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Social Business at IBM's Hopper Collaboration Diner

This week I was invited by IBM (and Ogilvy PR) to join in the collaboration debates at the Social Business Expo, a new strand of the Unified Communications Expo at Olympia .  This is not an event I would normally attend, covering everything from phone handsets through VoIP to tele conferencing, but I'm sure the social business component of ths show will get even bigger next year.  The attraction was to be part of what IBM is doing, which moves a long way from your typical steel, white and blue corporate show stand.  Their event was themed around recreating the late night downtown diner scene depicted in Edward Hopper's famous Nighthawks painting from the 40s.  It represents loneliness and alienation.  IBM are the sponsor, but their partner Collaboration Matters came up with the concept, created and hosted the stand.  The front of the cafe was peopled with actors who remained in character throughout both days, and who alternated between the original solitary view, and using smart phones, iPads and Macs to collaborate and connect with people.  Each character had their own Twitter identity so we could interact and break through the social isolation.  

The whole cafe scene was a backdrop for a series of debate sessions with thought leaders, social business consultants, customers, and anyone who wanted to drop by for coffee or a Krispy Kreme donut.  Very tempting!   The debate questions were all triggerd by the 95 Theses of the Cluetrain  Manifesto - theses 1 says "all markets are conversations" and is the basis for where all business and marketing sits today!  This is a visionary book (you can read online for free or buy on Amazon) by Chris Locke, Doc Searls, David Weinberger and Rick Levine which is as valid today as it was in 1999 when it was written.  During one of the sessions I commented that it was written during the dot-com bubble, but it took until September (actually August) 2005 until we had Dell Hell and Jeff Jarvis triggering the first blog PR disaster, and even today so many businesses don't get how much social media has changed business and marketing - and Chris, Doc, David and Rick realised we were all on the Cluetrain 13 years ago!

The debates covered a wide range of topics.  They covered the #McDStories Twitter campaign - some bright marketing spark does no research, thinks it would be a great idea to have a hashtag to collect people's experiences of eating at McDonald and the idea backfires spectacularly as it opens the floodgates to a series of horror stories.  But the opposite can happen.  Alex Homsi told us about PF Changs rewarding a loyal customer and getting some great, postive Twitter PR.  We talked about collaboration, death by email, use of social media tools inside the business - generally called social business - barriers to adoption, knowledge management and connecting with customers and partners.  IBM's new CEO Ginni Rommetty came up as an example of someone at the top who has embraced social tools and is really getting the message out to the troops effectively and making a difference.  We talked about how these tools challenge the traditional hierarchy of the management structure.  We mentioned other more democratic management structures that have worked like at Semco in Brazil, or WL Gore where they have a completely flat structure and self organise in to teams, from which a leader emerges.  The social tools overlay a network over the traditional hierarchy, what my friend Jon Husband calls the wirearchy.  Organisations need to be ready for the change, but need to recognise it's change for good provided they have the right policy and procedures in place.  Every business needs to recognise that "social" needs to be part of their model, or they won't survive in this new information age.  

At one stage they tried to demo some IBM product - the Connections stuff - great software, but it doesn't really present well on relatively small monitors up high.  At another stage the wifi didn't work as they had published the log in details on the outside of the stand which meant delegates were piling in to the stand wifi instead of the show wifi, and so it fell over - ironic at a Unified Communications Expo!  However, these are minor quibbles over what was an excellent concept that was executed extremely well.

Some of the friends and people I hooked up with were @elsua @JanetParkinson @RapidBI @RoovenP @decisionhacker @josephdarmi @alpeshdoshi @mikeeng1and @ahomsi @aashenden @StuartMcIntyre @joningham @oferguetta @mattalder @huwedwards @Chestec @Rose_at_O @IBMSocialBizUK  - apologies if I forgot you or couldn't find your Twitter ID.

The IBM stand was completely different to anything else at the show.  In and around the talk, the Ogilvy, Collaboration Matters and IBM guys were creating this series of six videos which went up on YouTube a few days ago - that's the power of this new publishing world.  The converstaions were being live tweeted and displayed on monitors around the stand or for anyone to follow at hashtag #cbdiner.  The many hundreds of tweets under that tag will be collected together on a Storify they plan to get out out soon. My photos are up on Flickr.  The posts or the video can be out there same day and they can trigger more conversations with the community and the market.  This is Social Business.