How to bootstrap your company’s social business efforts

More and more companies want to take advantage of new social tools and practices.

But where do you start?

The good news is that many companies have already started. And they’re sharing their experiences at conferences like Enterprise 2.0 this past week. Yet I was struck by how many companies measured success by the number of users and activity on their platforms.

That seemed wrong.

Now, getting 10,000+ people to use a platform is pretty impressive. And conference speakers told compelling stories of employees sharing and connecting in new ways. But I couldn’t identify the problem they were solving. Or the business value they created.

So here instead is a different approach. It focuses first on addressing basic problems using simple methods. Then it builds on those solutions, engaging more people and further changing how they work.

Start with internal Communities of Practice

One of the most basic problems you could address at your firm is to help people get better at their jobs.

And, for almost any role, communities of practice can help you do just that. Whether you’re a salesperson, a claims adjuster, or a client service rep, there’s an innate value in sharing what’s working and not working. And that value increases when it’s focused on measurably improving the effectiveness of a given role – e.g., by having the people who do the work actually shape the work.

As a way to get started, implementing communities of practice has 3 other benefits:

  • They’re practical. They let you demonstrate how a social way of working can have clear, measurable results in ways anyone can understand.
  • They’re simple. Changing how employees work is easier to implement (in terms of legal and compliance issues) than changing how you engage with customers.
  • You can get help. Because people have been working on building communities for a long time, there are plenty of excellent resources to help you.

Connect businesses with a Social Media Council

Many different groups at your firm are already considering social media projects – either to connect employees or to engage customers. But these kinds of projects are so new that there’s often very little structure in place to help them.  

So businesses have to do a lot on their own. They have to understand legal, data security, data privacy, and HR issues; navigate compliance processes (where they exist); find suitable technology.

You can address these difficulties by creating an internal council, comprised of social media practitioners from across the firm. Simply sharing what’s working or not working – and who’s doing what – can save businesses and control functions months of frustration.

More importantly, the group can now act as a collective and shape shared services – e.g., social media monitoring or new approval processes – that can help them implement their projects.

Concentrate your expertise into a Center of Excellence

If you build communities and a social media council, they’ll need help and on-going expert advice to get things done.

You may already have social business experts spread across your firm, doing other jobs. By bringing experts together into a formal center of excellence (typically only 2 to 6 people), you’ll make it easier for businesses to know where to go.

You also make it easier to bring together knowledge on internal best practices. To learn from other companies by participating in groups like the Social Business Council. To design the shared services your firm will need to further change the work across more of the firm.

Build a tribe to scale what you’re doing

As you implement projects – even a few – you’ll quickly run out of resources.  

But the answer isn’t to hire more experts and grow the central group. They can never know enough because changing how your firm works requires detailed, local knowledge. You’ll need people – a lot of them – at all levels in all areas in all locations.

The solution is to complement your small center of excellence with a much larger collaboration community of practice. IBM, for example, has built BlueIQ , a collaboration community of over 2000 people, to help drive the adoption of collaboration tools and practices across IBM.

The collaboration community is what links distributed, grass-roots enthusiasm to enterprise objectives. The key is defining clear roles and ways to contribute so they can do more than just share. They can get things done.

Building an effective tribe that’s 10 to 100 times larger than your central team is a practical, low-cost way to scale your efforts across the firm.

Now (and only now) get a platform

The technology matters. The simplicity. The convenience. The ubiquity – everyone using the same thing and having it available everywhere.  

But it won’t matter much if you don’t know what you’ll do with it.

That’s why it’s so important to build internal communities and work with businesses in the social media council. By working on real business problems first, you get practical experience and insight you wouldn’t otherwise have.

This way, you can have 1000s of users the day you launch your platform. You’ll have better reasons for promoting it to others at the firm. And you’ll know exactly what problems they’ll be trying to solve.

Making it stick

If this sounds like a lot of hard work, it is. Other approaches are certainly more exciting. Perhaps launching a platform first, coming up with clever marketing, and participating in social events and communities.

But that only leads to shallow engagement. It creates a nice place for employees to go but it doesn’t significantly change the work.

You’ll get deeper employee engagement through solving basic problems at your firm. And you’ll get deeper engagement from senior management by posting measurable commercial benefits.

That’s a much better way to start.

This I believe

“It’s what I do, not who I am.”

Did you ever say that? Or hear someone else say it? If you did, it’s because something’s wrong at work. Or, rather, with work.

Too many jobs are about filling roles in systems and processes whose purposes aren’t fully understood. Too many people have lost their personal, human connections at – and with – work. 

In “Shop Class as Soulcraft,” Matthew Crawford writes that the modern employee isn’t a whole person: 

“There is a disconnect between his work life and his leisure life; in the one he accumulates money and in the other he accumulates psychic nourishment. Each part depends on and enables the other, but does so in the manner of a transaction between sub-selves rather than as the intelligibly linked parts of a coherent life.”

Work doesn’t have to be that way. And you don’t have to be a motorcycle mechanic or have a 4-hour work week for things to be different. 

I have hope – and I have evidence – that work is changing.  

This blog

I want to chronicle this change. I see and feel it happening where I work. And I see and feel it happening at the companies I deal with. I want to tell the stories of what’s possible and accelerate the change. 

In 1951, Edward R. Murrow introduced “the personal philosophies of thoughtful men and women in all walks of life…the rules they live by, the things they have found to be the basic values in their lives.”

Here are mine.

10 things I believe about work

  1. I believe that autonomy, mastery, purpose, and community are fundamental human motivators. (Daniel Pink writes of the first three in “Drive.”) We are hardwired to want control over the work we do and to get better at it. To do it for a good reason and with people we connect with.
  2. I believe any job that appeals to these motivators can be fulfilling.
  3. I believe the essence of good management – of leadership – is to make jobs fulfilling. That this is the best way, by far, to increase productivity.
  4. I believe most of what we actually call management and leadership is distributing information, distributing work, and reviewing employees – all of which can be done better with more open, on-line, social systems.
  5. I believe many management practices, particularly promotion and performance systems, are grossly flawed. Like an introductory physics class, they make assumptions that have no place in reality. They compare different people and roles despite the lack of objective criteria. They reduce people to numbers. Then they compound the errors by forcing numerical distributions on teams of all sizes. It’s absurd and de-humanizing.
  6. I believe social business platforms enable better management. They let everyone shape their own reputation through public contribution. That visibility, in turn, provides greater access to opportunities. Managers will no longer need to – or be able to – serve as patrons, arbiters, and gatekeepers.
  7. I believe communities of practice – groups of people in similar jobs who share learning and measurably advance their practice – are essential complements to traditional, hierarchical, organizations. And building them is an excellent way to introduce a workforce to the new ways of working.
  8. I believe Gallup was right in asserting that increased engagement at work boosts productivity. They said disengagement costs $300 billion in the US. I think they’re off by a factor of at least 3.
  9. I believe social business platforms can unleash even more value by fundamentally changing basic work practices and eliminating waste and inefficiency.
  10. I believe many people feel such changes are both necessary and possible but don’t know how to start. Few people know how to apply social tools and practices to change what people do every day.

This is why I feel the need to tell more stories of what’s working and not working. To help accelerate both the learning and the doing.

I fervently believe we have to change the work. For ourselves, our companies, and our collective future.