Social Ecology: Evolution or Revolution? Part 2.

In this Part 2 piece I wanted to look at some of the social ecology trends, and specifically:

– collaborative platforms (or the technology that underpins social networks),
– email (because it is still the biggest consumer of time)
– personal knowledge management (the human algorithm)
– the growing importance of the community manager and the digital curator

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Knowledge Ecology

This is second post on the topic of emergent social ecology, which embraces social media, social networks, communities of practice, enterprise collaboration technologies, social business, social learning, collaboration, cooperation and sharing. A wide brief, but with a common thread: the liberation and empowerment of people to take responsibility for their own personal and professional development.

In my previous post (Part 1) I identified a number of key challenges and opportunities for anyone who wants to survive and thrive in this emergent social ecosystem:

  • Social media is generating enormous amounts of unorganised content: how to make sense of that.
  • Social networks enable a wider range of connections: how to find people and develop relationships.
  • New forms of collaboration are made possible by social media and networks: how to organise and manage.
  • There are a bewildering variety of methods and tools: how to choose and learn to use.
  • The new ways of making sense, connecting, collaborating, and using technology throw up the need for new skills: what are the new roles and the new skills?
  • The emphasis on open access and sharing changes where value may reside: so what are the new business models?
  • Social capital is becoming increasingly important in establishing trust and credibility in the virtual world: how do we increase or measure our social capital?

I want to explore some of these points in more detail, and specifically how social/collaborative technologies are creating new roles, new skills and new opportunities for personal and professional development.  I will state categorically that I’m not a social media “expert”, and will challenge anyone who labels themselves thus. The social ecology is far too volatile, technically complex and populated by people and organisations with vested opinions and hidden agendas for anyone to fully comprehend the various dynamics. However, I have a lifetime’s experience dealing with people and information, and that most important of human assets – curiosity.  Having some understanding of the environment I belong to gives me perspective on how to work smarter, and what skills I need to survive.  After all, isn’t that what life’s really all about?

To survive and thrive in this century demands a new spectrum of literacies. These include:

  • knowing how to manage and protect one’s online identity
  • recognizing the importance of reputation and how to grow (personal) social capital
  • proficient in creating, organising, repurposing and sharing content
  • capable and adept at using social learning networks for continual personal and professional development

It goes without saying that technology underpins all of these literacies. It is difficult to imagine how today’s knowledge workers could function without access to and familiarity with technology.

In this Part 2 piece I wanted to look at some of the social ecology trends, and specifically:

  • collaborative platforms (or the technology that underpins social networks),
  • email (because it is still the biggest consumer of time)
  • personal knowledge management (the human algorithm)
  • the growing importance of the community manager and the digital curator

Technology Trends

Collaboration platforms and social network facilities are becoming increasingly sophisticated and we can now match the people we are connected to (our social graph) with the work we do or the topics we are interested in (our interest graph). Previously we’ve had to seek out and make these connections ourselves, but (and for example) the combination of Google Plus Circles and Google Plus Communities gives us the capability to discover new and relevant connections, i.e. we can now link our social graph with our interest graph. And as we know from experience, once users become familiar with features and capabilities that get deployed in the Web 2.0 world, they eventually emerge in Enterprise 2.0 technologies (i.e. business environments).  Hence we can expect to see a ‘social’ element being introduced to corporate Intranets that offers more than just blogging or micro-blogging capabilities. We can expect to see automatic connections being made using profile and activity data, i.e. between people, interests, expertise, activities, topics and places.  Capabilities that perhaps many of us take for granted with Google Plus or LinkedIn’s suggestions and recommendations, but yet to fully emerge within the corporate environment. Something that might undermine the traditional hierarchical and silo’d organisational structures? Let’s hope so!

Social & Interest Graphs

 Email

A report by Atlantic Monthly claimed that workers waste up to 50% of their time managing unwanted communications, finding the right people to help them and searching for information to do their job. (Image source: Harold Jarche).

Wasted Time

According to the same report, workers spend 28 per cent of their time, reading, writing or responding to email, and another 19 per cent tracking down information to complete their tasks. Communicating and collaborating internally accounts for another 14 per cent of the average working week, with only 39 per cent of the time remaining to accomplish role-specific tasks.

However, I’ve never really understood this growing clamour for the end of email, and get tired of reading the latest predictions about its demise. Did we decide the telephone served no useful purpose once we had social media? No, because it is still a relevant form of communication. How it is used has probably changed over the years, but it is still with us because it’s ubiquitous, easy to use and relatively secure.  I think that companies such as Atos – which has a stated mission to eliminate all corporate email communication within 2 years – and senior managers who ban use of email on certain days, are misguided. They are addressing symptoms of email misuse, and not the underlying causes.  Email has been with us for over 30 years, and I’m predicting it will still be with us for the next 30 years – and more. Like the telephone (or mobile phone), email is ubiquitous, simple to use and a relatively secure method of communication. A telephone number and an email address are the two lowest common denominators in today’s connected world, and that’s not going to change in the short or medium term.

What will change is the move to publish-subscribe communication, where control of the information flow will be managed by the recipient, not the sender.  Having something useful and relevant to say will become far more important than who you send it to.  Email will become the primary means by which we authenticate ourselves and subscribe to the networks and channels through which we want to receive information. And we’ll have better tools for aggregating and filtering this information torrent.

Personal Knowledge Management

It’s been said many times before, but worth repeating – technology alone will not create a collaborative and learning organisation, and neither will it give us the knowledge or skills to make sense of an increasingly complex and volatile environment.  This requires human effort and application. Something that Brian Solis has called the “human algorithm”. To quote Brian Solis:

The human algorithm is part understanding and part communication. The ability to communicate and apply insights internally and externally is the key to unlocking opportunities to earn relevance. Beyond research, beyond intelligence, the human algorithm is a function of extracting insights with intention, humanizing trends ad possibilities and working with strategists to improve and innovate everything from processes to products to overall experiences.”

One application of the human algorithm is in social media listening and sense-making. In addition to tracking simple data signals such as conversations, sentiment, narration and service inquiries, data can present insights into preferences, trends, areas for innovation or refinement, R&D, co-creation, etc. Even though sophisticated tools can help track data points that can lead to these insights, it still takes a human touch to surface them and in turn advocate findings within the organisation. It’s the difference between insights, actionable insights, and executed insights.

How do we gain the skills needed to hone and improve our human algorithms? We give  time and effort to Personal Knowledge Management (PKM).  And what is “PKM”?

PKM: A set of processes, individually constructed, to help each of us make sense of our world & work more effectively. Keeping track of digital information flows and separating the signal from the noise.

Harold Jarche has been a long-term proponent of Personal Knowledge Management and over eight years has developed the “Seek: Sense: Share” model, described thus:

PKM, or learning in networks, is a continuous process of seeking, sensing, and sharing.

  • Seeking is finding things out and keeping up to date. Building a network of colleagues is helpful in this regard. It not only allows us to “pull” information, but also have it “pushed” to us by trusted sources.
  • Sensing is how we personalize information and use it. Sensing includes reflection and putting into practice what we have learned. Often it requires experimentation, as we learn best by doing.
  • Sharing includes exchanging resources, ideas, and experiences with our networks as well as collaborating with our colleagues.

Two specific roles that have been honed on PKM skills and the ‘seek-sense-share’ methodology are The Community Manager and the Digital Curator.  In some cases this may be one and the same role, since the functions are quite similar.

Community Management

Community Managers have become a core part of engaging with customers on social channels. The role has developed from the Facilitator or Moderator role that is well established within online Communities of Practice (CoP).  In either case, the key responsibilities are very similar:

  • Training and educating users (or customers)
  • Encouraging and guiding conversations
  • Providing recommendations on how social media tools can be used more effectively, or identifying new tools.
  • Monitoring platform statistics and trends, and observing behaviours in order to extract new learning and ideas.
  • Signposting useful content; developing and sharing resources and best practices.
  • Weeding and feeding content
  • Project managing

I’ve previously described the role of the Community Manager/Facilitator, and this diagram sums up the key elements of the role:

Community Facilitation

Digital Curation

‘Digital Curation’ is a phrase for a practice that has been emerging over the past two years to filter the overabundance of signal, and create quality, thoughtful, human-organised collections. By focusing our attention, providing context, and creating a specific experience, curators can enhance our online experience. Digital curators are conceptually similar to their counterparts in museums, because they tend to trade in very specialised, focused content. As a part of a wider collective, curators choose a topic they are interested in, and then search and display dynamic content related to this topic, using one or more digital curation tools.

Some examples of digital curation tools include:

Paper.li enables the curator to automatically create an on-line newspaper, selecting content using keywords, conversations and/or links to websites that are relevant to a particular topic or theme.  There is a considerable degree of automation involved, and the curator needs to be able to continually monitor and if necessary adjust the sources in order to ensure the content remains relevant.

Scoop.it is a very useful and attractive curation tool, enabling summaries and snapshots of related content from blogs, media sharing sites and other social media. It has an impressively intuitive interface. You pick your topic, add a description of the collection, then you can begin searching for relevant articles and other media to include.

Storify is another style of curation tool, enabling the curator to search for specific content from social media sites that can be sequenced into a blog style story. The curator can add their own text and embed the final product into their blog

Pearltrees, works as a visually-oriented connective network of content, which can be shared, repurposed and linked in a number of ways across social media platforms. The Pearltrees Teams group function also enables users to collaborate to create shared curated collections of content.

All four tools allow conversations and further sharing, and all four are very attractive as a means of making sense of the vast amount of content there is on the web. There are of course many other tools being developed that can also perform similar tasks of consolidating and accumulating content, and offering it in a digest form to busy professionals. A useful resource to follow if you want to know more about content curation is Robin Good’s Content Curation World on scoop.it.

I will continue this discourse on the emergent social ecology trends in a subsequent post, focussing specifically on the importance of Personal Knowledge Management for developing the skills and literacies we need to become effective and proficient 21st century knowledge workers.

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Social Ecology: Evolution or Revolution? Part1

The social ecology influences just about everything we do. From the way we communicate, get information, buy and sell, travel, live and learn, to our very health and wellbeing. For those who thrive on change this is might be perceived as just part of human evolution. For those less comfortable with the rapid and disruptive effects it is having on their lives, it might feel more like a revolution, i.e. something they can’t control or influence – and hence the title for this series of posts.

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Social Ecology

This is first in what I plan to be series of posts about the evolving social ecology, which embraces social media, social networks, communities of practice, enterprise collaboration technologies, social business and anything to do with social learning, collaboration, cooperation and sharing. Quite a wide remit I know, but I believe there is common thread flowing through all of these topics, memes and disciplines, namely the empowerment of people to take responsibility for their own personal and professional development.

The social ecology influences just about everything we do. From the way we communicate, get information, buy and sell, travel, live and learn, to our very health and wellbeing.  For those who thrive on change this is might be perceived as just part of human evolution. For those less comfortable with the rapid and disruptive effects it is having on their lives, it might feel more like a revolution, i.e. something they can’t control or influence – and hence the title for this series of posts.

People, Environment or Technology?

Though we might like to think that “it’s the people, not the technology that matters”, the truth is that the two are now so inexorably linked in the developed world that it’s difficult to imagine how we could get anything done if technology was taken out of the equation.

Technology is changing the way organisations communicate with their employees, partners, stakeholders and customers. Email was the essential business tool in the 1980s, but we are now living in a world where people want to communicate and share on social networks such as Facebook, Google+, Twitter and LinkedIn. The Cloud has opened up opportunities for much more work to be done away from the traditional office environment. In fact, more and more knowledge workers expect data and information to be available anywhere, anytime and on any device.

This demand has fuelled the enormous growth in mobile and web Apps, and accessing and downloading apps is now a familiar and trusted process for owners of mobile devices (e.g. smartphones and tablets).  More than six billion mobile phones are in use worldwide, enabling users to socialise online wherever they go and inspiring a new range of leisure and business applications. Smartphone adoption, which is projected to reach 50 per cent of consumers globally by 2015, will bring more than 1 billion new users online who may never access the Web from a personal computer. (McKinsey. The Social Economy: Unlocking value and productivity through social devices, July 2012).

Against this background we’re seeing enormous amounts of unorganised content being generated by social media; everyone is potentially a publisher. To quote Clay ShirkyPublishing is no longer a job; it’s a button”.

And if it’s so easy to publish, it’s even easier to share – just one click of a button and it’s shared with all of your Facebook/Twitter/Google+ followers. Your network of friends and followers will in turn share with their networks. Tweets beget more tweets, which might stimulate new comments and new Tweets. And so it goes on. According to various reports, information is doubling every two years. By 2020 the world will generate 50 times the amount of information it now has (source: IDC). How to make sense of this information torrent and separate that important signal from all of the noise?

Social networks continue to grow and proliferate. Facebook has set the benchmark for on-line sharing and has become the foghorn of human consciousness. Google+ continues to gain traction and Twitter has established itself as the place for real-time news, where timeliness trumps accuracy. Professional journalism is becoming niche, as people increasingly rely on social media for news and not the traditional newsprint and TV media channels.  How does this affect our perceptions of truth and reality? Who do we trust and how credible are our sources?

Social networks enable a wider range of connections and opportunities to find people and develop relationships. How best to manage these relationships? There are a bewildering variety of methods and tools: how to choose and learn to use?

Is the future likely to be as I’ve previously described as Personalised, Mobile and Appified  ?

Key Challenges and Opportunities

So, to set the scene and agenda for future posts in this series, and with thanks to David Wilcox for inspiring these points, these are what I consider to be the key challenges and opportunities for anyone who wants to survive and thrive in this emergent social ecosystem:

  • Social media is generating enormous amounts of unorganised content: how to make sense of that.
  • Social networks enable a wider range of connections: how to find people and develop relationships.
  • New forms of collaboration are made possible by social media and networks: how to organise and manage.
  • There are a bewildering variety of methods and tools: how to choose and learn to use.
  • The new ways of making sense, connecting, collaborating, and using technology throw up the need for new skills: what are the new roles and the new skills?
  • The emphasis on open access and sharing changes where value may reside: so what are the new business models?
  • Social capital is becoming increasingly important in establishing trust and credibility in the virtual world: how do we increase or measure our social capital?

I will attempt to answer as many of these questions as I can in this series of posts over the coming weeks.  In the mean time, comments and views are always welcome, particularly if you think I’ve missed an important facet of the social and collaborative landscape.

Social Ecology -a definition:

Social ecology advocates a reconstructive and transformative outlook on social and environmental issues, and promotes a directly democratic, confederal politics. As a body of ideas, social ecology envisions a moral economy that moves beyond scarcity and hierarchy, toward a world that reharmonizes human communities with the natural world, while celebrating diversity, creativity and freedom. Source: Wikipedia

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Social Media Revolution 2013

I’ve been following Erik Qualman’s Social Media Revolution series since the first one I saw back in 2010. The numbers just keep getting bigger!

Previous versions:

 

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The State Of Social Media 2012

A useful chronology of the key social media events and statistics over the past 12 months. Slightly surprised by the omission of Tumblr, which is predicted to continue its stellar growth in 2013. According to Techcrunch, the company is getting 20 billion pageviews a month, up from 15 billion at the beginning of the year. Will it be acquired by Facebook in 2013? Someone seems to think so: “If Facebook isn’t thinking of buying Tumblr, it should be.” One thing is for certain, FB will take action wherever it sees a threat. I think 2013 could be another interesting year for social media and I’m sure there will be further consolidation by the big players (Facebook, Google and Apple).

For users – well, we still have a bewildering choice, which can’t be a bad thing.

We live in interesting times!

The State of Social Media 2012 by The SEO Company
The State of Social Media 2012 by The SEO Company

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Is Social Media Making Us Less Social?

Social Media Buttons

We are increasingly being flooded – bombarded even – by news and information from an ever-increasing number of social media channels. Increasingly, news is coming to us through our friend and interest networks, via Twitter, Facebook, Tumblr, and LinkedIn especially. Our cognitive powers in making sense of it, finding the signal within the noise, have never been more challenged.

Some people talk of information anywhere, anytime, but in fact, isn’t it more a case of information everywhere all the time? You can’t get away from it.

There was an article in the press recently querying:  “Are you an “Infomaniac”?

According to the article:

  • 34% check their smartphone after sex,
  • 23% go on Twitter more than 10 times a day,
  • 51% check social network sites at dinner,
  • 62% use their phones while shopping and
  • 42% will stop a conversation if their phone beeps.

One person was quoted: “Sometimes I wake up in the night and reach for my phone so I can do a Tweet”.

And another: “I take pictures of my food, my feet….pretty much anything and post it online”.

Yes, I think I’m following a few people like that, which reminds me I must do a bit of ‘weeding’ on my Twitter account!

Some other useful (?) statistics that seem to reinforce this sense of  “information pervasiveness”:

  • The average Briton now has 26 Internet accounts for everything from email and bank services to online shopping, social media sites, Skype and Paypal.
  • The average worker checks his email inbox 36 times every hour.
  • 1 in 3 smartphone owners would rather give up sex than their mobile phone (Pew Research)
  • 90% of 18 – 29 year olds say they will sleep wit their phone in or beside their bed (Pew Research)
  • 1 in 10 say they are woken at least a few times per week by calls, texts or emails (Pew Research)

This all seems to reinforce the growing phenomenon of FOMO, pronounced FO-MO, meaning ‘fear of missing out’. These people want or need to be connected to their email and social media channels 24 x 7. And apparently there is another new phobia you can add to the list of human paranoia – Nomophobia. It’s the fear of losing your cell/mobile phone!

But whilst we complain about information overload and having no time to do the quality things in life, we are at the same time adding to the volume. Everyone has a voice and everyone wants to be heard. Which reminds me of the quote by Clay Shirkypublishing isn’t a job any more, it’s a button”.

And if it’s so easy to publish, it’s even easier to share – just one click of a button and it’s shared with all of your Facebook/Twitter/Google+ followers. And your network of friends and followers will in turn share with their networks. Tweets beget more tweets, which might stimulate new comments and new Tweets. And so it goes on. No wonder we’re drowning in information, and social media has made it all so easy. But are we losing something in this morass of news and information, made possible by simple one-click interfaces and frictionless sharing?

I only realised through a conversation with a friend that her relationship with her now ex-boyfriend, was predicated on a whole new protocol of ‘Unfriending’ on Facebook.  You no longer have to have a face-to-face discussion to end a relationship; it can all be done with a click of a button!

Perhaps this one-button-does-everything mentality that we’re now so used to is making us less social and more insensitive to the feelings of others? We have a paradox where social media is reinforcing anti-social behaviour.

It will be interesting to see what 2013 brings in terms of new and shiny social media tools and social networks, but it doesn’t take a philosopher to predict that the cycle of news and information propagation is going to get faster, more people are going to get connected to the Internet, more people will have a voice, and finding that signal amongst all of the noise is going to get that much harder.

Maybe we should think about what we’re losing – the social skills that help us establish trust and understanding with our fellow human beings, and rediscovering those quality conversations. A New Year’s resolution maybe?

Happy Christmas!

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The Evolution Of Social Media

EvolutionThere has been a lot of hype around social media, social networks and social business, much of it unhelpful in getting real understanding what this is all about. For some people, “social” will always mean frivolity and time wasting. For others, social media just means marketing and communications.  Predating all of this hype, social learning networks and communities of practice have long existed as ecologies that would encourage collaboration and knowledge sharing. Off-line knowledge sharing communities have been around since the Middle Ages, where crafts and skills were honed, and perhaps best exemplified by the many Worshipful Companies – from bakers to candle-stick makers!

What has happened over the past several years is that social technology has made it easier than ever before to find, connect and engage with “experts” and people with similar interests. This trend was encouraged by Andrew McAfee in 2006 who coined the term “Enterprise 2.0” to describe how the strategic integration of social technologies into an enterprise’s intranet, extranet and business processes could improve decision making. This has given new life to learning, sharing and personal development. Enlightened organisations have recognised that investment in social technology and (most importantly) the organisational development that must accompany it in order to nurture and embed a collaborative culture, can overcome the limitations of silo’d structures that inhibit information flows and opportunities for innovation.  However, it’s still unfortunate that in many cases social media platforms are seen as technology projects and not as part of a wider and more embracing strategic organisational development project. It’s only when poor adoption rates become apparent that organisations begin to focus on behaviours, education and training

Put simply, we’re all still on the learning curve on how to build and sustain a truly collaborative culture, and must be continually reminded that technology is an enabler and not the solution. The paradox is that most collaboration projects are still IT-led and any involvement from HR or knowledge/information professionals is at best incidental.

In a broader context, the pervasive and ubiquitous availability of social media in almost all aspects of daily life, from the way we communicate, get information, buy and sell, travel, live and learn is adding to the pressure on organisations to provide a more porous interface between internal (behind the firewall) and external services. Knowledge workers are increasingly making their own decisions on what tools, products and services that they need to work more effectively and will become increasingly disaffected if these are not available within the work environment.  We’re already at the point where mobile platforms (smartphones, laptops, tablets) are outstripping sales of traditional desktops, and workers who can’t access social networks such as Twitter or Facebook on their office PC are just as likely to use their Smartphone to get access.  Some organisations are adapting to this challenge and embracing more mobile and agile working strategies by implementing ‘bring your own device’ (BYOD) projects, with all of the security implications this entails.

What I’m hoping for in 2013:

  1. Organisations start to think about what problems they are trying to solve before implementing a technology “solution”.
  2. Collaboration and knowledge sharing are recognised as skills to be learnt and behaviours to be encouraged as part of a wider organisation development plan, rather than as a nebulous outcome on the back of an IT project.
  3. Organisations listen more to what tools their staff need to do their jobs, rather than assume that one-size-fits-all.
  4. Organisations embrace the benefits of more agile working and accept that not everyone needs to be in the office all of the time.

Well….I can hope!

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Social Collaboration: it’s the people not the technology, stupid!

Regardless of what labels we give to collaboration technology, the one constant feature is the people, i.e. the staff, the workers, the users. The continuing paradox is that, despite all the evidence of poor adoption rates; the accepted wisdom that “build it and they will come” doesn’t really work, and the oft’ repeated mantra that “it’s not the technology, it’s the people that count”, most collaboration strategies are treated as technology projects and not organisational change management projects.

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The workers production lineI was recently reflecting on my personal experience as a knowledge management consultant in deploying enterprise and business collaborations solutions over the past several years. I’ve seen various buzz-words and labels come and go, and witnessed the morphing of Enterprise Content, Document and Records Management Systems (ECM’s, EDM’s, ERM’s) into varieties of Enterprise 2.0, social CRM, Social Intranets and – more recently – Enterprise Social Media and Social Business solutions.

But regardless of what labels we give to the technology, the one constant feature is the people, i.e. the staff, the workers, the users. The continuing paradox is that, despite all the evidence of poor adoption rates; the accepted wisdom that “build it and they will come” doesn’t really work, and the oft’ repeated mantra that “it’s not the technology, it’s the people that count”, most collaboration strategies are treated as technology projects and not organisational development (OD) projects.  Putting in a shiny new enterprise collaboration system is unlikely to change behaviours that have been conditioned by corporate culture, and less likely to be successful if it’s not integrated with the business processes – and yes, that includes email! Becoming “social” and sharing knowledge is not something that is solved by technology; it’s something that is solved by addressing behaviours. Sure, technology can be an enabler, but it has to be part of a wider and more holistic change programme.

This was certainly the case when I was asked to deliver a strategy for more effective learning and sharing across local government in 2005, which resulted in the delivery of an award-winning community of practice platform that ultimately supported over 120,000 users and more than 1000 communities by 2011. The technology was only one (fairly small) component of the project. Most of the effort went into winning hearts and minds in local authorities that this was the right thing to do, and encouraging staff to narrate their work and share good practice. It was also underpinned by training, coaching and mentoring on how to manage and facilitate on-line communities – activities that don’t often feature in technology-driven projects.

So, with the benefit of some hindsight and experience, coupled with a more contemporary view of emerging trends, the following sums up what I think are the key factors in the emergent social collaboration ecosystem:

  1. Collaboration is about people and behaviours; technology is an enabler, not a solution.
  2. Engagement with and adoption of social collaboration technologies should be part of a wider organisational change programme. HR should be as much involved as IT.
  3. Seek out, support and encourage your ‘network weavers’ and collaboration advocates as part of your social collaboration strategy. Every organisation has them but, dependent on culture, they may be considered disruptive (but social technology is, by its very nature, disruptive). These are your “Trojan mice” who will stimulate those parts of the organisation that you can’t reach.
  4. Knowledge repositories are places where knowledge goes to die. They may still be relevant to researchers but are places of last resort for knowledge workers. Knowledge workers want instant access to expertise, information and knowledge, and increasingly rely on social networks and search engines to find it.
  5. It’s never been easier to connect with people with same/similar interests, or to find answers from “experts”. Anyone who is not yet fully engaged with the social web is at a distinct disadvantage.
  6. ‘Buy’ is trumping ‘build’, but systems integrators are key. Collaboration technology is increasingly powerful and flexible and can be adapted to all but the most specialised needs. However, integration with legacy systems and business processes still requires specialist knowledge.
  7. There is a growing call for products and services that help us manage the information torrent. All of the leading collaboration technology vendors now provide aggregation, filtering, trending, and personalisation capabilities. Look for features available in web products/services such as Bottlenose, Strawberryj.am, Prismatic, Twylah etc. in Enterprise solutions.
  8. There’s no such thing as privacy on the web – get over it!
  9. The web has been with us for almost 20 years, social media and social networks for over 10 years. Any workers (managers, supervisors, staff) who still claim to be digital technophobes in 2012 are a lost cause. Focus effort on those who see the benefits of on-line interaction.
  10. The future is mobile and ‘appified’. More and more work is being done on the move; the growth of BYOD and COPE initiatives are weakening the ties and dependencies on the ‘lobotomised’ corporate PC in the corporate workplace. Any enterprise collaboration solution must support agile and mobile working.

If I were a CEO deploying a social collaboration strategy, I would be looking for something far more expansive than a technology solution.  The 80:20 rule would seem to be appropriate; if the technology accounts for 20% of budget, 80% should be devoted to organisational development. I wonder how many more failed collaboration projects it will take before this philosophy takes hold?

What do you think?

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Social Media Explained (with the aid of a donut!)

Whenever I’ve been asked to explain “social media”, I’ve found that one sure way of getting the message across is to use this slide. It’s a bit tongue-in-cheek, but there’s no harm in injecting a bit of humour into any presentation.

I do not take any credit for the idea, and would normally accredit the original source, but there are so many different variations on this theme around the Web that I’ve not been able to discover how and where it started.  Indeed, I’ve also made some of my own changes to bring it up to date. So, apologies in advance if I am upsetting any ownership sensibilities!

Social Media Explained - in a dounut

  • Twitter: I’m eating a #donut
  • Facebook: I like donuts
  • Foursquare: This is where I eat donuts
  • Instragram: This is a vintage photo of my donut
  • Pinterest: Here’s a recipe for making donuts
  • LastFM: Now listening to “Donuts”
  • Google+: I’ve joined a circle of donut-eating enthusiasts
  • Reddit: There’s a conspircy around donut eating.
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Power To The Online People

If the 20th century was the industrial age, then surely the 21st century will be considered as the “knowledge age”. The Internet has revolutionised the way that work gets done, how we communicate, how we socialise, how we learn. It has providing unparalleled opportunities for connecting, collaborating and sharing knowledge. It has shaped key events that have affected the lives of millions of people through the power of mass collaboration and access to instant information.

This infographic shows some of the events in our recent history that have been influenced by an increasingly connected world, where shared knowledge and a common cause has delivered power to the (online) people!
Power To The Online People

Created by:  Open-site.org

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Email is dead: Long live email!

Am I the only sceptic that is prepared to challenge the “great myth” that email is the root cause of worker inefficiency and the blight of our 21st century lives? Perhaps this seems odd coming from someone who is an advocate for social technology as an enabler for more effective sharing and collaboration.

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According to a recent report from the McKinsey Global Institute, the average office worker spends 28 hours a week – or nearly 1500 hours a year – writing emails, searching for information and attempting to “collaborate” internally. The report argues that wide adoption of social media technologies by businesses could cut down some of the time-wasting involved in emailing and improve worker productivity by 20 to 25 per cent.

This is all great stuff, and will perhaps incentivise some CEO’s to consider implementing social technologies into their organisations. After all, the prospect of a 25 per cent productivity improvement where money is tight and competition is avaricious is not something to be dismissed lightly.

But am I the only sceptic that is prepared to challenge the “great myth” that email is the root cause of worker inefficiency and the blight of our 21st century lives? Perhaps this seems odd coming from someone who is an advocate for social technology as an enabler for more effective sharing and collaboration.

I would agree that social technology is the engine that is driving today’s knowledge ecology and that we’re only just starting to discover the opportunities that a far more connected society can deliver.  However, email is just as much a part of this as – say – Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, Yammer, Sharepoint, or any number of Enterprise Social Software solutions. It’s not an “either/or” choice between email and social technology. Email has been the foundation for how business gets done for the past 30 years or so, and I’m willing to predict it will be around for the next 30 years or so. Used properly, it’s still one of the most effective ways of communicating.

What is email good for:

  1. Email arrives near instantaneously. It can be accessed from almost anywhere. It brings not just text, but pictures, documents, links, and more.
  2. Email is great for non-urgent communication. Things that don’t require an immediate response that others can deal with on their schedule.
  3. Email can provide a powerful documentation trail. Unlike text messages or phone calls, email provides an authenticated audit trail of past communication. It is hard to deny past actions and messages when there is a clear history.
  4. Email is one of the best mediums for communicating across time zones. It allows people on different schedules to communicate at their leisure.
  5. Message formatting features come as standard.
  6. The email client is a personal information management database. It can be browsed, sorted, filtered, tagged and searched. Features which I’ve yet to see implemented in most Enterprise Social Software activity streams.
  7. Email can be closely integrated with business workflows, where an action or decision is required.
  8. Email provides an (almost) foolproof 2-way authentication, hence why it is still used by nearly all online service providers to verify new accounts.

What is it not good for?

This post in not meant to be a heralding cry for more use of email; I just wanted to add some perspective and balance to what I see as a rather misguided campaign to replace email with social technologies. Email is not the best medium for sharing knowledge with a large number of people, nor is it a very good tool for collaborating on a document or a project plan. In fact, if your starting point is to encourage more fluid knowledge flows and wider engagement with your workforce, stakeholders and partners, then you really need to be looking at social technologies, such as blogs, forums, wikis, social bookmarking, integrated activity streams etc.

A blended approach to “social business’

I firmly believe that the best approach for improving productivity is a blend of social technology and email. Social technology can break down silo’d working practices, join-up thematic knowledge repositories and help to flatten hierarchies. Email would still be the foundation for how business gets done and how decisions are made. Integrating the two is the key to a successful business. Anyone who thinks that a business can survive by consensus decision-making delivered by social tools is sadly misguided. Using social tools to inform the decision-making process is the model that makes most sense.

Life without email?

I think I’ve made my opinion on this quite clear – it will be around for the foreseeable future, and will probably outlive many of today’s social media products. It’s not “either/or” it’s both, and they can co-exist. Which is why I found the Atos strategy somewhat disconcerting:

Thierry Breton, CEO of the French IT services company Atos, announced at the end of 2011 that his company will become “a zero e-mail company within three years.” His reason: the volume of e-mail that he and his employees have to deal with is unsustainable and harms the business. Breton estimates that managers spend between five and 20 hours a week reading and writing e-mails. On average, each of Atos’s 80,000 employees was receiving more than 100 e-mails per day, of which only 15 percent were deemed “useful.” By shifting communications to social platforms, François Gruau, senior vice president for business development and innovation, expects Atos staff to be “able to collaboratively process information with more focus, speed, and precision.”

Atos is counting on social technologies to improve collaboration and knowledge sharing. The company estimates that employees spend 25 percent of their time looking for information or expertise. So Atos is pushing employees to use a social community platform to share and keep track of ideas on subjects from innovation to sales. In the first few weeks after the initial announcement, these tools helped reduce e-mail volume by up to 20 percent.

There are so many issues with this statement that I don’t know where to start. It would be interesting to know how the “only 15% [of emails] were deemed useful” figure was derived. Presumably from the perspective of the receiver and not the sender.

Also, “….Atos is pushing employees to use a social community platform to share and keep track of ideas on subjects from innovation to sales”.  The statement might have sounded better if it was encouraging employees as opposed to pushing. In my experience, take-up of social community platforms is predicated on whether the user derives value from the platform, rather than from a dictum to use it.

It will be interesting to see how this strategy pans out over the next 2-3 years and whether they do achieve their goal of becoming a “zero email company”. If they succeed in their goal then I’ll be eating dollops of humble pie!

This may appear a paradox, but having made the case for email, I will conclude by saying that reducing reliance on it is probably the right strategy. I’ll clarify this further by stating that the root cause of wasted time is likely to be through misuse or poor use of email. In particular, the over-use of cc’s and bcc’s for mass-distribution. Features that were put there before the advent of social tools. Also the cascade of corporate/team/group newsletters, and anything “FYI”. Organisations that are deploying social platforms should prioritise these activities and behaviours as a means to reducing email volumes. One radical step might even be to remove the cc and bcc capability altogether.

Seven simple steps for reducing unnecessary email:

  1. Move all distribution lists that are not confidential to blogs (i.e. change the email address of the distribution list to post to an internal blog). People can subscribe and unsubscribe themselves thereby both reducing the need for an IT resource to do this and for individuals to manage the resulting emails.
  2. Give all project teams a closed group and encourage them to be more transparent, updating the group whenever they have accomplished something or need to ask a question.
  3. Turn off or discourage people from using cc or bcc features on email. Encourage anything that needs a cc to go into a social network blog or discussion board. Discourage bcc’s almost entirely.
  4. Disable or discourage emailing documents. They should all go into a shared space.
  5. Encourage people to answer questions that they receive through a blog post or Intranet forum. That way they only have to answer the question once and it is discoverable for others.
  6. Advertise and promote an “email-free” day, where no emails get answered. This may encourage workers not to send an email and to think of other alternatives. There may even be the option of actually talking to a colleague!
  7. Begin an education programme on email protocol. This should include:
  • Dealing with confidential information
  • Contact management
  • Personal information
  • Accepting email from external contacts
  • How to manage your inbox and folders

At the end of the day, it’s all about getting smarter with how we use and share information. The cost of managing this information today is mostly hidden. It’s the hours each of us spends reviewing, organising and deleting emails and the hours we spend answering the same questions over and over again. This waste is not really ‘seen’ by the organisation because it’s been absorbed primarily by individuals in their ‘free’ time.

Smart organisations will educate their staff and help them understand when to use email and when to use social technologies. Email is best for detailed exchanges, decision-making and information that require a high degree of accountability. Social tools are best suited for engagement, collaboration and knowledge sharing. All of this should ideally be embraced in the organisation’s social media policies and guidelines documentation.

Accomplishing all of the above will get people more comfortable with social software tools and dynamics and it will give them some relief from the information torrent.

The power of social

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