I'm sad to say that this will be my last post here on Computer Weekly's Social Enterprise, so I'm afraid I must bid you farewell. I don't know what's going to happen here, whether someone else will take over or whether the archives will be preserved in aspic. But I do know that I'm sad to see the blog go and will miss it.
It's been a really great time writing here. I've read a lot, learnt a lot, written a lot, and met some lovely people. So thank you for reading, for being a part of this experience with me. If you want to carry on reading my stuff, I'll now go back to writing regularly on my own blog, Strange Attractor so please do feel free to join myself and co-author Kevin Anderson over there. And if any of you fancy hiring me, feel free to get in touch.
Although very focused on American business and culture, pretty much everything they say relates to British and European work culture.
One important idea they discuss, and something I've found essential myself, is the idea of pulsing or sprinting when working: to focus for a while and then relax for a bit. This idea is common in athletics, where it's called the work-rest ratio: "It's as important to renew energy as it is to spend energy if [you] want to be a consistently great [athletics] performer."
We forget too easily that the brain is an organ that requires periods of replenishment as much as muscles do. If you work your muscles too hard, they ache, so we learn very early on not to overdo it. Yet we expect our brain to perform at maximum capacity, consistently, throughout our workday. It's just not possible, yet we don't allow for this fact in the way that we work.
Schwartz also says, "It's not the number of hours people work that matters, it's the value they produce during the hours they work, so stop worrying about how many hours that person spends at their desk, and start figuring out, What can I do to help this person design his life so that when he's working or she's working, she's really working?"
To me this is the essence of what social media is in business is all about. We, as humans, work better when we are socially connected. It fulfils a fundamental human need to be part of a group whose whole is bigger than the sum of its parts. Social media also provides ways to communicate and collaborate more effectively and more easily, to benefit from the wisdom in the crowd. As we become more enmeshed in our community, so our ability to solve problems by drawing upon the resources of that community increases.
Social media is, at the moment, only doing a fraction of what it could for business. It's an area full of potential and as we start to marry technology, psychology, business and human nature together, we are beginning to find ways to unlock our potential, not just as individuals but as members of a huge social gestalt.
Most businesses using social media at the moment are dabbling, going for the easy, obvious wins like marketing or some internal Wikipedia clone. We need more business executives to be brave, to think about their business as a multi-human organism that has its own needs and that isn't being properly fed by current business practices and cultures.
When I look at what could be done, how we could use social media to really change our work environments in to something more effective, more enjoyable, I really do think we have a long, long road ahead of us. Change is often slow and incremental. We need some businesses to take a deep breath and leap, to remake their internal culture, to be more human, using social media as the agent of change.
But ultimately, I think what we'll see is the old cultures dying off as new, nimble, socially aware businesses rise up in their stead. This new era of socially capable business is only just now dawning.
I'm very wary of what sort of metrics and definitions of success are used to decide whether a project is working or not. To often, the wrong metrics and definitions are used, resulting in bad managerial decisions that are based on flawed assumptions.
A couple of good posts about how metrics and definitions of success (and, therefore, business models) can work against the user: OKCupid talks about why you should never pay for online dating, and Joshua Porter points out a paragraph in one of Mike Davidson's posts which explains why companies' iPhone/iPad apps are often better than their websites. In short, on a mobile app they don't have the opportunity to finagle the user experience to artificially bump up their metrics.
In both cases, you have a situation where the metrics and definitions of success upon which the business model relies distort the user experience by forcing them to take actions which are not necessarily in their best interests. Indeed in these cases, a swift and satisfying experience for the user is damaging to the business providing it.
When you're putting together a social media project, think first about what the most beneficial outcome for your users would be. Then figure out it can form the basis of a business model (hint: your income/ROI may be orthogonal to your desired user outcome) and then how that can be measured.
Do not start with a metric, build a business model on top of it, and then force the user to have a shoddy experience for the sake of your bottom line. And yes, this applies just as much to enterprise social media as any other sort. Don't start thinking that 'number of edits' on a wiki is a definition of success, because that just means you'll push people into more pointless editing and will take your focus of signs of real success, e.g. people being able to achieve their goals more quickly and more efficiently.
This is a great video explaining how the 'Widower effect' works, and how it applies to all offline social networks. In short, what you do and what happens to you is affected by more than just the people around you, but also the people around them... and the people around them.
This is essential information for anyone working on the adoption of social media in business.
Google have announced that they are adding a raft of tools to Google Apps, including Blogger. Perhaps it's a sign that Blogger is growing up, although they'll need to develop it much further for it to really compete with Wordpress, but it is certainly better than an awful lot of so-called enterprise blogging systems.
The addition of Blogger to the Google Apps infrastructure will make it trivially easy to create and maintain internal blogs for businesses who are not interested in running their own intranet servers. This makes the social media intranet much easier for all types of business and could be an important move for the wider adoption of blogs in business.
With any luck, tomorrow will see the delivery of Christian Crumlish's book, Designing Social Interfaces, co-written with Erin Malone. I'm really quite excited about getting my own copy and getting my teeth into the lessons it contains. For those who want a more personal learning experience, Christian is running a workshop in London on 9th June. I really wish I could go, but I'll be in Sweden at the time.
But to take the ball and run with it a bit, I think 'fun' is one reason that people who use social media can get so passionate about it. We engage much more with tasks that are fun and enjoyable, and we work better on projects where we are working with people who are fun. Just think about the tasks on your to-do list, and think about the ones that you find fun. I bet they're the ones you actually want to do!
For me, blogging is fun. Working on a wiki is fun. Setting up a Kickstarter project is fun. Heaven forfend, but I even like playing with numbers in spreadsheets on Google Docs. (Don't tell anyone, but I love setting up spreadsheets with formulas that suck data from one cell, transform it in some way and then spit out a number in another.)
Putting my numbergeekiness aside, the one thing those tools have in common is the presence of other people. The fun to be had in writing a blog increases the more other people engage with it. Wikis are both productive and fun when you're working with other people on achieving a shared goal. Kickstarter is fun not just because it offers the opportunity to do cool projects, but because you're doing that cool project with the support of other people. GoogleDocs allow me to collaborate with other people and even discuss the document in real time whilst we're working on it.
Other people make things fun. Fun things are things we want to do, and keep on doing. The more we want to do something, the better we get at doing it. The more we enjoy a task, the better we get at doing it, the more efficient and productive we becomes.
Which begs the question: Can we make work more fun? Of course we can. And we should.
The researchers also analyzed the influence of Twitter users and found that there's a discrepancy in the relationship between the number of followers and the popularity of someone's tweets. This basically means that the number of followers is not the only measure of someone's value.
Singh draw out seven points of interest from the research, some of which are interesting and some of which are blindingly obvious to anyone who's spent any time on Twitter:
Twitter users have 4.12 degrees of separation on average
The reTweet is powerful
75% of reTweets happen within an hour of the original Tweet
Followers != influence
Trending topics are mainly news headlines or 'persistent news'
Only a minority of users have reciprocal relationships, and there are a lot of observers
It's good to see researchers digging into the nuts and bolts of social media. As I said about Cha's work, those of us who've been in this area for a while have built up through experience and observation a set of instincts about how things work. We use heuristics to get a sense of how the whole system functions, but like any assumption built from personal experience there are risks that we are wrong. So it's very valuable to have those assumptions tested by research which can then ground us in evidence rather than gut feeling.
Amber Naslund writes a good post about how important it is to make time to experiment with social media and to explore what it can do for you. It's very easy, she points out, to say that we don't have the time, but "Here's what you have to face down. You make time for what matters."
The comments are just as interesting as the post, as people come up with reasons why it's not just a matter of making time. People are overloaded, too busy, scared to step out of their comfort zone, the skill set required is hard to acquire. It's easy to come up with excuses why some people won't take the time to learn social media, but they are just that: excuses.
Here's the thing: We waste loads of time simply checking our email inboxes. What about if you reduced your time in email and gave that time to social media instead? What about if you went to one less meeting each week? What if you used your phone to check up on Twitter and blogs and such, and used some of that dead time when you're waiting for other things to happen?
It's actually very easy to learn about social media. A quick search on Google gives an awful lot of stuff to start reading, even before one starts dipping their toes in the tools themselves. How much can someone learn just by reading round for 10 minutes a day?
"I haven't had time" is an excuse we all use, but it's not a reason.
Just in case you have lost track of where all Facebook's privacy settings are hidden, the New York Times has crated an awesome infographic to shows just how well they are squirrelled away in different corners of the site. It illustrates beautifully just how difficult it has become to manage your privacy in Facebook, showing all 50 settings - which have over 170 options - spread over 10 different pages. Apparently, the company has had an emergency company-wide meeting to discuss the problem. Fingers crossed that some common sense prevails.
Cha called her paper, "The Million Follower Fallacy," a term that comes from work by Adi Avnit. Avnit posited that the number of followers of a Tweeter is largely meaningless, and Cha, after looking at data from all 52 million Twitter accounts (and, more closely, at the 6 million "active users") seems to have proven Avnit right. "Popular users who have a high indegree [number of followers] are not necessarily influential in terms of spawning retweets or mentions," she writes.
Berinato's interview with Cha in that post is also very interesting, and whilst some of her conclusions might just be confirming our existing gut feelings, it is very good to have some proper evidence upon which we can build.
Reading the comments to Berinato's piece, however, leads me to think that some people are misinterpreting Cha's conclusions. She's not saying that social media has no use, she's saying that follower numbers are not the right metric to measure influence (just like traffic stats for blogs don't always correlate to their influence). The baby should not be thrown out with the bathwater.
I've never been a big fan of Facebook, not just because of their cavalier attitude towards their members' privacy, but also because the UI stinks. Thomas Baekdal takes a detailed and interesting look at the reason he thinks Facebook is dying. Some key excerpts:
Facebook is really big, it has a ton of features. But, it is also turning into the worst case of complexity overload the web has seen in years. There are so many inconsistencies that it is hard to believe - or even to keep track of.
On top of the complexity and inconsistencies, we have a growing problem of privacy issues. Facebook has a long track record of ignoring people's privacy. As I wrote in "The First Rule of Privacy"; You are the only one, who can decide what you want to share. Facebook cannot decide that, nor can anyone else.
But, Facebook seems oblivious to this simple principle, and have started sharing personal information with 3rd party "partners" - continuing a long line of really bad decisions when it comes to privacy.
If you are on Facebook with a personal profile this is a must read. If you're on it for business reasons, you might want to read it even more closely and pay particular attention to the various privacy changes Facebook have made. And on that note, the EFF has some great advice and information about Facebook's now very confusingprivacy settings and interface changes.
Don't gauge the rate at which you will be an instant success by how quickly you can develop the technology," he told would-be entrepreneurs. "I would gauge how long it takes the collective culture--any culture--to give up something, even if they are frustrated or unhappy with it, and accept something different. The rate of emotional, intellectual, cultural, and regulatory inertia of the world is very high. It used to be much lower in this country, but even that is changing.
Whilst Kamen was talking more about hardware, exactly the same problem befalls software and webs services.
This is, in part, because of the cognitive biases that we all suffer from. Joshua Porter discussed some of these at dConstruct in 2008. He explained that we value things we own "approximately three times more than is rational" - that's ownership bias. But entrepreneurs "overvalue software that they're offering by about three times" - that's optimism bias.
But the net effect is that there's a nine-times disparity between the person who is the potential user of the software and the person who's offering the software. So there's this huge gulf between the desire of the potential user and desire of the person offering the software.
The initial product adoption is one of the largest problems facing almost every web-design team in this day and age. So, I think, looking at it from this standpoint, at least we know what we're kind of dealing with. It's a huge barrier.
So it's not cultural inertia in the sense of people just being too lazy to think about how they can improve their experience, but a much more ingrained behaviour controlled by a set of psychological short-cuts that our brain takes without us realising.
In short: Adoption is hard and we have to think very careful about how we can overcome these barriers.
A couple of weeks ago I surmised that the travel disruption caused by the eruption of Icelandic volcano Eyjafjallajökull might force businesses to rethink how they manage their long-distance relationships. It might, I posited, force businesses to be more open to teleworking, teleconferencing and the use of social media for geographically dispersed teams.
Eyjafjallajökull is showing no signs of stopping. A reduced ash plume combined with favourable winds and a change in the aviation industry's policy towards acceptable ash levels allowed air travel to restart, but the last couple of days have seen Ireland and Scotland forced to close airports due to renewed ash threat. The volcano became "more explosive" with a higher, denser ash column that was swept towards Ireland and Scotland by a southeasterly wind.
I think it's reasonable to say that we may see further disruption in the UK and across Europe as this eruption continues, so it seems like a good time to remake the point: Start planning now for your business to be affected by further flight bans, especially as the holiday season creeps towards us, increasing the risk that staff may be able to get out of the country but unable to get home. Start introducing collaborative technology now. Don't wait for disaster to strike, but get your staff up to speed with new tools whilst you still have the luxury of not being in the middle of a crisis.
[I]t's not about the technology. The real issue is getting people used to working at a distance. For instance, everything has to be transparent for collaborative work to be effective online. Using wikis or Google Documents means that everyone can see what the others have contributed. There is no place to hide.
Infrastructure is the stuff we ignore until it breaks. Then it's the stuff we're stunned to discover we're dependent on.
He then goes on to point out how ridiculous our dependence on air travel has become, to the point where we expect to be able to fly in, do a 20 minute conference presentation and fly home again. I've even done that in one single day, and it's not fun. But, Ethan says:
It's possible that Eyjafjallajökull could change this. If a 24 hour trip to London has a significant risk of becoming a 5 day trip to London, the calculus changes. As much as frequent travellers gripe about delays and cancellations, they're pretty infrequent, and mass delays like the ones currently being experienced are downright rare. If they become commonplace, I personally would expect to say no to travel lots more often and do a lot more appearances via Skype and videoconferencing.
From meetings to conferences to team-building events, unreliable air travel changes how we think about long-distance travel. It should also change how we think about working over long distances, and, thence, how we work with the people who sit right next to us.
And for anyone who thinks that this is all a big fuss over nothing, here are a couple of thoughts:
Firstly, when Eyjafjallajökull erupted in December 1821, she did so in fits and starts, with two weeks of activity followed by nothing until June 1822 when she erupted again. Ash fell intermittently for months and activity continued into 1823. In June of 1823, Katla, her neighbour, erupts for four weeks. We are likely to see lulls in activity from Eyjafjallajökull, but we shouldn't interpret that to mean that the threat is over.
Secondly, by implementing social media, encouraging collaboration and discouraging unnecessary travel your business will become more efficient, more effective and will waste less money on travel. Even if Eyjafjallajökull stops erupting, you'll still be better off for having prioritised better collaboration practices.
Brilliant video here from Derek Sivers, who discusses with real insight what would otherwise have just been an amusing video of a guy dancing.
This makes me think a couple of disparate thoughts:
1. Nurture your early community members: They are the ones who will bring in new people to your community.
2. That explains why the early social media leaders are mainly now eclipsed by followers: later followers don't follow the leaders, they follow the early followers. That says something strange about human nature, but I'm not quite sure what!
Brian Wallace has collected ten great social media infographics. I think the most useful is Age Distribution on Social Network Sites, the most interesting is The Conversation Prism (below), and the most incomprehensible is the Social Media Periodic Table of Elements.
XKCD's popularity gave Randall a rather large pool of people to draw upon for his survey: In the end, "over five million colors were named across 222,500 user sessions." That's not bad going and certainly produced some interesting data to chew over. I rather liked this chart of dominant colour names:
Randall's survey is a great reminder that your community, whether internal or external, are an amazing source of information that you can easily tap into. Services like Poll Daddy or Survey Monkey let you ask questions of your community, through which you could potentially be learning a lot about your business, your community's needs, topics of interest... possible areas of enquiry are limited only by your imagination.
Well, in truth, you are limited by your imagination, your relationship with your community, and its size. There's no getting away from the fact that if you have a tiny community, you won't get a big enough response for the results of your survey to be meaningful. Equally, if your relationship with your community is poor, they won't feel inclined to take the time to answer your questions. But if your survey answers questions they have themselves, taps into a vein of curiosity or, as in the case of Randall's colour survey, provides a novel way of procrastinating, then you are much more likely to see success.
It's worth having a think before you put any survey together on how best to do it. You have to get it right first time, because you can't run the same survey twice and expect people to engage the second time round. I have learnt the hard way that you can read and read and read your questions over and over, and there will still be errors. So make sure you have time to do some test runs with friends and colleagues so that you can locate and fix errors. I'd also say that it's important to understand how you're going to analyse the answers before you formulate the questions. Services like Survey Monkey allow you to automatically create graphs to visualise your data, but if you get your questions wrong, the graphs won't save you.
There's so much potential for businesses who enter into dialogue with their customers and staff, and surveys/polls are just one way to realise some of that value. It just surprises me that more businesses aren't nurturing their communities and collaborating with them to gather useful information that both parties can then benefit from.