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The Myth of the Millennial Social Movement

7 05 2013

ImageHardly a day goes by without me hearing a senior executive at some major company cite the growing influence of the upcoming “Millennial Generation” as the reason for their foray into the enterprise social world. 

But I wonder if they’re missing a trick here – look at almost any study of who actually uses Social Media in the modern world – and you’ll see that the major users are not those born in 2000+ (who are yet to get into the workforce) – but rather you see an almost even split between those in the 25-34 age and those in the 35-44 range. 

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Compare that then with the average working age for most industries at late 30s-early 40s, and suddenly you come to the realization that most companies must have somewhere between 25-50% of their EXISTING workforce is already actively involved in the social world – and not just active in it – but actively leading it.  It’s almost like we’ve missed out on an entire “social generation” that is/should be the real driver of social technologies in the enterprise.

ImageAlthough there are plenty of reasons I can think of why Millennials and their ilk don’t use social to the same extent as older generations (age and access come to mind) – the rise of Social Media in our personal lives – driven by our desire to communicate with, interact with and influence our friends, relatives, and to gain access to information which has become available at an unprecedented level – has driven the familiarity and adoption of Social Media way ahead of the expected Millennial boom.

Some organizations already get this of course – I was recently talking to the CEO of a large retailer who shared by vision that social technologies are no longer a nice to have – but rather a must have for the modern enterprise.

We live in a strange period in time where for the first time in history, our personal technology use and sophistication actually outstrips that which we have available at the workplace. 

Your top employees go home and are afforded the ability to influence the world around them through online social tools like Facebook and LinkedIn – they can not only share information, find out what others are doing, work together virtually to achieve important personal projects (birthday parties, group travel, weddings, and more) and to rationalize and support the important decisions and purchases in their lives.

So isn’t it weird that we then employ these “personally powerful” people into our organizations and then don’t give them the tools to work as effectively as they can at home?

ImageIndeed, many organizations see the demand and desire from employees for social technologies and processes in the workplace to outrank the “traditional” fringe benefits that have been the focus of Silicon Valley HR orgs since the early 2000s – pool and ping pong tables and “chill out rooms” are making way for flexible working and the ability to feel deeply engaged at a value-level via social tools to the work of their company. Social technologies in reality are no longer a nice to have, but are very much a must have!  

Of course – this means wide ranging organizational changes for most companies. The Social world thrives on standards of high levels of transparency, engagement, and accountability that most organizations aren’t currently prepared for. In my mind, making these necessary changes will undoubtedly present themselves as the Change Management Challenge for the decade in most enterprises.

Do you see these at your org? – let me know! 

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6 Secrets to Corporate Authenticity

25 08 2010

[tweetmeme]“Authentic” is undoubtedly one of most echoed words in the Social World nowadays – applied especially liberally when explaining to companies the means by which they should be conveying themselves to the broader world in order to be heard.

The term seems seldom explained more than that, and yet the implications are deep.  It amuses me to no end that the word “authentic” has staged such an emergent come back into our vocabulary – not least of which when used to describe a media and communication form so recently embraced for its ability to allow people to engage in an almost schizophrenic array of multiple online personalities.

Ironic then, that in the current online world that we’ve created, where it’s so easy to be anyone or anything you can imagine, it’s never been so important to simply be yourself. That in a world of Avatars, Second Lives, and Virtual Worlds – we want to know that we’re communicating with real people who are being their real selves.

Maybe it’s a sign that the Social World is growing up – moving from a prior youthfulness happy to live in a world sporting fake Rolexes and toting counterfeit Louis Vuitton bags; to a decidedly a more mature mode preferring to spend their newfound wealth buying the real thing on 5th Avenue.

The formula for being “authentic” as an individual must surely be simple then: Be yourself, communicate from the heart and be consistent. But how do you achieve that in an enterprise setting?  How does a company made up of thousands of voices come across with the same effectiveness as one? Here are some guidelines for your internal “social champions” to follow:

1) and 2) “Know Who You Are and Live It” – Earlier this year I had the good fortune to go to the Front End of Innovation Conference in Boston where Bert Jacobs, one of the founders of “Life is Good” was speaking. In his speech, he relayed the story of how the two brothers started their fledgling business on a street corner selling t-shirts and how they were able to translate that into the marketing empire that Life is Good is now.

During his session there was a comment – one that he repeated during his speech, and then signed along with his name on the Frisbee he flung into the audience and pinged me squarely on the forehead with (there was a ricochet involved from a nearby audience member – honest!).

The comment was “know who you are, and live it”. Now Bert’s no social media guru, nor is he making money from his insight (I believe he donates a lot of his speaking fees to charity – He’s a quiet, down to earth, and confident guy who’s simply figured out the secret to his success.

That secret has helped him translate a feeling, an emotion, and a mission from his heart to his products – and onwards to his customers.

This effect though is multiplied in the social world and the necessity to “know who you are” with ultimate certainty and to consistently live out those values in the social worlds is the real key to success for corporations in what has to be one of the ultimate brand challenges of the modern business world.

Why the “ultimate” brand challenge? Because the Social World has an incredible memory – infinite actually.

What you say, what you do, how you do it, and who you do it with is preserved along with people’s opinions of your actions from the moment it happens, until the end of time. Like an elephant on steroids, your image in the social world is established by your actions, and remembered forever.

If “Knowing Who You Are” is number 1) on the list of things companies must do – then “Live It” has to be number 2).  Consistency is a key element of authenticity  – people want to know that you not only “talk the talk”, but also “walk the walk”.  One communication effort can set an intention, but it takes consistency to set an image.

A positive Social Image is a fragile entity and is re-enforced or recast depending on your actions, engendering strong levels of customer loyalty and advocacy to those who get it right – and equally strong negative reactions to those who trip up on the path. Never mind women, hell hath no fury like a customer scorned in the social world – where one negative voice can sound like hundreds online.

The need for consistency in your actions is then further exaggerated in the current Google-centric world where information is omnipresent and easy to access. In this world, it’s not just your actions that matter, but those of everyone you associate with too.  Nestlé’s well publicized controversy regarding the source of Palm Oil  used in some of their confectionary is just one example of this in action.

3) Be Real – The Social World is made up of individuals – not corporations. Talk to them in the same formal way you approach your PR campaigns and you’ll find the same level of interest and disengagement you probably got from journalists when you sent them that Press Release announcing your new six sigma process (yaaawwwwnn).

Interactions with actual people and personalities are simply more “sticky” than formal corporate approaches. Whilst it’s important to institute guidelines and rules for those interactions, you should, whenever possible,  make sure that your company’s interactions come across as being made on a person-to-person basis and not on a corporate entity-to-whomever-will-listen basis.

4) Be Transparent – Part of the potential poisoned chalice that can be connecting to thousands of people is that you’ll find it very hard to hide information – so don’t bother doing so! Treat your social world as if they’re an integral part of your company. Let them know early when good news is underway, and apologize early when you screw up.  Open up to your community and they’ll reward you with understanding, forgiveness, and loyalty.

5) Cultivate Relationships, not Transactions – Treat the communities you interact with as if they were integral partners in your company’s success and not just simply a transaction source. Care about them, ensure they get value out of the relationship then have with you, and make sure the flow of information and value goes both ways.

6) Do it yourself – This last one is the simplest – you want to be yourself? You want to be “real”? You want to cultivate lasting relationships with your social community? Then do it yourself – don’t hire external partners to do it for you.

Partners have their role in all this – as teachers, thought leaders, and general resources – but you shouldn’t rely on them for execution – that’s just lazy, and in an age of transparency, it won’t take long for the social world to see through you.

Invest in the internal capabilities and expertise to drive and deliver value to and from your communities and the returns will be hundred-fold.

Got more tips on how to be Authentic? Share them below!





The 4 Laws of Enduring Innovation Success

7 04 2010

[tweetmeme]Always an avid reader of the Financial Times, (one of the few decent news sources in an otherwise barren information landscape here in the US)  I came across a great commentary/review by the FT’s always fabulous Lucy Kellaway on the “Money-Honey’s” (CNBC’s Maria Bartiromo) recent book “The Ten Laws of Enduring Success”.

Lucy does amusingly short work of debunking the 10 laws that Maria came up with, and proposes a few laws of her own instead.

Lucy’s Laws were so much better formulated (in my opinion) that it got me thinking about the “Laws” of successful Innovation programs – not least of which because I think the first couple would be the same as the ones Lucy came up with.

So, here are my 4 Laws of Enduring Innovation Success:

1) Be Lucky – no matter how many different ways you squeeze it, Innovation is about luck.With your typical long term program “failing” 75% of the time, there can be no doubt that it takes a certain amount of luck to be successful – especially over the longer term.

You are in essence, shooting into the dark with most innovation programs – trying products and processes that haven’t been tried before in your company, your industry, or sometimes even the world.

That’s not to say you can’t improve your chances of getting lucky though. Unlike with the Las Vegas casinos, no one will kick you out of the game for learning the innovation equivalent of card counting techniques. Indeed, in this game, cheating of any form is encouraged; and banding together in casino-busting style innovation teams with other individuals and companies is heavily rewarded.

By setting up and executing robust innovation strategies and processes you are in essence increasing the predictability of the Lucky Breaks you get – And in Innovation, Luckier is most definitely Better.

2)  Be Ambitious – There’s an old saying: “Fortune Favors the Brave” – and nowhere else is that truer than in the Innovation game. To score big, you have to aim big.  If you only look for incremental ideas, then that’s all you’ll get.

During my time at Imaginatik, we used to make the bold claim of being able to consistently achieve “a 10x ROI on your investment”.  How did we make sure that happened? By making sure that the problems being targeted by the client’s innovation strategy were big enough to achieve at least that. And you know what? It worked.

3)  Stay Focused – Running an Innovation program at a big company is kind of like a subscription to a “Shiny-New-Toy-Of-The-Month” Club.  It’s easy to get distracted by the current toy sent to you. It’s easy to forget to go to the mailbox for the following month’s toy because you’re having too much fun with this month’s toy still. And after a while, it’s easy to forget the reason you shelled out so much money to get the subscription in the first place.

To that end, maintaining a laser-like focus on what you’re trying to achieve is imperative for an innovation program.  Your Innovation strategy needs to be revisited constantly and attacked with the same brutality for embracing change as you’re demanding from the organization with the innovations that you are introducing.  Your strategy needs to be a fluid structure with one constant– “How can I best drive significant business results and organic growth for my organization?” – and you should make sure that your processes and actions are targeted at achieving that goal.

4)  Embrace Everyone – not in a “creepy guy who keeps looking at me funny” way – but rather in a “let’s talk to, and get input from, as many different people as possible” in your quest to solve your corporations problems.

Innovation, more so than any other business discipline is leading the way in the upcoming socialized business revolution. That revolution will herald a new era where a company’s potential knowledge-base of solutions is no longer limited to the company walls, nor even close collaborators, but will instead embrace a global audience of potential participants.

To do this, you’ll need to begin to develop new skill sets that will involve learning how to identify which communities of people provide you with specific types of input; learning to set up and drive Social Teams to turn subsets of those communities into useable and active groups that will help you achieve your goals; and learning how to make those groups self sustainable so as to make sure they’re constantly available to you as a resource.

That’s it – 4 simple laws for ensuring that you not only become successful, but also stay successful. Keep these 4 on a post-it on your desk, on a poster on your wall, or as the screensaver on your laptop – whatever works for you – just do them!

Do you have any other Laws to Enduring Innovation Success?[tweetmeme]






Defining the “Social Team”

9 02 2010

[tweetmeme]If you’ve been following me online on Twitter or elsewhere, you’ve probably heard me mention the concept of “Social Teams” more than a few times recently.

It is, in my mind, a powerful idea that has the ability to change the way companies and individuals view online collaboration efforts – with the potential to achieve dramatic results.

I’ve always believed that people want to interact online in a similar structure to their interactions in the offline world. The fact that we’re not usually able to doesn’t mean that we don’t want to.

In the real world, we associate ourselves with communities to find people of similar interests with whom to interact. These communities are important to define the overall population of socially connected people; but they’re useless as a way to actually get anything done.  When we set out to actually achieve something, we abandon the broader “community” concept in favor of focused subgroups of active individuals that are more motivated and able to get things done.

For example, in my sport of choice, rugby, we talk about a wider “rugby community” around the world. When we go out, we socialize, drink, and have fun as a community – it’s a bond that ties rugby players around the world. But we don’t compete as a community, we compete as individual teams. We don’t govern the sport as a community, but rather using an elected “team” of individuals picked from the community.

In other words we “exist” as a community, but we “achieve” as a team.

The same concept is true in the online world. Technology has given us the methods by which to define and connect to, our own communities.  Each of us “exists” within a multitude of communities with which we  associate – with differing levels of interest. However, to actually achieve a specific aim/goal, we need to tap into a subset of that group to create a “team” to help us achieve that.

It’s important to understand that whilst I use the term “team”, these sub-groups of people don’t exactly conform to the standard idea of what a “team” looks like or acts like – we’re no longer looking at working groups of enlisted employees in a corporate environment, nor the familiar images of a band of 10-15 athletes playing a game “on any given Sunday”.

These “Social Teams”, can be massive groups of hundreds, or even thousands of people in an online setting. They are teams on a scale never seen before, and on a playing field of incomprehensible proportions.  Team members may never have met each other, but nevertheless choose to work with each other to achieve a mutually desirable goal or function.

Social Teams are not top-down, nor bottom-up; they can be purposely set-up, or self-formed by team members; they can exist in purely social settings or as corporate sponsored groups.

They are a collection of individuals who have a common understanding of the “game they’re playing” (ie the team’s purpose); know in which goal they’re trying to score in (ie have a shared understanding of what ‘a win’ looks like); and are collaborating together to achieve that aim.

They incorporate the structure of a traditional team, with the social contract of a community.

Although Social Teams differ from the physical world in terms of the actual method and depth of their social interaction – many of the same rules for success in the offline world, hold true in the online world.

For example, if we use a typical amateur sports team as an analogy; we can define roles that need to be fulfilled by in order for the group to be successful:

1) A good Captain – someone to lead, motivate, organize and drive participation and effort from the team.  The best Captains are charismatic leaders who drive from the front; which entails being seen as a valuable contributor to the group; garnishing respect from other team members, and being effective networkers who are able to gel and glue the team together.

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2) An astute Manager/Coach – someone to define and drive what is success for the team. To co-ordinate the team’s efforts, to let them know what game they’re playing when they get to the field, and in what direction they need to advance. To provide them with a strategy, a formation, and to provide the team with the tools required to succeed – whether it be drafting in new players to bolster the squad, or providing appropriate training aids to keep players sharp.

3) Superstar Goal Scorers – people who might not always be the most active or hardworking on the field – but nonetheless are able to provide that spark of brilliance that will provide you with a large percentage of the goals, (or commercialized value) produced by your team.

4) A group of Creative Midfielders –ball/information distributors who make connections, provide links, and drive the conditions that create opportunities for goals to be scored.

5) A Solid Defense – the building blocks and foundation of the group – providing a core level of input, and information that gives the team a platform from which to build an attack.

Unlike the real world, in a Social Team, it’s important to point out that most of these positions are not usually assigned by anyone to anyone, but rather assumed with group permission by team members on their own.

This is not about imposing a hierarchical structure on a group of people, but rather about providing the team with the basis needed to work efficiently together towards a common goal.

Using this model, you can see how so many companies fail in their collaboration efforts. By relying, as so many companies do, on simply “enabling a community” to exist, they’re essentially doing the equivalent of sitting on the sidelines of a soccer field waiting for 11 random people to find the field, collectively decide that they want to play the same game, and then set out to beat Arsenal Football Club with no organization at all.

I don’t know about you, but I think that’s folly – it’s time to let go of that folly and get a good game going!

So how do you use all this information to drive results within your collaboration efforts? I’ll discuss that in my next post – in the meantime, as always, your comments and thoughts are gratefully received!





Continuing the Conversation: For Companies, Build Teams, Not Communities

8 12 2009

Yesterday I posted a response to all the wonderful comments and contributions that you all made to my last post on “Why Companies Shouldn’t Build Online Communities“.  As I plan to delve further into this idea of “Social Teams”, I thought I’d repost that reply as a post in its own right so as to make it easier for people to find and read – so here goes:

Dear All

Many, many thanks for your responses – they’re both very welcome and very appreciated. I wanted to take some time to reply to some of the concerns that were expressed in the comments.

It seemed that many of you think I was advocating that companies should no longer value the input of large groups of people. Far from it – the main point in the post was to point out that as a structure for large groups of people, the community concept is a flawed one – at least from a corporate perspective. It’s simplistic, unstructured, and lacking in motivation and purpose to name but a few flaws.

That’s not to say that value can’t be created in a community setting – it’s just very hard to do so because you’re relying on value being created through serendipitous interactions between community members. It’s not unlike advocating participating in the lottery as your prime way of getting rich – sure, it’s possible that you could hit the jackpot if you take part, but only a fool would rely on that as their sole chance at fame and fortune.

Likewise, whilst there is definitely a place for serendipity in an organization (more on that in a future post) – it would be a foolish management team that would rely on its occurrence to generate value for the company.  My argument instead is that the team framework is a much more robust and reliable one when it comes to generating value for a company.  In fact, in the few cases where looser community based initiatives have created value, I’ve found it’s usually because they began to adopt the characteristics and roles of a Social Team – namely things like purpose, direction, shared goals, diversity in skill sets and specialized roles, etc.

You could also make a good argument based on semantics – ie, that a Social Team is merely a type of Community; however, I think it would be equally valid to say that a community is simply a dysfunctional Social Team.

I think it’s also important to point out I focus on strategies and processes specifically to drive corporate value. Whilst I believe the Social Team concept still holds and still works in more social groups, the concept of what constitutes value and the expectation of it being created in those groups is very different to that of a large enterprise investing in this area.

Companies invest real money as well as intellectual capital into creating and participating in these networks, and as such, need to see a reasonable return, ideally on the bottom line to justify investing in these initiatives.

Having said that, my core belief is still that people function and perform better with a degree of organization when compared to loose collectives. In addition, the visualization aid that thinking of these groups in a similar fashion to that of a sports team, gives us to analyze and improve the quality of that interaction is invaluable.

I’ll go deeper into the Social Team concept in future posts, but in the meantime – please do keep your comments coming, or contact me directly via e-mail or twitter (@bpluskowski) – to discuss this further!





Why Companies shouldn’t build Online Communities..

22 10 2009

1600_3Forget about Communities.Don’t do it. Don’t even think about it. Oh I know that communities are all the rage currently – companies are falling over themselves to create, build and own their very own communities: Communities of Employees, Communities of Customers, Communities of Interest Groups, Communities, Communities, Communities….

But with all of these efforts out there, how many of them are yielding real tangible results for the sponsoring organization? It seems that the very concept of communities is a flawed one for most corporations – leading to wasted time, money and effort – and I think I know why.

Let me explain:

2945559128_53078d246bI find that many, maybe even most, companies approach social media, and other online community projects – with very little, if any, forethought on how value will be achieved as a result of jumping on this particular bandwagon.

They seem to share a belief that value will just “be created” by the mere existence of a new online channel; that innovation will simply appear if you provide a new collaborative tool; that competitive advantage will be retained through the “ownership” of a new networking group.  Yet that’s rarely ever the case.

field-dreamsUnlike in the movie “Field of Dreams” – you can build it – but “they” rarely come spontaneously – or if they do, they may well end up playing a jovial game of scrabble rather than a vintage MLB baseball game on the back lawn.

Even the word Community itself is somewhat flawed when applied to a corporate setting: Here’s the Dictionary.com definition of the word:

com⋅mu⋅ni⋅ty  [kuhmyoo-ni-tee]

–noun, plural -ties.

1. a social group of any size whose members reside in a specific locality, share government, and often have a common cultural and historical heritage.
2. a locality inhabited by such a group.
3. a social, religious, occupational, or other group sharing common characteristics or interests and perceived or perceiving itself as distinct in some respect from the larger society within which it exists (usually prec. by the): the business community; the community of scholars.
4. a group of associated nations sharing common interests or a common heritage: the community of Western Europe.
5. Ecclesiastical. a group of men or women leading a common life according to a rule.
6. Ecology. an assemblage of interacting populations occupying a given area.
7. joint possession, enjoyment, liability, etc.: community of property.
8. similar character; agreement; identity: community of interests.
9. the community, the public; society: the needs of the community.

old-ageThere’s a lot of nice words and feelings in that definition. “A social group”; “common heritage”; “interacting populations”; “shared identity”….The word conjures up a nice warm vision of a collection of friends and associates sitting around a fireside or, for the more cynical among you,  images of suburban old age homes in Florida and Arizona maybe.

As I look at that definition however- I ask myself – where’s the value in that for a company? Where does it get created? Augmented? Shared? Delivered? Whichever way you look at it, communities are about people gathering with no set agenda or action in mind – so why would a company invest/waste resources to simply enable random conversations amongst a group of people?  At best, it’s an exercise in corporate branding to be associated with a particular conversation topic; at worst it’s an exercise in wishful thinking.

Lencioni_WebAt the recent World Business Forum, held in New York City on Oct 6-7, Patrick Lencioni (founder and president of the Table Group, and a fantastically articulate and dynamic speaker incidentally) spoke to the audience about “What makes a good team?”.  One specific question stuck with me: “If you have a bunch of people who play in a sports team each week, really get on well with each other socially, gel as a unit, yet still manage to not win a single game – are they a good team?” Patrick asked with a mischevious look  at the front row and a pause for effect.  “The answer is NO – they’re just a bunch of LOSERS!” (cue laughter and some nervous side glances between executives either side of me).

Whilst maybe declared a tad glibly by Patrick, the core message was clear, and it got me thinking about what had been bothering me with the concept of communities for so long: That lack of performance, of achievement, of purpose. It struck me that the relative value of the concept of “communities” to most organizations is not dissimilar to Patrick’s example of a team that doesn’t win – they are, in essence, Losers. And why would companies waste time creating groups of Losers?

It seems to me that the failure companies are making starts right at the beginning with a badly formed misconception as to what they really need – and it’s not an online community – it’s an online team.

It may seem as if I’m nit-picking or playing with semantics in making this differentiation – but consider what this simple change in mindset would mean to projects as you think about how to build a great online team instead of an online community.  All of a sudden you add dimensions of:

wales-rugby-squad

  • Direction and Leadership
  • Shared Goals, Shared Failures, and Shared Successes
  • Ensuring Participation of Diverse Skill Sets
  • Tangible Achievement
  • Passion, Purpose and Loyalty

Whist still retaining all the collaborative, cooperative and creative structures usually associated with Communities.

I don’t know about you – but I know which one I’d rather build! You tell me – What’s the more powerful concept?…








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