Siloed Social Conversations Impede Shared Experience

June 19, 2013

screenshot-altimetersocialbusiness-2013

The Altimeter Group’s report from earlier this year, The Evolution of Social Business: Six Stages of Social Business Transformation, offers the above graphic to exemplify the way social networking develops as the social activities of businesses mature. I tend to feel skeptical about many developmental models in social business simply because markets differ, sometimes in fundamental ways, and businesses organize accordingly. However, since a previous post here summarized the currently dominant Hub and Spoke approach as falling short as a way to organize collaboration in relation to customer experience, I feel elaborating on that point is in order.

Shared experience, not just shared information, is fundamental to the social networks underlying collaboration and innovation. Many, if not most, employees don’t only need to get to know one another through reputation systems, like who people tag as possessing expertise. As Thomas Vander Wal continues to point out, comfort with one another is needed to develop a shared experience that encourages the open sharing of information.

Collaboration means getting to know that other employees possess expertise on this or that topic, but also developing comfort with one another by sharing significant symbols relating to self, family, friends, and social activities, thereby understanding one another as people. Shared experience with co-workers and customers is a key factor in innovative business practices. It is especially important to multichannel collaboration.

Shared experience is so important because, as Karl Weick so deftly noted almost twenty years ago, it provides the basis for mutual understanding or, to put it bluntly, how we understand one another when we do things together. Nancy Dixon recently offered a concise summary of this point which I recommend reading.

I’ve noted the importance of shared experience to collaboration in several posts. Michael Sampson summarized the points I’ve tried to make as aptly as anyone in his post Get to Know Your Virtual Colleagues as People – and Good Things Happen (to Important Things Like Productivity) and his perspective is much appreciated by me. He noted:

Trust between collaborators is an important factor related to collaboration effectiveness. Spending time talking to and learning about the people you work with provides the mechanism for trust to flourish – if they are trustworthy – or diminish – if they are not worthy of your trust…It makes sense that when people experience the same thing together – creating shared history and shared memories – it binds the group together in a much deeper way than merely having the same information.

So, you might say, what does this have to do with organizational silos?

The best way to begin answering the question is to look at an interesting insight offered by Mark Fidelman and Dion Hinchliffe regarding the cross-currents enterprises face in attempts to use social software to increase collaboration. In Rethinking the Customer Journey in a Social World they noted:

…it’s the mindset of the social world, where everyone knows what everyone else is doing, and perhaps even thinking, that may very well be the hardest to adapt to and instill in our corporate culture. It’s a world where those who know how to tap into global knowledge flows in social networks on the “edge” of our businesses will succeed. Thus, we need a new vocabulary for understanding not only our businesses, but how it will deeply affect the entire experience of our customers, from beginning to end. This transformation of thinking and working is required in order to access the significant benefits of truly remaking how we engage with the market.

Their thinking seems torn between insight into where the changes for business are headed and what they think likely to happen in the short-term. Dion in particular recognizes the fact that social business requires organizational transformation when, for instance, he asserts, ” social business is first and foremost a transformation involving people and the organizations they work with.” Yet, if you consider where he thinks the in-roads for social software (including social media) are for business over the next year or so, the contrast in perspective is pretty distinct. Dion says in another post that it is in the vertical space of enterprises where most of the innovation is set to occur for social software.

While general purpose social software platforms can certainly be used in all of these areas, high impact application of social media to the way we work often requires application-specific constraints on conversations and the resultant community activity (my emphasis). This means social customer care benefits from conversations organized around support, social supply chain focused on ERP transactions, and so on, along with software that supports these applied uses.

Yammer spread out over Sharepoint sites is a good example. The enterprise use-cases of social business implementation offered by Ray Wang support Dion’s assertion. Indeed, one of the recent findings by The Community Roundtable offered in their 2013 State of Community Management report is indicative. The report observes that community managers are most often “hubs” and, further, that:

Key factors, such as the amount of cross-functional interactions and size of community teams [with external or internal focus — my point], are putting a resource strain on community managers, particularly in large organizations.

A key organizational point is worth making here because it relates directly to the burdens the hub-and-spoke model, whether  cross-functional or dandelion, places on collaboration between employees, customers, partners, and other stakeholders. Indeed, the “Tip” offered by Jeremiah Owyang of Altimeter regarding the “dandelion” hub-and spoke model is telling. He noted that,

the lines connecting the multiple hubs may be severed.  Tip: provide way for spokes to connect to each other, not just be funneled through a central group.

Just like social networks do not respect organizational boundaries, edge cases do not respect vertical (read, silo-oriented) organizational constraints on conversation. This is an important point when you consider that most of the time spent by employees involves dealing with edge cases, i.e. exceptions to core processes. I suggest that at least part of this outcome results from the fact that not enough employees in the enterprise develop shared experiences. If you agree with me, I guess we just need to think about how to make this happen. If not, then you probably need a bit more detail which, hopefully, you can spare the time for.

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On the Roots of Social Computing

November 17, 2011

I recently received an invitation from Mads Soegaard, Editor-in-Chief at Interaction-Design.org to offer those who read this blog an early view of a new chapter on Social Computing in their encyclopedia. I’m a little late on this writing for you to get a pre-publication view of the chapter but I wanted to make sure and point it out for those who take topics like social computing seriously. Thomas Erickson wrote the chapter. To be candid, I didn’t really know much about Thomas until I read it. He seems like a very interesting person. Thomas’ chapter takes seriously the point of an early comment I made in a post here in 2008 on Social Software, Community, and Organization: Where Practice Meets Process, specifically my point that not enough of the influential discussion on the topic took seriously the roots of what it means to do social computing.

The distinctions involved are as old as the study of social interaction in organizations, especially the characteristics of routine work. However, we don’t need to go back to the 1950s when the distinction first emerged in the study of industrial organization to understand the significance of Ross’ point. Indeed, the early 1980s will do. Rob Kling discussed computing as social organization as early as 1982 in Marshall Yovits’ edited series on Advances In Computers. Drawing from the symbolic interactionist tradition, Rob distinguished between a line of work which, he contended, indicates what people actually do in computing work, compared to formal descriptions of that work, or what we might today refer to as business processes. Kling’s work was one precursor to the focus on computer supported collaborative work  (CSCW) in studies of group collaboration, most notably developed at Xerox PARC.

The social roots of social computing are important for influentials to keep in mind as they discuss current developments in Web 2.0 technologies, especially their use in the enterprise. The point is not a simple academic exercise of giving credit to what came before. Rather, it is to take note that the distinctions made explicit…regarding practice/process are as old as the modern, hierarchical organization and seem to survive regardless of the way communication technology is applied in it. Those who discuss tensions between social software and Enterprise 2.0, or learning management systems and eLearning 2.0, are pointing to persistent challenges in how organizations work.

Thomas’ chapter provides an excellent overview of the roots, history, and development of the concept of social computing as a concept that promises to stand the test of time regardless of the labels used to describe it, e.g. Web 2.0, Social Media, Social Business, Enterprise 2.0, etc. I recommend anyone involved in current discussions related to compound nouns like social media, social business, social “this” or “that” take a look at Thomas’ chapter as well as the Interaction-Design.org encyclopedia which offers in-depth analysis of such topics.


Social Media Robots, Personas, and Narrative Gaps in Qualitative Research

April 1, 2011

Back in 2006 Hugh Macleod offered the following point on Gapingvoid: “If people like buying your product, it’s because its story helps fill in the narrative gaps in their own lives.” At the time I thought it conveyed nicely the point made by Gerald Zaltman in How Customers Think that “companies should define customer segments on the basis of similarities in their reasoning or thinking processes” (p. 152) rather than constructs related to demographics. Hugh’s point made a lot of sense when I first read it and the point continues to gain in significance for me.

Hugh’s initial post sparked a range of interesting comments that I encourage anyone puzzled by the quote to read. The one point I’ll make about the topic is that nowhere in the post or the comments does anyone say what they mean by narrative gaps. I’ll attempt to clarify the concept below because it doesn’t simply mean stories. Stories that fill narrative gaps do so by purposively or accidentally creating personal curiosity, imagination, intrigue, or mystery for people experiencing them.

Narrative gaps in our personal stories are resolved through other stories about our own experience, perhaps with a product or service, that help us make sense of the feelings evoked. Specifically, Hugh noted in a later post that people fill in narrative gaps with meanings they construct from their own stories. It is on this point that the concept of personas becomes relevant to narrative gaps and to a recent conception of how to use social media robots, especially DigiViduals™, in qualitative research. Moreover, in this respect I suggest that the challenges involved are analogous to key ones faced by industrial robotics.

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Social Learning and Exception Handling

December 9, 2010

We know that most learning in the workplace is informal. Most observers put it at around 80%. Recently, John Hagel and John Seeley Brown contended that “as much as two-thirds of headcount time in major enterprise functions like marketing, manufacturing and supply chain management is spent on exception handling.” Of course, that fact is a result of the successes of process automation over the past few decades. Yet, still, The Barely Repeatable Process (BRP) persists as an organizational challenge for business.

Earlier discussions here focused on the importance of exceptions, to business process and formal learning. I examined the implications of the Kirkpatrick Evaluation model to the use of social media in learning experience design, while addressing the challenges facing learning leaders. Leading the Business-Centered Learning Experience noted that evaluating formal learning is as much about organizational learning and change management as it is about individual learning, largely because much of the learning, and performance, that matters today occurs at the group level. Marc Rosenberg recently echoed the point in an article in Learning Solutions Magazine, The Special Sauce of Social Learning. Marc noted that social learning is largely a change management challenge for organizations.

 The most basic point to remember is that exceptions to formal business processes require efforts to design a scalable learning architecture that supports content co-creation needed to adapt to emergent challenges and manage the flow of that adaptation through an enterprise’s ecosystem. Whether judging an adaptation successful requires it to result in new formal learning content, i.e. content co-creation, or a new business process, i.e. organizational innovation, or both, remains an open question.

Echoing John Hagel, John Seeley Brown, and Lang Davison’s focus on The Big Shift, Tim Young recently noted the following about  social networking and exception handling,

When an exception happens, we have to step away from our PowerPoint, stop typing an email, or exit a meeting in order to take care of it. Routine work stops. And, our modern reliance on technology to find, aggregate, and alert us to these exceptions has made the task of managing them more burdensome than ever before. Systems that manage exceptions provide the enterprise with vast amounts of data points that have become overwhelming for employees to handle. The applications that we rely on for managing exceptions still rely on process owners to make decisions and respond to the issues. The result is a workforce that isn’t dealing with exceptions well at all. (my emphasis)

The importance of social networking to increasing the effective handling of exceptions is a major focus for those interested in social learning.

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Learnable Services, CRM, and Social Business Design

March 29, 2010

“Presenting a consistent face to customers improves their comfort and satisfaction.”

R “Ray Wang” and Jeremiah Owyang Social CRM: The New Rules of Relationship Management

Marketing, especially social media marketing, and learning, including organizational learning, are both essential components of a dialogue strategy for customer experience design and management. A dialogue strategy builds on the assumption that companies learn more from customers when customers learn from them, and doing so benefits both. I increasingly think it provides a basic framework to think about, and consider as part of your experience design strategy, when relating to customers. Thought leaders increasingly refer to the challenge as social business design.

Given the maturity and diffusion of social media, a dialogue strategy provides a framework to discuss communication as an ecosystem, whether addressing collaboration, innovation, segmentation, sales, customer service, or brands. The key to the process is understanding customers, attracting them, engaging them with sales in mindempowering them to solve your product and service problems, and learning from them to improve products and services, thereby strengthening your brand. It is not simply segmenting them, targeting them, driving them through interactions, and transacting with them through sales.

Over time, people buy things they need from you rather than someone else because they want what you offer, and because they feel an empathic connection, i.e. that you understand them. From my reading, Wim Rampen’s contention that we need to use segmentation the customer’s way gets to the heart of the point. The challenge of learning how to make an empathic connection increases to the extent that CRM (customer relationship management) aims to align customer engagement directly with business transactions.

Those looking for a direct, sustained connection between customer engagement and sales from Social CRM are expecting too much in my opinion. The key question is whether you know that Jane Smith who called for support tonight also chatted with one of your people earlier, or posted (or tweeted) something positive or negative about you on her blog, or posted something about your product/service to a how-to community forum. Knowing any of those things about Jane’s activities and experiences with your brand increases the potential for empathic connection between your people and Jane, meaning your understanding of what Jane needs from your products/services increases.

It would be nice if a monitoring platform could listen for you and, just automatically, determine how influential Jane Smith really is in the scheme of things. It might be nice to have a social media management system that just took care of everything, gauged the influence of anyone commenting about you online, ranked their value relative to your brand, and prioritized the level of response needed. However, in the near term, regardless of how much we want that panacea, your employees, or outsource partners, are going to need to engage with your customers as though their problems are your own

Nestle’ can speak to that issue recently. It is important to note that the Nestle’ example is not the first time a company’s supply chain management, rather than a product or service per se, came under organized criticism. Nike and Shell, among others, found their own supply chain relationships under fire over the past decade. Indeed, Shell’s early experiment in 1998 with a blog called Tell Shell came under such negative commentary from the public that the company shut it down. Nike, on the other hand, engaged the debate and incorporated the criticisms into its business model, I’ll leave it to you to decide which brand strategy makes the most sense for customer relationships.

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