Beyond Social Media, Creating Social Capital

Rich conversation and insights flowed on Friday morning when the Booth Strategy Discussion group happily pondered four key questions on the topic of Social Media, Not just for Marketing.

This month, David Friedman of Bridgewell Partners offered to facilitate and he began inviting us to consider four key questions:

  1. Do social media supported interaction practices represent a fundamental change in how people work?
  2. What barriers exist to adopting these practices and are the practices optional?
  3. How many, and what kind of resources does converting existing social media activities into successful practices require?
  4. What kind of governance and rules makes social media work and how do you find and manage the advocates?

As usual, the conversation flowed from topic to topic, not chaotically, just indicative of authentic interactive thinking. In hindsight, the face to face conversation and personal value participants derive from ongoing, live exchange of perspectives offers a contrast to the online tools we had met to discuss.  I’ll do my best to share some of the key learning and insights. As usual, I took  time to extend, document sources and supplement my notes, so please do add your thoughts.

People are social animals

Learning is a social endeavor. Knowledge sharing, collaboration and innovation processes succeed when they leverage the subtleties of social interactions. Today’s social media tools facilitate social engagement and may solidify associations that typically erode over time and as geographic distance increases. Today, it is easier than ever to stay actively in touch with associates—neighbors, classmates, friends or colleagues that we no longer see regularly. Their value however comes in creating opportunities that go behind the real world encounter.

Business requires connection and by design, social tools enable people to connect to others for every possible purpose. Want to grow your expertise, make new acquaintances, qualify and connect with experts on specific or general problem or topic areas?  The social tools are a two –way street.  The same behaviors gain new understanding and win support for specific activities and perspectives.

Google changed the way we look for ideas, people, places and things. Twitter  compact messages unleash conversations, debates and ongoing thoughts.  The messages are easy to find and monitor. Content once shared in exclusive forums once closed become public. The virtual location and use of links expands the audience once limited to insiders. Dedicated communities of practice consistently create value for participants, and switching up technology choices amplify the reach of these conversations, e.g. threaded topic discussions used by groups on Linked in.

Closed, restricted conversations however too have their place and have been the domain of  membership restricted list-serves such as those used by MENG—the Marketing Executives Network email list serve, or SERMO (http://www.crunchbase.com/company/sermo) for surgeons.  Some individuals have always been keen to share best practices, or seek out the specialized knowledge of admired colleagues.

Social Capital

Businesses don’t make decisions, people do.  In Bowling Alone, Robert Putnam described the growing isolation that technology promotes. Leveraging  work by Gary Becker and others the book opened new conversations.

Social Capital, embedded in the social realm, is not based on assets or individuals.  Social Capital resides in the fabric of relationships between individuals and in individuals’ connections with their communities (Putnam 1995c)

The emphasis to calculate ROI from Social media misses this point.  No wonder many organizations fail to capture value from socially shared knowledge to improve the way people work? Among the articles we reviewed were some promising signs some companies are making the leap, changing the way they work and incorporating social media practices.

How are some companies succeeding? 

“Organizations operate more like machines, their structure a legacy of the industrial age, taking comfort and finding security in maintaining bureaucratic control.”   In 2006, Chris Anderson published The Long Tail: Why the Future of Business is Selling Less of More.  Transitioning from a command control operating model to deliver unlimited variety to meet specific, personalized needs demands a complete upheaval of management practices, organization charts that operate according to very different rules, beliefs and values.

The industrial age made power free. Many industries gained advantage harnessing that power. Similarly, the present social age, enables communications to spread freely. Success flows to those who manage to find and amplify freely exchanged messages, support their business proposition and gain competitive advantage.

The social paradigm’s counter-intuitive approach contrasts sharply to old push process, where a company worked hard to choose the message and then spent ample budget to promote messages designed to attract the interest of buyers. Today, businesses who listen and move to position themselves within the ongoing conversations that match their product or service set, stand to gain.

Examples of social media transformations of work

Edelman’s business is public relations. They turned their entire recruitment process around by pursuing and inviting those people who demonstrate ability to build an active following.

Intuit’s TurboTax built customer comment threads directly  into their interactive software   allowing people using the platform to learn practices and see examples from other users.

Ernst & Young  created mobile applications on ITunes giving customers insights , tax guides, legal tips etc.   They also created EYE, Ernst and Young Executive, an IPAD based magazine .

Two books, Smart customers, Stupid companies  and Opting In, by IBM Lotus Notes Executive and social business thought leader Ed Brill, admirably illustrate how knowledge IS social, the more interactions the smarter each of us get.

Likewise, peer-to-peer interactions occur within a pertinent context. Customer to customer interactions share very different information than when customers are sharing with company representatives.  The relevance of the exchange to the participants by itself offers  insights around customer perceptions and suggest alternatives to address and resolve their pain points.  This is the very stuff companies once paid researchers to find.  Brill describes the process unleashed by social media as “Thou Shall advocacy,” vs. the traditional company approach of thou shalt not employee governance.

The results?  Resources freed from “finding” should be put to use listening and gravitating to where their customers are actively engaged, communities created to talk about a company rarely happen to be the place the company created for its customers.

Changing the way we work

We all believe that change and changing behavior and processes at work continues to prove hard for several reasons.

Legacy workflows with established internal processes supporting hierarchical, command control organizations clash with the general ease people collaborate and bond outside of work.  Monsanto exemplifies a company who learned quickly how to use social media to build and strengthen what were formerly weak relationships.

Communications become conversations, as illustrated by their 2012 letter to shareholders proclaiming “the ways in which we are all interconnected…” Monsanto continues to evolve their communications beginning  with a move beyond stylistic changes to their communications as  this 2009 St. Louis Biz Journal story illustrates. Communications redesigned their department to listen and engage in honest dialogues with a wider audience of stakeholders. The corporate stakeholders no longer bequeath the controversial issues to the opposition. Instead of releasing official stances,  their communications team speaks directly to specific concerns and in so doing taps expertise inside the organization to share and engage employees as well as externally with consumers.

Value above replacement

At the core, social network mechanics leverage an individual’s ability to influence the behavior of others in their circles or network. The CEO of Klout wants everyone to believe that influence is the currency of the social web. Those companies who understand how to leverage their players may very well gain advantage.

 Ron Burt’s work calculates the “value of social capital, showing how in the business world reputation has come to replace authority and …. from other researchers’ studies, provide robust evidence of the value of brokerage.”  If you consider, as Burt does, that social capital is a metaphor for advantage then it’s not that hard to see how the sports world has put this to work.

Value over Replacement, aka VORP, may have begun with baseball but has since infiltrated the fan base of many other sports.  I even found the concept used to evaluate Rock and Roll band members. The adoption of  this concept by other domains illustrates word of mouth at work, and also the nature of social capital flows.  Studies and metrics rarely explain why some words travel and others remain where they were first spoken.

Is the problem workflow design?  The landscape of successful migration to enterprise2.0 practices remains checkered. In part, connected enterprises and successful adoption and implementation of social media platforms and tools require behavior shifts beyond adoption of new tools.  Successful organizations, who do the heavy lifting and restructure their organization, amplify the effects of influencers who in turn, encourage and promote informal collaboration.

The landscape however is littered with numerous unsuccessful change initiatives because they overlook how to put influencers to work. For example, Knowledge management systems, another extension of VORP, sought to capture the tacit as well as explicit understandings and intelligence of workers about to retire. What made them successful also brought success to the organization and it made sense to create the means to keep that knowledge around as people left.  The capture process however proved challenging and few organizations made conscious use of network analysis. This latter tool infiltrated strategic planning activities, but the record of deployment and use remains spotty.

Kraft’s KM initiative in 2000, shows the consequences of missing the opportunity to leverage individual players skills and influence.  The idea was to capture learnings from Consumer Intelligence and Research and Development. In theory, there would be an expert directory, discussion board and an electronic library.  Tagging information properly makes it possible for others to search and find relevant information.  AT Kraft, suppliers were asked to tag their own research, not good for their business model.  But this also diminished the value of the researchers and librarians whose knowledge and tagging skills were never acknowledged as added value.

In contrast, Stack Overflow, illustrates a very different knowledge sharing resource that isn’t dependendent on tagging.  It’s a give and take resource.  The value available depends on people providing good answers and asking good questions.  Participants with high stack overflow scores are deemed experts.

To Be Continued…More on this topic to follow shortly.

If you care to review the articles that were the basis of this discussion, links follow.  So much more to say and so little time, care to share your reaction?  or contribute some new inspirations?  Please do!

ARTICLES

1. Keynote: Invest in Scalable Social Business Programs

by Jeremiah Owyang on Apr 05, 2011

http://www.slideshare.net/jeremiah_owyang/keynote-invest-in-scalable-social-business-programs

2. Large Scale Transformation–how social lies at the core of your strategy
by Dion Hinchcliffe

http://www.informationweek.com/thebrainyard/news/strategy/how-smart-businesses-reorganize-for-soci/240006107

3. The Collaborative Organization: How to Make Employee Networks Really Work
MIT Sloan Management Review Magazine: Fall 2010Research Feature

October 01, 2010 Rob Cross, Peter Gray, Shirley Cunningham, Mark Showers and Robert J. Thomashttp://sloanreview.mit.edu/article/the-collaborative-organization-how-to-make-employee-networks-really-work/

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