and analyze the required metrics.

When it comes to pondering ROI and the use of external social media channels such as Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, Pinterest, Google+, blogs, etc., many mistakenly try to make these channels primarily marketing channels rather than social channels.  They try to constantly use social media to sell their products and services instead of focusing on the conversations, developing and enhancing relationships, and solving customer issues.  Some want to compare money spent supporting these channels to other advertising media such as television and print ads.  If you can’t quickly point to enough new accounts or product purchases resulting from social media, then the value of the channel is suspect in the eyes of some.

It’s possible, of course, that tracking mechanisms can be embedded in external social media sites to help identify additional revenue sources, but that will not account for situations where the information gained via social channels is one of several factors in a consumer’s decision-making process acted upon at a later time by another method.  Numerous questions need to be answered in order to quantify the ROI of external social media.  For example, what is the impact of providing customer service via social channels compared to traditionally more expensive call centers?  What is the value of turning someone publicly condemning your company into an advocate who remains a customer and sings your praises?  Does the company’s presence and accessibility via social channels contribute positively to the public’s perception of the brand?  Is the company’s involvement in social channels influencing the public conversations in ways beneficial to consumers as well as to the business in the long run?  Does the company’s enthusiasm for and use of social media attract younger talent in a competitive market – talent that will turn down a job at a company too restrictive in its social media policy and use?  Do online community managers engage both employees and external consumers in mutually beneficial ways that shorten the time to consumer issue resolution and product innovation?

As is true for evaluating the ROI in internal social media, addressing questions such as the above ones for external social channels can definitely yield hard ROI numbers if the company is willing to invest the time and resources required to produce them.  (That means full-time employees devoted to the task.)

Having said all of the above, now let me explain why I think using social media ROI as the basis for determining whether or not a business is engaged in the medium misses the point of social media entirely.  (Then why spend so much time above answering the ROI question?  Because it’s still being asked, and because I want to make it abundantly clear that I don’t shy away from it.)

Social media is a communication channel.  It is not primarily a marketing channel.  The main focus is neither on increasing revenue nor reducing costs.  The focus is on conversations, communication and relationships.  Any business who thinks of it otherwise is like the bore at a party who does nothing but talk about himself.  Do that very much in social media (or at a party) and you most assuredly lose.

Since it is a communication channel, social media is akin to email, using telephones, texting, having face-to-face conversations, Web-based virtual meetings, mabye even the ancient arts of faxing and snail mail letters.  Which of the communication channels in that previous sentence are constantly questioned regarding ROI?  Only social media.  Why?  Because it’s the newest kid on the communication block.  (By the way, it’s not new any more, folks.  If your business isn’t embracing it, you’re just woefully late to the party.)  When was the last time you heard a business leader question the ROI of email or of providing telephones for employees?  It doesn’t happen because email and telephones are commonly accepted means of communication.  They have been in use for so long that we can’t imagine a major business not using them.

Was this always the case for these channels?  Probably not.  I love the speculative cartoon found in Jane Bozarth’s book Social Media for Trainers:

Telephone Fear

(By the way, permission to use the above illustration came from the author, Jane Bozarth, via a private Twitter exchange around midnight last night.  How long would traditional processes take regarding copyright and publication permission?  How complicated would standard processes be?  Via social media, the request, approval, and subsequent thank-you reply took less than a minute from the start of the first message to the end of the third one.  One minute.  At midnight.  On a Saturday.)

It’s so easy to imagine the conversation in the above cartoon happening (along with the mandatory ROI questions added) when businesses first started pondering the possibility of telephones on all employee desks, and again when email was entering the workplace, and again when access to the Web at work was becoming more common.  Each of these media at some point was a very innovative and critical step in how companies communicate internally and externally – steps that no sensible business now questions.

The same is true for social media today.  It is a major communication channel growing in use and significance around the world for personal, political and professional purposes.  Its role will not be questioned several years from now.  Nobody will question its ROI in ten years because we won’t be able to imagine doing our business without it.

So can we please move forward past the skepticism stage that comes with each new technological innovation and just concentrate on using it to communicate in beneficial ways?  Stop holding social media to a different standard than other communication channels.  Stop requiring its proponents to justify its existence for business in ways that are not required for any other non-marketing communication channel.

Measure the ROI of social media in any and all ways you wish.  It’s possible.  Use any of these books to help you figure it out.  But please don’t question the necessity of its use as a common communication channel for businesses regardless of ROI.  If you expect your business to be here for the next round of technological innovations that will finally shift the conversation away from social media to what is yet to come, then accept this major shift in how communication happens today, use it to its fullest, and get on with business.

Top 10 ListBelow are the most viewed posts on this blog during 2012.  If you missed one of them or have long since forgotten what it was about, check it out.  Most are quick lessons learned of 366 words or less (the exceptions being #2 and #9 – both posts from 2011 that still were among the most viewed in 2012).

1. Be There: Giving full attention to the people you are with and not being distracted by technology or anything else.

2. Trust: The importance of trust between people, and implications if trust is broken, especially in relationships at work.

3. Sometimes All It Takes Is 20 Seconds: Inspired by the movie We Bought a Zoo, thoughts about how 20 seconds of insane courage can change your life.

4. Companies Need Customer Service Like Granny Provides: Based on my regular experiences with a sweet, old lady when I donate blood at the Red Cross, this is what customer service should be like.

5. You Need Someone At Work To Relate To: Being the only person at your business doing your type of work can be very lonely.  Having one other person to relate to can help tremendously.

6. Kisses Are Priceless: From Valentine’s Day, 2012, read about two unexpected kisses, how they made my day and why kisses are priceless.

7. Exhaustion Can Hurt So Good: After an extreme Muddy Fanatic race with good friends, the mind and spirit can be so satisfied even if the body is spent.

8. Don’t Pre-Judge: Whether dealing with people or animals, you can easily make wrong assumptions and treat others differently if you pre-judge them.

9. More Questions Than Answers: Still-unanswered questions from 2011 regarding social learning and the use of social media in learning.

10. Evil Is Real, and So Is the Cure: Reflections following the tragic elementary school shootings in Newtown, Connecticut from my Christian worldview.

Thanks to all the readers who made these the most read.  I look forward to seeing what interests you this year.

Online ShoppingI just made an attempt to go shopping for a couple of things – one item I want for my smart phone and a Christmas gift for a friend.  After two hours, three individual stores and a mall, I came back home empty handed.  The first store had one of the items and it was overpriced.  The second store had a similar item at a greater cost.  The third store had neither item, and the mall had a limited selection of one item, again too costly.

Enter eBay.

After spending about 20 minutes perusing more options than I cared to consider, I made a purchase of the phone item for less than $6 compared to $30-35 in the stores.  I decided to go a different route with the gift.

Some reports for online sales the Monday after Thanksgiving – Cyber Monday – claim about $1.5 billion was sold online that day.  How many shoppers now go into retail stores to touch and feel and look over items, only to turn around and purchase them online at a much cheaper price?

Consumers rule.  Tech savvy consumers rule more.  It’s simple to use a smart phone app to scan an item’s bar code and immediately know which local stores have it in stock at what price and how that compares to the major online retailers like Amazon.

Customer service can play into this as well.  At the first store I went to tonight, one teenager finally asked if I was finding what I needed, but he couldn’t help with the one question I had and took no initiative to find out or ask others on my behalf.  At the second store that had a total of two workers and three customers, nobody even acknowledged my existence in the 5-10 minutes I was there (thanks, Sprint).  The third store was a messy, chaotic Toys R Us with no workers roaming around to help.  Only one person at one store in the mall actually initiated service and correctly answered my question.

Speed, cost, convenience, service – if the scales tilt in favor of online shopping, that’s where the public will go (as they already are).

Leap year lesson #353 is It’s no wonder why people shop online.