What is Social Media’s Next Big Thing?

One possible answer:   The Enterprise.

No, no. Not the Star Trek kind of Enterprise (although that would be pretty cool).   I mean using social media technologies internally, within the large company kind of enterprise.

I’m often asked what I think the next big thing in social media might be.  I’m excited about a lot of different possibilities — true integrations with traditional advertising, big data, real-time interactivity with TV and movies, augmented reality, the promise of location-based apps, the Internet of Things — but “enterprise social media” is the idea that I think could be the biggest near-term game-changer for many large companies.

Let’s step back a minute and think about some of the benefits an individual realizes from social networking:

  • Linking people who might not otherwise be linked
  • Information sharing and education
  • Crowd-sourced innovation and problem-resolution
  • Collaboration
  • Relationship-building through trust and community
  • Exposure to diverse ideas

Now what if we applied social software to those people working within a company?  If employees in a far-flung global company could harvest these benefits internally, couldn’t this create a significant competitive advantage?

The enticing aspect of this idea is that the technology is certainly already there to achieve this. And, of course there are people in every company who would share the vision too.

So why aren’t we seeing more success stories in this area?  The problem is undoubtedly rooted in an issue I wrote about recently — companies are usually not moved to action by vague promises of improved collaboration. They want ROI, but sometimes the benefits of the social web are intangible, and very difficult to plot on a spreadsheet.

While there are isolated examples of success in applying social technologies across an enterprise, most companies still do not let employees access the social web from work, let alone implement internal social networking platforms.

A recent article by John Hagel III and John Seely Brown in the Harvard Business Review did a terrific job of capturing the potential of this opportunity as they explained how the social web can drive real internal company value.

1) ACCESS

“Access,” the authors note, involves the ability to find, learn about, and connect with the right people, information, and resources to address unanticipated needs.

In today’s global companies, the information needed to create a breakthrough idea, or even just do your job more effectively, may reside in people scattered across departments and geographies.  No organizational chart is going to help you find the knowledge you need.

Social software allows the user to reach out to a large number of relevant participants and bring them into a virtual discussion on a specific problem or challenge, so tacit knowledge is shared and new knowledge is created. But social software also captures, and makes these informal conversations searchable. IBM’s internal Twitter experiment is a well-documented example of the potential of this kind of application.

2) ATTRACT

The biggest benefit I’ve personally received from social networking is attracting a group of people (like you!) who have helped me create new business benefits — concepts and opportunities I had not even considered before.

The article notes that this “serendipity,” or the discovery of important and needed resources without even knowing what to look for, is exactly what occurred for the Enterprise Social Media Experiment team at SAP.  What began as a discussion between a small group of participants grew into a synergistic global collaborative development effort between developers from different parts of the world.

3) ACHIEVE

“Achieve” is about driving more rapid learning and sustained performance improvement through meaningful relationships as they develop through the internal social network. Companies won’t be able to achieve sustained and extreme performance just by connecting workers weakly to resources and information.  The real value comes when the one-off interactions develop into relationships and those relationships facilitate sustained collaboration. Individuals and companies achieve their potential when they can tap into and create tacit knowledge through long-term collaborative relationships.

And just to add fuel to my argument about finding new ways to calculate the value of social media qualitatively, the authors also conclude that “Calculating a financial ROI requires too many assumptions, and it distracts from a more explicit focus on the key operating metrics that drive line managers. Once you have embarked on a social software implementation, measuring the improvement in specific operating metrics and looking for opportunities to tell and re-tell the stories of workers who became more productive through the use of these tools can make the connection to social software tangible for others in your organization.” So there. : )

What’s the next big thing in social media?  So many exciting possibilities!  Are you seeing any internal social applications in your company?  What innovations capture YOUR imagination?

An Irresistible Old Spice parody!

I have liberally used Sesame Street and Old Spice references in my posts — and believe it or not in my classes – so when Tearsa Smith sent me this mash-up I could not resist posting it. This 49-second clip will brighten your day no matter what is going on in your life!

I’m guessing the Old Spice brand has to love this. Enjoy!

Can you make money from your Twitter stream? Mack Collier just did it.

Very quietly, a significant milestone occurred last Sunday night.  Blogger and consultant Mack Collier monetized a Twitter conversation.  That’s right.  Mack made money from other people’s tweets on a free and public platform.  I think this is one of the most clever and interesting social media stories of the year and Mack agreed to tell us about it in this interview.

Mack, I noticed on your well-known #blogchat that you had a sponsor for the first time.  What an achievement for you! How did it come about?

A couple of months ago I was thinking that there is SO much that I would love to do to help grow the #Blogchat community.  For example, I would love to start a blog devoted to #Blogchat, and I have transcripts from over 40 previous #Blogchats that I would love to share with everyone.  But I just don’t have time to do these things as I am trying to grow my own consulting business at the same time.

That’s when I started toying with the idea of bringing on sponsors.  Because if I could start getting some money coming in from sponsors, then I could justify spending more time and money on growing the #Blogchat community.

You noted that most of the feedback has been positive so far. How do you intend to salt in other sponsors in the future

Honestly, there may never be another sponsored #Blogchat.  The main reason why is because I am going to be extremely picky about the sponsored topics, and making sure that potential sponsors can speak to those topics. For the first sponsored #Blogchat last Sunday with Grant from Headway, it made perfect sense.  Picking a blog theme/template is a topic that #Blogchatters have asked about before, and Grant could speak to it better than I could.  Plus it was a great chance for him to get exposure to hundreds of potential customers.

So it was a win-win for everyone.  #Blogchatters get an expert covering a topic they were interested in, and the sponsor gets exposure and access to hundreds of potential customers.

But at the end of the day, I want sponsored #Blogchats to be as close to a ‘regular’ #Blogchat as possible.  If someone can join a sponsored #Blogchat in the middle and recognize it as being sponsored, then I have done something wrong.

Obviously the sponsor was attracted to #Blogchat because of the high number of targeted clients you attract each week. I’m amazed at how quickly this little property has taken off. What’s been the secret?

I don’t know if there is one “secret.”  Two things I have done that have really helped #Blogchat:

1 – I’ve encouraged EVERYONE to join.  I’ve always been of the mindset that the more participants in a conversation, the better.  And that might sound like it could be confusing, but what happens with #Blogchat is that everyone comes in under a certain topic, but as the #Blogchat progresses, this small cluster of people will start talking about this particular aspect of the larger topic, and this small cluster will talk about a slightly different take on the same topic.

I view it as a large coffeehouse where everyone is talking about the same topic, but each table is having a slightly different take on the larger topic.  So you mingle and find the conversation that’s right for you, and join in!

And I am relentless about welcoming new people to #Blogchat.  I want people to feel welcome joining and understand that there are NO experts allowed, we are all coming to learn from each other.  People respect and appreciate that, I think.

2 – I give #Blogchatters as much say into the topics as I can.  For example, one of the most popular #Blogchats are the monthly OPEN MIC chats that happen the last Sunday of every month.  This started as a complete accident.  One Sunday nite I couldn’t join #Blogchat, and I really didn’t want to cancel it because I didn’t want to disappoint everyone.  So my only option was to make it open mic, meaning everyone that joined #Blogchat picked whatever topic they wanted to talk about.

I honestly thought it would be a complete disaster, but it ended up going pretty well.  What I loved was that some of the regulars took it upon themselves to ‘police’ the group and let them know what the deal was for that #Blogchat.  The session was so popular that I asked everyone if they’d like to do an OPEN MIC #Blogchat every month and they overwhelmingly said they would, so we added it.

How long has it taken to bring #Blogchat to this point?  Do you have other ideas on how to further develop and promote #Blogchat as a brand?

The first #Blogchat was March 22, 2009.  Here’s the recap post I did the next day.

As for ideas, as I mentioned above, I’d love to get a #Blogchat blog started, and have that be more a space for the #Blogchat regulars to post, more than me.  And I really want to get these transcripts up and let others have access to them, and I’d also like to make an ebook or two with the best insights from some of our amazing co-hosts, and give that away to participants.

Personally I find it difficult to follow a Twitter chat because of the multiple, concurrent conversation streams. What advice would you give people to participate effectively in Twitter chats, especially as your audience grows?

Yeah that’s the one thing about #Blogchat that I hear the most “complaints” about.  It just moves too damn fast for a lot of people to keep up with.

Personally, I use TweetChat,com to keep up with #Blogchat.  One neat feature of Tweetchat is that you can “”eature’ tweets from a user, which means Tweetchat will add a colored band around their tweets which makes it very easy to see them as the flood of tweets passes by.

Another good idea, especially if the chat has a co-host, is to follow in Tweetdeck, and create one columns for all #Blogchat tweets, then another for the co-hosts’ tweets, and probably another for the host’s tweets.  I know many on #Blogchat use TweetGrid as well.

Thanks for relating this story of your success, Mack. How can people find you on the web?

You can find me at my site – http://www.mackcollier.com or on Twitter at http://www.twitter.com/mackcollier.

And I’d like to invite all your readers to check out #Blogchat, it happens every Sunday nite starting at 8pm Central.  Thanks Mark!

Twitter success stories: Explaining the ROI of Twitter

Measurement and ROI are constant themes in the social media world.  How do you PROVE the value of Twitter?  Like most questions in business, the answer is, “it depends,”  but I’d like to offer a couple practical ideas that might help you when this inevitably comes up at your company.

First, let’s establish a crucial point. There are MANY benefits to Twitter besides direct sales.  You might gain information, competitive intelligence, insight,  a new supplier or partner, publicity, brand awareness, an idea, customer insights, and yes, even a potential customer.  And while all of these are great, most are intangible and difficult to display in an Excel spreadsheet!  So why keep trying to do it?

As a small business owner, I don’t find it necessary to formally calculate the ROI (even though it may be possible) because the value I am receiving is instinctive and self-regulating. I have precious little time, so I better get something big out of Twitter if I am going to devote time to it.  Like any investment in time or money, if I don’t realize a benefit, I will pull back.

It gets more difficult for a larger business that is conditioned to run on data and not the entrepreneurial instinct of doing something because you KNOW it works or because it “rocks.”  That simply doesn’t fly in a board room.  And yet spending time and money trying to quantify some of the intangible business benefits can be a complete waste of time.

So how do you break the ice?  When benefits are difficult to quantify, the best way to explain the value is through a story.

For most experienced business people, hearing a compelling story of Twitter success can be just as effective as a pie chart. Once somebody understands how the networking works and the RANGE of business benefits that exist beyond money, it’s easy to make the decision to give it a chance.  And once they try it, they’re usually hooked!

At least that’s the way it has worked for me. Why keep fretting over measuring something that can’t be easily measured?  Just show them.

Another useful tactic is the pilot program. People get nervous about commitment.  Just tell your boss you want to test it for six months. Then week by week, pass along the stories as the tangible and intangible benefits accrue. Or, perhaps they won’t.  Then you can kill the thing gracefully and still get a good performance review.

I’m a data and measurement junkie. But I can also see many companies stumbling around trying to calculate their return on investment while their competitors are establishing a social media foothold.

Balance.  Common sense.  Qualitative measures like stories. Try new approaches to measuring value if traditional methods are difficult.

Would this work in your organization?

If you’re interested in learning more about qualitative measurement, these articles will be helpful to you:

Social media measurement: sometimes a picture is worth a thousand tweets

Three reasons why the experts are wrong about social media measurement

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