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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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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Ethnography and Ubiquitous Digital Research

February 4, 2010

Ethnographers are traditionally known for immersing themselves in the everyday lives of people and paying attention to the details and context of their activity. Anthropologists after Malinowski considered extended participant observation in the lives of the people they studied a prerequisite for analyzing culture. However, in the last few decades of the twentieth-century ethnographers began to consider their analysis increasingly as a challenge of interpreting cultural phenomena rather than explaining their variation.

With the increasing availability of the Web, researchers using computer-mediated communication, i.e. digital, devices in their projects label their work under a range of categories. I’ve discussed ethnography several times before, the first taking note of the trend toward virtual anthropology and the next talking about the significance of Tom Boellstorff’s ethnography of Second Life, followed by a couple of posts about ethnography’s relationship to empathy and globalization.

In 2003, Cheskin’s Davis Masten and Tim Plowman characterized digital ethnography as the next wave in understanding the consumer experience in Design Management Journal. To my way of thinking they were correct in asserting that, “Digital Ethno enables participants to convey the real-time richness of their own lives and environments.”

Along with any new wave in understanding people’s experience comes a range of neologisms intended to clarify the multiplicity of research options that emerge. Kozinets recently suggested that the use of ethnography in computer-mediated research activities is best described as Netnography, a neologism he dates from 1996. He argues for the use of the term, netnography, in the following way:

Netgography differs from other qualitative Internet research techniques in that it offers, under the rubric of a single term, a rigorous set of guidelines for the conduct of computer-mediated ethnography and also, importantly, its integration with other forms of cultural research (p. 15)

However, as Kozinets suggests, the 2008 survey of Intenet users done by the Annenburg Digital Futures Project found that 56% of the members of online community members meet other members of their online community face-to-face. And, as Kozinets further notes, the Annenburg research did not include social networking sites, making the figures conservative ones since, as Brian Solis recently noted, social networking combined with geo-location and augmented reality applications is bridging the online and offline interaction. Kozinets insists that this simply means research must blend ethnography and netnography to study the intermix of online and offline activity.

I won’t go into all the reasons I think Kozinets thinking on the relation between netnography and ethnography fails to persuade. Suffice it to say that, to my mind, as Web 2.0 increasingly permeates peoples’ everyday lives, the term netnography fails to sufficiently describe the way ethnography works in a consumer environment where digital devices are  ubiquitous.

As people increasingly access the Web and engage online communities on the go, the notion that this is happening on the net seems quaint. If any term is needed other than ethnography, I’d suggest digital ethnography remains the most fitting. When we consider mobility as part of a ubiquitous computing environment, defining the relationship between space and place increasingly requires analyzing social practices rather than simply distinguishing a time and location for an activity.

As Johanna Brewer and Paul Dourish observe, “space is not simply an ‘inert container’ for the places of everyday experience; rather, space itself is the outcome of particular ways of reasoning about and representing the world.” Brewer and Dourish note, for example, that research on mobile messaging used to coordinate meet-ups or other rendezvous allow for people to show-up using a proxy form of participation before they get to the physical meeting. Additionally, the recent research by Hope Jensen Schau, Albert M. Muniz, Jr., and Eric J. Arnould, How Brand Community Practices Create Value from the Journal of Marketing explicitly approaches brand communities using a range of qualitative techniques, including netnographic, to study participants across several years both online and off.

My inclination regarding ethnographic methods is to endorse the point of view offered in Sunderland and Denny’s Doing Anthropology in Consumer Research. They note,

…ethnography is not a method per se, but rather a collection of methods…In commercial consumer research circles, one sometimes hears various rules, on the order “it is only ethnography if there is observation,” or “video,” or “multiple meetings,” or “sufficient time,”…or…(filled in with any number of favorite and idiosyncratic rules. But what seems most accurate about ethnography as a companion mode of discovery in cultural analysis is that as a methodology it must be viewed through, and seen as permeated with, the sociocultural. (p. 50, my emphasis)

In other words, the specifics of the methodology matter less than its purposive application. Following Geertz, Sunderland and Denny contend, the methodologies employed, whether participant observation, focus groups, in-depth interviews, diaries (online or offline), village censuses, surveys, or maps, “are not ‘ethnographic’ per se, but…are made so by the intellectual framing of the task” (p.52).

The purpose of ethnographic research is as important as the methods used, as long as the sociocultural context remains in focus. For example, whether we use ethnography in marketing  or design research remains irrelevant to the methods employed. What matters is whether we develop the research questions around the assumption that sociocultural practices provide the data source for answers.

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Customer Competencies, Co-Creation, and Brand Communities

October 20, 2009
Courtesy of Wonderfully Complex's photostream on flickr.

Courtesy of Wonderfully Complex’s photostream on flickr.

Word of mouth communities and networks using social software are increasingly spread over regional, national, and international borders, making them much more important to those who market branded products and services, online and off. The recent buzz around the concept of social business points to the growing importance of social networks and communities to the evolution of business practice. Whether companies are in fact closing the community gap or the engagement gap remains an open question though.

As Rachael Happe of the Community Roundtable notes in commentary on the Community Maturity Model:

in the stages before a company becomes truly networked, metrics are isolated to supporting one business process vs. in a networked business the whole business becomes social and the communities are set up to support cross-functional goals.

In other words, customer communities approaching maturity produce value for the business, or organizational enterprise, rather than only a specific functional area — such as research and development, product management, customer support, or marketing. Rachel’s overall point receives validation in a recent article in the September (2009) issue of the Journal of Marketing that reports on long term ethnographic research on brand communities by Professors Hope Jensen Schau, Albert M. Muniz, Jr., and Eric J. Arnould, “How Brand Community Practices Create Value .”  The most interesting thought in the article for me is their point that customer competencies are a valuable resource for building co-creation opportunities in brand communities.

Unlike earlier discussions of customer competence, Schau, Muniz, and Arnould contend trying to co-opt customer competencies is the wrong strategy. Rather, their research findings suggest community management benefits from developing opportunities for customers to grow their competencies with the brand. They make it clear that their research indicates,

Companies wishing to encourage co-creation should foster a broad array of practices, not merely customization.” In other words, don’t try to keep the community focus only on what benefits the brand as you define it. The important point to keep in mind when discussing value in brand communities is that members create value for themselves through producing cultural capital distinguishing their status relative to the community, aside from the ROI and business value gained by the company owning the brand. Making sure members are provided opportunities to grow their competencies encourages them to reinvest their cultural capital in the brand community.

I discussed co-creation in several posts this past year in relation to eLearning 2.0 generally as well as Nokia and, back in 2005, its overall importance to the challenge of creating successful innovation, including the relevance of customer communities to innovation outcomes. The concept of customer competencies captures the overall significance of co-creation for efforts to produce value through engaging customers. However, Schau, Muniz, and Arnould offer the additional insight that the competencies critical to brand communities are developed through community practices. By practice they mean the linked, implicit way people understand, say, and do things. The term is further used to refer to the activities, performances, and representations (video, graphics, etc.) or talk of community members.  

Experience designers can use the concept of customer competencies  to inform choices about how to manage practices in customer communities.
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CMR as a Precursor of VRM

May 28, 2009

Vendor Relationship Management (VRM) is a term used by Doc Searls and other members of ProjectVRM to distinguish market relationships between vendors and consumers where the latter gain increased control over that commercial relationship. Building on the VRM concept, Jeremiah Owyang recently noted that VRM offers a potential future for public relations agencies in which the future of PR is in representing communities rather than brands. As Doc recently declared,

We therefore resolve to avoid all relationships in which the privileges of loyalty are determined entirely by the seller, and to construct new terms and means of engagement that will work in mutually constructive ways for both customers and sellers, for the good of all.

 So, in the spirit of the Declaration of Customer Independence recently outlined by Doc, I offer the following turn of the century anecdote for thinking about Customer Managed Relationships (CMR).

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eLearning 2.0, Social Media, and Co-Creation of Learning Content

December 29, 2008

openbook2As a previous post noted, assessing the business value of instructional design involves more than measuring the contribution of formal training to Level 3 and Level 4 outcomes defined in the Kirkpatrick model. Training professionals also need to understand and support informal learning processes, on-the-job and off, that enhance performance.  Most of the learning that produces business value occurs informally, dealing with exceptions to formal business processes, yet most of the attention paid to learning is focused on formal training.

One can reasonably say that Web 2.0 applications, such as social software and social media, are changing the relationships between instructional designers and subject matter experts much like those between customer communities and product designers. Both increasingly involve situations of co-creation.

The emerging recognition of eLearning 2.0’s importance to enhancing collaboration and performance means that training professionals, especially instructional designers, can add value to their employer/client’s business by learning to facilitate and manage the co-creation of learning content with employees, or even customers. Anyone experienced in instructional design in recent years is familiar with the general challenge of co-creation whenever they use information content for course design ( slide shows, documents, etc.) that subject matter experts originally created as a resource for a presentation. The presentation content too often is substituted for observation and in-depth interviewing as a first step in analysis. 

Such Rapid eLearning, though shifting content development toward the subject matter expert’s control, maintains the traditional role of training in incorporating design principles. The process of co-creation in eLearning 2.0, on the other hand, shifts control over development and distribution of learning content toward subject matter experts willing and able to share what they know, especially when they see other people who need to solve familiar problems.

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Innovation and Co-Creation at Nokia Beta Labs

July 14, 2008

At least since publication of the Cluetrain Manifesto, with its basic point that markets are conversations, the importance of customers, online and off — but especially those online, to innovation gained widespread recognition. Pointing out the importance of customer communities to sustaining innovation is not exactly a new insight. In recent years the term co-creation emerged to describe the process, whether applied to established companies or start-ups. However, understanding what leads customers to engage in co-creation is important. A story at Nokia Conversations points to a recent study sponsored by Nokia Beta Labs that offers a profile of the customers active in their community, framing the relationship as follows:

While on one side it seems cheap to release unfinished goods and ask for help. But at the same time, it’s amazing to involve eager customers who not only make the product even better than if we did it alone, but are all lined up to take the product they helped make… Read the rest of this entry »