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Managing Social Media


If we haven't talked lately, you might not have heard about the theme I've been developing. Last year, I was calling it "the management layer of social media," but I knew that was too geeky. So I refined it to "managing social media." While so much of the talk is about the big ideas and cultural changes surrounding social media adoption, this is all about how to make it work in large organizations. I expect to spend a major piece of the next few years on managing social media.

You can't manage social media!
If this were another post on how companies should listen and participate in social media, I'd be prepared to agree with the standard objection about loss of control. But I'm not talking about control. This is about what companies do internally to manage their social media activities. Just Do It is a great ad campaign, but it's not how things happen in medium or large companies.

Today, I'm sharing the general framework. It doesn't spell anything, but it can be fun to pronounce—especially if you pronounce both Ps...

For the Groundswell fans, this doesn't replace POST—it addresses a separate set of issues that come up inside the company. Issues that we'll get into in the coming months.

Connecting listening to business processes
The first topic is something from the process column, which I've heard as an issue from multiple sources: how to connect social media listening and engagement to business processes. I've encountered at least four different organizational approaches so far, all of which seem to work. I'm lining up the case studies for a report; if you know of a good example of a company that's doing it well, I'd like to know about it. (Yes, I know about Dell. We all know about Dell.)

I've been thinking about the management issues involved in social media for some time, and I enjoyed David Churbuck's posts on Social Media 201—taking the discussion past freshman level. So here's an organizational question for companies getting serious about social media: Where's IT? I talk with people who manage their companies' social media engagement efforts, but I haven't heard much (if anything) about their corporate IT departments' involvement. As processes mature and the use of tools gets more sophisticated, that needs to change.

The View from Across the Table
The topic came up when I saw John Soat's article in InformationWeek, Don't Let Tech-Savvy Business Execs Do An End Run Around IT. More of us outside IT have some level of computer skills, and IT managers have learned to be concerned about "rogue" technology purchases and projects. The growth of web-based technology services makes it easier than ever for a reasonably tech-savvy manager to buy needed services without dealing with an IT department that may have different priorities.

When the topic of rogue IT projects comes up, I would normally assume we're talking about databases or critical operations-support systems (such as customer relationship management or sales-force automation systems). But one of the examples was a "digital age boot camp" for a marketing group at Heinz North America, and that sounds a lot like a social media workshop. The CIO was concerned that IT barely found out in time to send a representative.

Hmm. Apparently, IT's sensitivity toward digital/ online/ technology topics extends well beyond custom software deployments. I wonder what they think of social media analysis services, or whether they think about them at all?

IT and Social Media Analysis
Media monitoring and measurement are services that marketing and communications groups have bought for years, and it's natural to assume that their extension into online sources shouldn't change that. If we look at the range of available tools and services, I think that's correct as a starting point, but it depends on what you buy and how you use it.

The services you might buy to monitor or measure social media activity are delivered in a variety of formats. Your choice of delivery will suggest how much involvement IT should have. In increasing order of technology integration with a client's own systems, delivery options include:

  • Analyst reports and briefings delivered by any method
  • Single-user online dashboard
  • Automated alerts and reports delivered by email
  • Web-based dashboard used by a workgroup
  • Web-based social media analysis platform with workgroup and collaboration features
  • Installed social media analysis software on enterprise server
  • Social media analysis system with links to CRM, intelligence or collaboration systems
  • Custom social media monitoring and analysis platform linked to other enterprise systems
Starting at the top, it's easy to keep IT out of the discussion of traditional consulting-style services. The technology is entirely at the vendor, and deliverables are in executive-ready format (typically PDF or Microsoft Office formats). At the end of the list, we're deeply into IT territory, with custom-built systems using high-end tools and components. The extremes are fairly easy to decide, because IT won't be interested at the low-tech end and will be essential at the high-tech end.

What about dashboards and the more involved web-delivered services? Where does it become something IT will want to know about? The line will vary by company, but in general, IT leaders should start paying attention early, because the maturation of processes around social media monitoring and analysis will lead to integration with other systems and processes.

Processes will drive integration
Listening to social media is useless in a vaccuum. The value comes from what a company does with the information it develops, from customer opinions to new market opportunities. Making effective use of the information requires connecting across functional silos and with existing processes, even if the initial integration is essentially manual.

When monitoring uncovers customer problems, the information needs to go into a customer service function, which has its own tracking systems. Market insights might feed into other business intelligence or collaboration environments. Reports may roll up to broader executive dashboards. As social media proves its value as a source of intelligence, companies will be motivated to integrate it with other enterprise systems, which is where IT involvement is essential.

Some of the available options already live at the intersection of social media and enterprise applications. Web-based services from companies like Visible Technologies and Radian6 support billable work in agencies that sell social media services. A direct link between a new technology and revenue is a good definition of mission critical, which should get CIOs' attention. A manually-created buzz report that goes directly to the CEO of a product company (a real example) should be equally attention-getting.

Steps for CIOs
As companies set up social media listening capabilities, CIOs should be part of the process. At a minimum, IT leadership should understand the goals behind social media listening and engagement initiatives, even if functional groups select services with low technology demands. As practices mature, IT needs to be prepared to lead the company to extract more value from these services and should begin thinking about how to use the insights from social media analysis in other enterprise systems.

Leaders in adopting social media practices are already making the connection between, for example, online communication and customer service. Integration at the systems level is only a question of timing and leadership.

Vinnie Mirchandani wrote about the new Analyst Transparency Workgroup, a gathering of big industry analyst firms to talk about how users can "access their favorite analysts across all paper, proprietary and RSS feed platforms and can seamlessly compare and collate their views on technology subjects and tags." Vinnie wants to know when they're going to be more open to the rest of the world; I'm wondering whether there's any progress toward delivering their content via RSS to their paying clients.

Vinnie's post really focuses on the lack of blogging at most analyst firms. They're in the business of selling what they write, so it's not hard to understand, but look at how visible Forrester has become in social media, largely because of their blogging analysts.

Putting up 1–2% of your research will not kill your business model. In fact it will increase traffic. And acknowledging your competition, a trade pub, a blogger will not kill your business model either. Should actually make your user experience richer.
Which all makes sense to me. But when he mentioned "RSS feed platforms," I immediately flashed back to the Intelligence Delivery System™ I sketched out in mid-2006.

RSS as a delivery mechanism to clients
IDS was to be an RSS-based system for aggregating and redistributing market intelligence, including analyst research subscriptions, inside the corporate firewall. Existing access methods required logging into and searching each analyst firms's web site individually, which meant that many individuals with paid access to the research don't bother finding it. IDS would provide more efficient access to help companies extract more value from that research.

It turned out that existing enterprise RSS systems could do most of what I described, if clients could get their reseach in an RSS feed. So when I saw "RSS feed platforms" in Vinnie's post, I had to ask if the big analyst firms are making their content available to their clients in RSS feeds yet.

Barbara French answered:

The mechanisms for merging "competing" subscriptions include Northern Light and some other corporate content management systems. These solutions are not cheap, and none that I have found cover many firms.
Northern Light looks like an interesting service, in an environment where analyst reports are available only through their web sites. But it strikes me as a workaround.

RSS coming soon?
The availability of RSS feeds would free client companies to incorporate the research into their own systems, potentially making the research more available—and thus more valuable—to their users. Is this part of what the new Analyst Transparency Workgroup means when they talk about access via RSS feed platforms?

IBM talks 2.0

I spend a lot of time in the social media/ communications/ marketing world, but a major part of what I can do for clients is bridge the gap between technology and business. So it was good to hear a more technical take Wednesday at the first edition of IBM's developerWorks roadshow, Web 2.0 goes to work.

After opening talks from the Emerging Technologies guys, we had our choice of three sessions: social/collaboration, Info 2.0 and applications/mashups. Since I still don't have that two-places-at-once ability, I picked the social/collaboration session and learned what I could about the others during the breaks and afternoon wrap-up.

The first surprise was how much of the conversation was Social Media 101. I expected the more technical crowd to be farther along than that, but people needed the explanation. Once we finished the review, we spent the rest of the time on adoption, the roles of IT and business units, and policy implications. As you would expect in a short session, we did more identification of issues than resolution.

Products and experiments
In addition to the general overview of Internet trends filtering into the enterprise, we saw some examples of IBM software (of course), especially the experimental stuff.

  • DAMIA, a mashup tool and feed server (and IBM's take on enterprise RSS?). Combining data from internal, public (Internet) and private (data as a service) sources was a key theme of the "Info 2.0" idea.
  • QEDWiki, a wiki mashup maker for inside the firewall.
  • Many Eyes, a tool that democratizes data visualization and adds social features. Plus, it's fun to play with.
  • Lotus Connections, possibly the only shipping product of the day, which combines a variety of familiar social applications. Interesting comments on how IBM rolled out tag-based search results without the jargon to reduce barriers to adoption.
The takeaway
It didn't take long to figure out the themes of the day and how IBM approaches Web 2.0. Actually, you already know, but listening to them talk confirms some things:
  1. If you want to see feature set of Enterprise 2.0, look at the publicly available services on the Internet. All those startups are the development lab, trying new ideas and testing them in the wild.

  2. The transition into the enterprise will focus on finding and proving the value of individual social applications, connecting with existing enterprise systems, and dealing with the security, privacy and compliance issues that follow.

  3. IBM's strategy will be packaging (1) and (2) so that customers can "buy Web 2.0." alphaWorks services provide field-testing and gauge interest in specific applications.

  4. Companies need to reduce the business-technology gap to succeed with these technologies. IT has to communicate with business units to understand and meet their evolving needs (and to stay relevant), and business folks will have to learn new tech skills to take advantage of the new possibilities (spreadsheets in the 80s, user-generated mashups now?).
All in all, a good day. I visited people who live on the IT side and discovered that they're talking about some of the same things as the marketing/ communications crowd. Yes, there was the extended tangent on SOA, and more technical diagrams than in a marketing meeting, but this was an IBM event with tech-casual clothing, no slides and an iPhone giveaway. As corporate marketers work out what they want to do in this changing environment, they may be surprised to find their IT people on the same page.

I came across two posts today about corporate culture issues that can limit a company's success with social media. The interesting thing is that similar issues arise whether your work is internally or externally focused. Benefitting from social media in a business requires more than a technology deployment and a single, clued-in group.

Josh Hallett writes about the risks of customer-facing blogs setting high expectations that the rest of the company can't meet:

Company A (think cell phone company) has a really great, personable blogger that really connects with customers online. However Company A also has about 1000 call center reps and 20,000 associates in the field. The majority of them have the traditional corporate attitude, i.e. "Not my department" - "I can't help you, call customer support" etc...

Lee White describes similar cultural barriers to social media adoption inside an enterprise:
If I were able to magically snap my fingers and have a world-class social media platform in place, I don't believe that it would go anywhere, at least not immediately, in a fundamentally authoritarian culture.

Jerry Bowles identified the threat that motivates resistance in why CEOs are afraid of social media:
Large-scale adoption of the architectures of participation would represent a revolutionary change in organizational dynamics because—by giving lots of individuals a voice and audience through a networked platform—they force decisionmaking to be more transparent, democratic and consensus-based.

Jerry suggested that initial projects target functional groups that are likely to be receptive to the benefits. I suggested that companies can start by trying applications that don't threaten existing power structures:
Rather than going all-out for the revolutionary applications of electronic collaboration, look for areas where new technologies can help people do their current jobs more effectively and efficiently. It doesn't have to be dangerous.

Hey, nobody said this would be easy. What would be the fun in that?

About Nathan Gilliatt

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  • Voracious learner and explorer. Analyst tracking technologies and markets in intelligence, analytics and social media. Advisor to buyers, sellers and investors. Writing my next book.
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