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Social Media in the Enterprise - event report pt 2 of 2

Yesterday I blogged part 1 of my report on the Social Media in the Enterprise event that Alan Patrick and I cooked up (at Tuttle) to inject some enterprise related content in to this week's "London Social Media Week".  We had 8 speakers (originally 10, but Will McInnes of NixonMcInnes had travel problems, and Dr Shefaly Yogendra came down with a migraine).   Most "Enterprise 2.0" and "Social Media" events these days tend to cover social media for consumers, B2C marketing to consumers, and even for government services to "consumers" with the majority of the speakers being marketing and media types.  We hear far less about the application of these tools by Enterprises to re-engineer themselves,, or their use in the B2B value chain, or how they are being used to create sustainable business value.

When we do hear about enterprise use, we don't see much about the difficult stuff  - how to integrate to existing heritage systems, how to handle security issues, or whether a flat social network structure can work in a firm with a traditional hierarchy.  You don't usually get presented with any hard evidence of the potential Return on Investment.  Each one of us had 10 minutes and no more to give our views and examples - to look at this unmentioned "Elephant in the Ecosystem" from 8 different angles.

Alan Patrick (@freecloud on Twitter) set the scene for us by talking about the business application of social media to give sustainable value with continual innovation, operational value and rapid response.  He talked innovation in terms of crowd sourcing, buzz tracking, data mining or Delphi Online. Operational value could be in terms of sales, improving the operational budget or reducing capital expenditure.  He talked about applying rapid response, agile and just in time thinking to social media.  He also positioned this as early day technology with the attendant security worries.   Social media for business is high on the hype cycle, but we have to consider ROI (or is it ROi) and the impact on organizational design.

Dr. Sue Black (@Dr_Black) of the University of Westminster talked about her experience of using a social media campaign to promote Bletchley Park - the home of the Enigma machine, and the code breaking effort that saved millions of lives in WWII.  It was mostly a Twitter campaign, and she enlisted the help of @sizemore  and @documentally from the London social media scene.  She saw how Twitter flattened the traditional chains and hierarchy, allowing her to reach and get help from likes of @stephenfry to amplify the message - that day her blog audience jumped to 8000!  She commented about the passion required to make this kind of thing work (the same you need from any community manager).  She didn't do this in the traditional way of writing a proposal and making a business case.  She just started the project and the community and they made it up as they went along.  She talked about the usefulness and downright weirdness of social media.  

Benjamin Ellis (@benjaminellis) of RedCatCo and  SocialOptic had fun grappling with a presentation converted to PowerPoint, which wouldn't stop auto advancing.  It gave his session a kind of "waltz time" dance, but it didn't get in the way at all.  He talked about human capital being the key component of any business.  He explained businesses don't like the social word, but that they are about being capitalist.  He asked if business is unsocial?  They do tend to focus on the numbers, but he talked about his time in the corporate world and the number of business cases he'd seen where ROI really stood for Randomly Oriented Integers.  He suggested that, if you're not careful social media tools can reinforce the organization's problems and fiefdoms.  Information ownership can be used as a weapon.  A social media approach can definitely help, but the tools have got to be easier than email.

Umair Haque (@umairh) of Havas Media Lab zoomed around with Prezi suggesting that the real question we should be asking is how can we make organizations more useful?  He talked about a global crisis of organization and governance and suggested that in a sense we've reached peak organization.  The world is too rigidly organized, but social media creates a new paradigm of self organization.  We need to work at making usefulness happen.  The problem is "what is the new organization".  The tools enables those that want to to take the lead, and some people will want to just follow.  In the end he wondered whether we need leaders?  That worried me and I wanted to debate that, but the draconian 10 minute time guillotine came down and we had to move on.  I'll have to follow up with him on that last thought.  

Adriana Lukas (@adriana872) of the Mine! Project and VRM used the wine industry as a metaphor for Social Media's game changing effect on business.  She went back to the 1976 blind tasting of California wines versus French wines, in the home of wine making.  When California came out on top it changed the industry, and led to an explosion of experimentation and production in California, Australia, New Zealand, South Africa, South America and elsewhere.    These other countries were suddenly capable of matching the French wines on quality, and often at lower cost.  There was a new mix of approach and components to produce good wine.  She used the hierarchy, wirearchy Gaping Void cartoon.  She talked about taking the social media tools (the grapes) and balancing out the rest of the ingredients in the business.  Her approach is to support this new technology completely independently of the  IT department - skunkworks, with servers under desks, keeping them away from existing business processes (something which I completely disagree with, but more of that later).  She suggests that you should make sure the social media approach doesn't get devoured by the existing processes.  She wants to wave goodbye to business cases, and say hello to case studies.  She suggested that this is like a revolution, but upside down - she said "It's not those that want the change that are building the barricades".  I have to admit I like that comment!

Mat Morrison (@mediaczar) of The Magic Bean Laboratory talked about the social media ecosystem in terms of knowledge, bookmarks, networks, news, publishing and network cohesion.  He showed some slides of network connections from his research.  He explained that the reality is that Twitter is a tool for talking to the world.  Does every business want that kind of radical openness?  Actually most businesses are inward looking, but that we now live a new world where there are no longer jobs for life.  He talked about the usefulness of email.  He explained some of the mashups he had put together for organizations, but that when he presented what he was doing to the senior management how the traditional IT department's attitude was "you're not my CIO!".  They had asked him whether he had considered security properly, and his response had been to liken what he was doing to a school of fish - there lots of us out there, so we should be safe.  He talked market norms versus social norms and about employee social capital being for the good of our business .  Businesses need to take care.  We can't just ask our people to Tweet about our products, although they can and should if the want to.  Then how do we figure that in to our balance sheets?

Euan Semple (@euan) of The Obvious suggested that rather than talking about the Elephant in the room, he'd thought of calling his presentation "Trojan Mice".  The successful incursion of social media tools in business that he sees are always incremental and slow moving.  He blames the protestants for our belief in the work ethic, but he highlights that, actually, people want to do useful stuff.  Both our education system and the traditional hierarchy of our organizations and institutions beat the creativity out of us.  He told the story of helping his daughter putting on a tie for her first day at a new school - "So much for individuality - eh Dad?".  He talked about starting one presentation just chatting about the topic from within the audience, when the expectation was for a guru pitching on the stage.   Most have us have been brought up to expect the bosses to act like bosses.  There is a revolution happening, but you can't use those words.  He talked about just wanting people to think and about small pieces loosely joined.  He suggested the social media in business is not disorganized chaos, but that a lot of traditional management thinking is actually about tidying up.  But maybe you want thins to be messy.  He talked about the usefulness of tools like Twitter, but that he hates the people who talk at him in 140 character press releases.  People  have called Euan an organizational anarchist, but now everyone has the potential for influence.  In traditional organizations of course there is fear and reticence, but they're taking social media seriously now.  He talked about saying what you think and then quoted David Weinberger suggesting that the thing that makes the Internet hang together is love.

David Terrar (that's me! and I'm @DT) - I did a longer write up and published my slides over in part 1.  One of the things that surprised me  was that I was the only speaker to use the enterprise 2.0 term, and talk about examples of how the "social media" toolset has been successfully applied inside substantial businesses like Swiss Re, Cisco, Wachovia Bank (now part of Wells Fargo) and the ICAEW.  As several of the others mentioned, using the "social" word is one of the frightening problems for the enterprise, even though we've been collaborating to get things done in socially complex ways since the stone age.  I talked about my suggested approach to a successful implementation by starting with getting your objectives completely clear (rather than beginning with technology and just deploying a wiki or a blog), but then making sure you answer the question "what's in it for me?".  Your audience, team, collaborators, co-workers need to get something valuable out of the social media solution you are implementing, otherwise it's doomed to failure.  I wish I'd said more forcefully on the night how important community management is.  I also talked about the 2.0 Adoption Council - a forum for practitioners to share their experience, as well as a mechanism for building more case studies of how this stuff really works and adds value.   As I blogged yesterday, one of my key messages is totally at odds with Adriana's approach mentioned above.   I believe that these tools need to work with, enhance and improve the existing business processes, not go around or subvert them.

So we had 8 different perspectives on social media applied to business but with some common themes.  It's clear that we are at an early stage of using these tools in the enterprise with a few good success stories, and plenty of different approaches being used successfully - bottom up, top down, and everything from guerrilla style stealth works, to the more traditional implementation approach that worked for ERP in the past.  However, it's clear that they work and that there is a change happening.  As has been said before, the new entrants coming in to the workplace today use tools like Facebook, Twitter and instant messaging to communicate with their friends, and so they expect the same tools to be there in their new place of work.  As Patrick Hadfield blogged, many of us are using consumer oriented social media tools to connect with our friends and colleagues in any case.  The most significant discussions on the night were to do with the way these tools  subvert the natural hierarchy that most businesses have grown up with.  The structure of our organizations is changing, and these tools will become commonplace overtime, although Euan commented that it might take 10 or even 50 years.  There was discussion about the size and structure of organizations being driven by transaction cost or the Dunbar number.  One of the key factors is the culture of any organization - will this new way of collaborating be encouraged or frowned upon?

There was quite a buzz of passionate discussion over a few glasses of wine afterwards.  For me the two messages I take away from the aggregated content  are that these new tools will flatten the traditional hierarchies and change organizations to a more networked structure, and that the smart companies are the ones who are getting on board and adopting these tools to help get things done now.   

Photos courtesy of Benjamin Ellis.

I'll add links here to other posts about the evening as I find them:

Alan Patrick's view
Patrick Hadfield's first thoughts
Patrick Hadfield's second thoughts
Benjamin Ellis photos from the night
Mat Morrison's slides
Here's what Shefaly Yogendra would have said
Mat Morisson's slidecast - slides with audio
Adriana Lukas on the (pink) elephant in the ecosystem
Alan Patrick's introduction pitch with slides
Benjamin Ellis - Are businesses anti-social? And if they are, why are they?