Last week I had the pleasure of hosting a panel discussion on Social Innovation, at the Cognizant Community for Women. On the panel with me were Pete Marsden from ASOS, Clara Bermingham from Rentokil and Clare Brown, from Coke. We didn’t plan it this way, but it turned out that each of these 3 businesses use Social technologies in a very different way. For one of them it’s a route to market, and a way to drive a global sales model. For another it’s a service delivery issue and a way to connect colleagues and frontline staff. For the third, it’s a brand engagement model. I’ll leave you to figure out which is which.
Some really interesting themes emerged from the discussion. Here are a few of them:
1. As highlighted by the introduction, the starting point is to be clear about what your objective is, on social media platforms. The three companies above were all essentially clear on what it meant to them and importantly, what it did not.
2. There are vastly different levels of control in Social media from traditional communication channels and this is something organisations need to get used to. However, many organisations are using social media as formal channels. This typically calls for putting the right processes in place for managing communications on social media. As it turns out 140 characters can be very long paragraphs in some languages!
3. The structure and staffing of social media platforms is a specific challenge where there are no precedents to follow. New skills may be required, and it may not be as simple as hiring a ‘bunch of millenials’. You may need to collocate communications and development teams so that they can create faster. Hub and spoke networks are advised for localisation challenges, and needless to say, the multilingual nature of the internet is a given requirement.
4. One specific problem that you cannot avoid is that the internet is a 24×7 environment and the social sphere. Whether you have customers wanting to speak with you, or consumers talking about you, you have to be listening and responding. The ability to set up and run a 24/7 operation is a key aspect of running a social operation. This may not sound like a big deal, but typically, service teams are set up for 24×7 operations, where as sales and marketing teams are not. So if the social play in your organisation is the domain of sales and marketing, this might be a challenge.
5. What about governance, quality and errors? Well there are divergent streams of thought. Of course, you need to have the right level of governance in place, but because of the less formal nature of the medium, it’s all right to make the odd mistake. It actually presents a more human side of the company. Needless to say, this should not be taken to it’s extreme.
6. Talking about which, Social platforms offer a way to tap into the sea of external energy, but this does imply a journey to more porous organisational boundaries, where internal and external communications start to merge. This may require a re-learning and a change in the way organisations traditionally communicate. As somebody pointed out, you might state on your personal blog that this is just your opinion, but that may not prevent it influencing perception about your organisation.
7. In fact, there is a great opportunity here, to address some of the non-financial objectives that most businesses have. This is a great way to address the obligation that most businesses have, to become a socially valuable organisation, whether it’s by participating in causes that appeal to the organisation or by mobilising effort on a cause that you actually own and drive.
8. It’s not easy to make all these changes. All the attendant challenges of change management apply here. But within that there are opportunities social platforms themselves, as an agent of change. One of our panellists was a designated ‘Chatterazzi’ for the company’s change program. Critically, adoption of social platforms is a significant step towards the de-hierarchialisation of the enterprise. It’s a way in which the CEO can engage in active dialogue with employees, or with consumers. These are all agents of change.
9. The underlying technology landscape is vastly diverse, and in many organisations, a questionably high number of tech platforms and tools may already be in use. A rationalisation may well provide value. What is perhaps more significant, is that this is leading to a model of ‘loose coupling’ of technology, a different way again, from how traditional enterprise technology is configured.
10. Finally, of course, all of this makes sense only insofar as the underlying analytics are delivering the metrics which have been agreed upon. Only in this case, the metrics may be less obvious, and in some cases both the metrics and the meaning may be a part of an evolutionary process. Hence, this is not a design once and run forever kind of model, but rather one where even the analytics team needs to stay engaged in the evolving model and contribute to the universe of possibilities, and help uncover unfolding patterns.
I could go on, but I’ll stop at 10, hopefully these will have made sense to you.
Many thanks to the excellent panel for helping illuminate this challenging topic, and looking forward to more conversations, and new thinking.