Dutch social – does culture help in social business adoption?

During my opening at Social Connections in Amsterdam on November 30th a few weeks back I tried to make a link between how the Dutch culture of ‘Consensus decision making’ that was formed by hundreds of years of fighting together against the rising water levels and social business relate to each other.

Water to The Netherlands traditionally is both a blessing (as it gives us opportunities for trade and access to the rest of the world) as well as a curse (as it is a constant threat with 1/3 of the country being below sea level). It forces us to constantly reinvent ourselves and our environment and forces us to work together on all levels. It has shaped the way we do business, do politics and live together and resulted in a flat hierarchy system focused on collaborating for a common goal with strong ties outwards. Which is underwritten by this report by DHL on the global state of connectedness where The Netherlands is ranked first out of 140 nations.

So does that make The Netherlands better at ‘social’?
I think it certainly helps as social business thrives in flat hierarchy systems and collaborative environments… but what do you think? Does national/regional culture help or not and if so, what aspects of your culture do you see that play a role in how Social Business is taking off (or not!)?

How the internet rules who you are

How is reputation build? How do people become known as experts in what they do, how is credibility established and what role is the internet playing in all this now personal information is becoming so much more available due to social networks?

“Reputation of a social entity (a person, a group of people, an organization) is an opinion about that entity, typically a result of social evaluation on a set of criteria. It is important in education, business, and online communities. Reputation may be considered as a component of identity as defined by others.” (wikipedia)

In general you can say that reputation is based on what you say you know versus what others say, and content you’ve published shows you know. That isn’t new, recommendations and background searches have always been a strong factor for people when deciding on someone’s expertise. The difference now is that internet is taking it a step further. It is providing us with many more channels of information and it is giving us all this information we never had before. Forcing us to change the way we weigh opinions on reputations as it is coming less and less from our own (trusted) social circles and more and more from external networks and sources.

Four ways the internet is used to determine your reputation:

  • gifted/attributed reputation: What others say about your knowledge or expertise (linkedIn recommendations & expertise vouching, tagging, commenting, etc)
  • digital output reputation: what people can find about you online in the form of contributions, blogs and anything else you throw out there (linkedin, personal blogs, Google search results)
  • reputation by association: who do you interact with and what is their reputation? Who reads and responds to your content? It’s not just about how many times it is tweeted, liked and recommended that counts but by whom too!
  • system attributed reputation: reputation assigned to you by digital systems based on interaction, submissions and topics you respond to or talk about (Klout, Peerindex and Kred, but also suggested reads, ‘people of interest’, etc).

The first three are not that astonishing. They more or less are what people have always done to determine someones reputation: get information and recommendations from people and sources we trust and form an opinion based on that. The only difference there is that we have more sources and they are much easier to access.

So where the first three merely give back what others have said or done and leave it up to you to interpret that, the fourth one takes it a step further and does the interpretation for you. By using algorithms and complex computations they try to determine someone’s expertise and knowledge areas. The problem is though it does so indiscriminately and without taking into account any of the cultural or social elements that could factor in and without weighing the topics for relevance.

“…Klout declared me influential in ‘Bollywood dancing’…”

It’s scary to see what digital systems nowadays know about us. It’s even scarier to see how they interpret that knowledge. A good example for me was when Klout declared me influential in ‘Bollywood dancing’….. I can tell you I have no relation with Bollywood dancing, know next to nothing about it, have never practiced it or ever expressed any knowledge about it but still Klout was telling the world I was an expert on it. I could not determine how it came to that conclusion nor could I really influence that other than by having my Klout account removed.

So how do I control my reputation?!?
The thing is, you don’t. Your reputation is not something you determine yourself. It’s being determined for you and you’ll have to life with that as it’s very hard to get rid of. There are however things you can influence. One of which is your online profile. And as your online profile is becoming more and more important in determining your reputation, finding ways to influence it becomes more important too.

So what can you do to build your online profile in a way that helps your reputation?

  • Your name“: Hardly anyone is unique but some are more so then others (I pity all John Smiths out there). So before ‘going social’ research your name (Google it!) and try to come up with a social handle (twitter name, etc) that makes you recognizable. Not just to other people but to automatic systems too. Once you do, use it everywhere and stay consistent. That is your key to being recognizable and unique. It’s your trademark in a sea of ‘John Smiths’ so to speak.
  • Company affiliation“: Try not to affiliate your complete persona to a company name. Not seldom do you see people having a twitter handle or personal blog domain mentioning or linked directly to a company name. Realizing you’re losing your job is bad enough without having to realize that your whole digital profile is tied to the company that just kicked you out. Like someone told me recently: “your work might be owned by your boss, your digital reputation is yours, guard it!”.
“…You would be amazed how much influence you can have on what Google shows…”
  • “Be visible“: Determine your visibility and monitor what people find if they search for you. Keep your profiles (LinkedIn, Twitter, Facebook, etc) up to date and go through the first 20 Google hits for your name / handle regularly to check what people will find. Is it still current?  If not, can you influence it (e.g. post blogs, respond to hot topics in popular sites, etc)? You would be amazed how much influence you can have on what Google shows.
  • Project your vision“: Envision what it is that you want to project with your online profile. Do you want them to find you work related stuff or is it fine with you that they will hit all the other stuff you do too? There is nothing wrong with being a prolific contributor on all kinds of topics or someone with a wide area of interest but if you want to set a professional image you might have to think of ways to highlight those areas that you want people to notice. Balancing your output or using different aliases to distinguish professional and private life and keeping different networks for your business and private stuff can also help in setting your profile vision.
  • Be connected” Build a network of people around you who do what you want to be associated with. Not just so your profile gets associated with them but also because by being in their vicinity you learn and get alerted to relevant information and posts. Interact with these people, provide feedback and ask (and respect!) their opinion on your content. When done sincerely most people are more then willing to help you on your way.
“…Don’t let your online profile make you look like a ‘corporate robot’…..”
  • Be human” There is a lot to be said for keeping certain areas of your life private but at the same time social media and social business is also all about connecting on a human level. Don’t let your online profile make you look like a ‘corporate robot’ by being all business and no pleasure. In a social age this could actually look suspicious. Don’t be afraid to be human just do it in a balanced way. And for goodness sake use a recognizable and consistent profile picture on all your public profiles. Interacting with a persona that has a smiling kitten as a profile pic really doesn’t help build you a professional reputation.
  • Be culturally aware” Realize that the internet is taking away borders and that your content (tweets, posts, blogs, etc), although perhaps only directed at people directly around you can usually be read by anyone, anywhere. Something that might be funny in your circle, country or culture might actually be offending to someone else. Some things can’t be helped, like being named “Dick de Cock” (and yes, that is an actual name in The Netherlands) but others can. So be sensitive for that. In general a good thing to keep in mind is what my mum told me when I was going off to university: “Never talk about sex, religion or politics in public or with anyone who at any moment in your life could become your boss or customer”. Well that makes for almost anyone.
“…people tend to forget the positive very quickly and remember the negative much longer…”
  • Voice opinions, not frustrations” There is nothing wrong with not always being a ‘happy bunny’ but be careful not to come across too negative. Remember that people tend to forget the positive very quickly and remember the negative much longer so be careful when voicing frustrations and try not to be resentful when others scorn you. Taking the moral high ground might not be easy but almost always is best.

There are so many more things you can do but in short it all comes down to this: be truthful, be sincere, be aware and most importantly: be vigilant about what your online profile is saying about you.

It’s your introduction to the world, make sure it fits you

 

Ephox EditLive pimping the richtext editor in IBM Connections: Hello spell check!

Wow! Now I heard the story two weeks ago at Social Connections where Ephox EditLive! was one of the sponsors but didn’t have time to take a good look at what it was they actually offered. “A better richtext editor for your Connections environment…” Right, have to admit that really didn’t get me excited right there and then. The richtext editor as I know it worked pretty well… or did it?!?

Well tonight I know better. Our Administrator posted a status update earlier today saying he had installed it on our environment and curious as I am I immediately tried it out. On opening any richtext input field within the IBM Connections environment the EditLive! plug-in loads instead of the normal richtext editor so users don’t have to do a thing except for approving the use of the plug-in on first open.

The first thing I noticed: IT SUPPORTS RIGHT MOUSE CLICK SPELL CHECK ACCESS! Ok, yes I know, perhaps not the most important for all but to someone who’s switching between two languages constantly a vital element of text editing and one of the most irritating things in IBM Connections today. Sure, the standard text editor will highlight wrongly spelled words but right mouse clicking it will not list alternatives, it will give you a ‘paste’ option…

Well in the EditLive! text editor it does work, listing me alternatives and even synonyms. That in itself was enough to get me very excited. Even more excited I got after realizing it adds a host of other great features. Things like “Track changes”, image editing and in-line comments.

So I’m more than curious now, can’t wait to test this further but I must say I’m impressed! This is going to be a great add-on for any IBM Connections environment and I can recommend anyone to give this Beta a try.

Social Connections – Making the connection

After months of preparations, endless Skype chats, mails and phone calls, lots of hard learned lessons and some of the funniest situations I’ve found myself in ever, Social Connections IV, the IBM Connections user group event is now a fact. It was a lovely day with great speakers, fantastic sponsors and most importantly with lots of people there to make it real, to make that social connection….

Sitting on my couch going through the pictures, the tweets and the blog posts written about it I can’t help but be proud of what we as a team managed to get together. It was so much better than I could ever have hoped for. Thank you everyone but especially Stuart McIntyre, Sharon Bellamy, Simon Vaughan, Jon Mell and Janneke Kamhoot for what you guys have done. It was a fantastic day!

nerdgirls rule!

getting ready for opening session & keynote…

(pictures courtesy of Social Connections facebook group)

Social Bacon

Ok, I’ll admit it, this has got me stumped for a while now but “WHAT’S UP WITH ALL THE BACON?!?” there isn’t a day without someone in my social networks mentioning or referring to ‘bacon’ in some way, there even is a bacon day, a bacon society and a bacon ipsum generator. Searching for answers I came across the most eclectic collection of bacon-products imaginable.

I even posted a question about this in a Skype chat I’m part of. That resulted in one of the weirdest conversations I ever had (edited it a bit to make it somewhat coherent)

<Me>: Ok, at the risk of sounding very blond, or ignorant or both…. But what is this fascination with bacon all about?!? I constantly see people on FB and Twitter making references to it and so called funny remarks…. I’m sure I’m missing something here but what’s up with that or is it just my imagination???
<UK-girl>: I like bacon, but not to that extent. Marmite – well that is a different matter
<Me>: Ok going from the weird to the disgusting here… 😉
<UK-girl>: noooooo! Marmite is AWESOME
<US-guy>: Mmm. Bacon.
<UK-girl>: marmite bacon .. double mmmmm
<Me>: Mmm… Not getting very far this way, do I 🙂
<UK-girl>: you think you are going to get a serious answer out of people talking about bacon?
<Me>: And why not??? Arggg, really getting confused about bacon here
<US-guy>: Bacon is serious. And good with anything, including chocolate. I fully admit that I am from the South, so loving bacon is genetic.
<Me>: Ok so it is just in my head that I see all these bacon references and think there is a second meaning to it that I don’t get?!?
<UK-girl>: no .. there is lots of bacon, I noticed it too
<US-guy>: True. I would say Canadians are also misguided, but then they actually call theirs ‘peameal’.
<Me>: @<UK-girl> Ah! So I’m not alone in noticing!
<UK-girl>: nope
<Me>: But no clue why?
<US-guy>: It is important to not think about where bacon comes from, but instead just worship the awesomeness. 😉
<Me>: Hope we didn’t offend the gods of Bacon then with this conversation… 😉
<UK-girl>: they will be getting ready to fry or grill us 😀

Right…. after a good chuckle I gave up on the idea of ever getting a serious answer from this group as you can imagine.

But it does highlight an important factor and that is that we all bring certain cultural or social aspects and concepts into the mix that others might not be familiar with. Nothing wrong there but it could lead to misunderstandings and confusions.

Now me not understanding the US/Canadian bacon mania is one thing but misunderstandings in communications can cause serious problems, especially where people from different backgrounds get more direct interaction with each other like in social business environments. Take for instance Belgium and The Netherlands. In both countries Dutch (Flemish) is spoken and geographically spoken most foreigners won’t even know where one ends and the other starts. Our cultural etiquette though has some very distinct differences. Dutch are often seen by their Belgium neighbors as too direct and harsh where the Dutch sometimes perceive their Belgium counterparts as unnecessary formal and overly cautious. Nothing wrong there if you are aware of this but sometimes it can be a good idea to give new social platform users that are not familiar with communicating through social platforms or with people in other cultures a bit of an explanation and awareness of social etiquette before turning them loose.

After all the whole idea of getting people to adopt social business is to get them more productive and ‘bringing home the bacon’, not burn it.

 

Ning – Social platform off the shelf

While looking for a cloud based solution for a non-profit organization that is looking for a low-cost, configurable, expandable and manageable solution to set up a social collaboration network for its ever expanding target audience I came across Ning.com:

Ning: Your key to an awesome social community!
Create a perfect social website to bring people together. With your own look and feel, and choice of social integration, Ning opens new doors to revenue and involvement.

 

for a relatively low monthly cost it offers a click-and-go configurable private social network with profiles, groups, file-, photo- and video sharing, blogs, forums, a facebook like activity stream and the option to support an unlimited number of users.

I’ve been test driving Ning for a few days and I must say I like it! Yes, ok, there are things it doesn’t do like full blown community management (it does have groups that offer a lot of similar options though) and I’m still struggling with some customization limitations but overall it offers a very decent set of social network functionalities with lots of options to either keeping it simple or building it out into a full blown platform.

It opens up a lot of opportunities and at the same time also triggers lots of questions, future reliability of the service provider being one of them (for me), but overall with all its configurable settings and templates, integration with external social networks like Facebook & Twitter and its intuitive administration module that a non-techie could easily maintain, I must say I like it and will definitely be looking into it further!

 

KLM: Surfing the social media tidal wave

Earlier today KLM, the biggest flight operator at Schiphol Airport in Amsterdam experienced problems after a software update. It caused their site, booking systems and other operations to fail and caused lots of delays and disruption at their main hub, Schiphol Airport.

I’m not flying today but noticed it because of an article on a Dutch news site. Now in general I wouldn’t really have paid much attention especially as I read the article several hours after it had been posted and the disruption had already been cleared and services resumed by then, but one line intrigued me:  [translated from Dutch]

“….Travellers can contact KLM through its social media accounts Twitter or Facebook. There will be employees there that can check in customers online or book flights.”

Now a major international company taking their online reputation and social customer service serious during a major services outage isn’t new but to specifically offer operational help (like booking or check in) through a Facebook or Twitter account is not something you see often. The reason being that in order to do that on a large scale you need a totally different skill set then for simply answering a customer service question or responding to remarks or complaints.  Traditionally most companies still see the role of a social media department mostly as a communications / marketing endeavor and hire their social media staff accordingly. Thereby limiting the reach of their social channels.

From experience learned during the 2010 Iceland volcano eruption that caused worldwide mayhem in the aviation industry and a major boost in social Media use, KLM instead chose to create a Social Media department with people from all sides of its operations: “… a dedicated team creates synergy by sharing their expertise from a varied background including communications, e-commerce, customer care, ticketing, marketing, operations and cabin crew” [source]. Thereby making it possible to quickly and autonomously react to possible problems and easily involve other departments (volunteers) when needed.

And that meant that when their own IT services went down today they could immediately react and go beyond the normal realm of social media customer service and offer services that would otherwise not have been available.

They described their social media strategy and the process of how that came to be in this 4 part blog series. I can certainly recommend reading it as it is a really good (and entertaining!) read for all those interested in how big corporations tackle the ever expanding social media tidal wave that is hitting them.

Paving the way for others, KLM is certainly among those facing it head-on.

The power of Greenhouse

I’m working on a project where a customer is evaluating several social business platforms for an onsite implementation. To get him a better feel of what Connections could do for them I helped him set up a community in Greenhouse and told him how to invite his project members. I was somewhat apprehensive to let him loose on it as it can be overwhelming but I clearly underestimated him as it took him no time to get his team involved and experimenting. He loved it:

“…I wish more vendors would offer something like Greenhouse! Being able to have my project team members experiment within a fully functional and operational environment where they can interact in a real-life scenario with the software and experience how others do that before having to commit to buying or locally installing it, means they now for the first time get what a social platform can do for them. It means I no longer have to peddle abstract concepts about Social Business and can finally move on to discussing actual use cases and possible implementations!…”

I’m sure todays upgrade of Greenhouse to the brand spankin new Connections Next is going to make him even happier.

Living, breathing and working IBM software I sometimes take for granted that we have something like Greenhouse. The truth is: I love it and use it daily. Not just as a demo or test environment but also to interact with other business partners, IBM’ers and customers over Sametime, to share information and to learn what’s going on in the community. Silently it has become a staple in my social diet and I actually missed it when it went offline for the upgrade last Friday!

It’s easy to take things for granted. Sometimes it’s good to step back and appreciate what you’ve got

Kudos to the Greenhouse team!

Microsoft buying Yammer: big steps forward or stifling a promising hatchling?

Some interesting discussions going on this week about Social Business, Yammer being bought by Microsoft one of them. Until now I really haven’t given my opinion on it even though I was asked about it by several people as I have been blogging a few times about Yammer before and have been specifically looking at it for it’s possibilities of extending Sharepoint, one of the platforms on which we actively sell services and solutions. But not just about the Yammer/Microsoft move but also in respect to what this could mean to IBM Connection. IBM’s social platform that has been a major focus for me professionally over the last few years.

To be honest, I had to mull this one over a bit before I could answer but here it goes, my 2 cents worth on it…

 

First steps

First of all, I think Microsoft did a really wise move buying Yammer. I think someone in Redmond finally realized that just calling Sharepoint a collaborative ‘social’ platform doesn’t make it one and that they really had to take some bold moves to catch up as others like Jive and IBM were miles ahead there in the social business arena.

Maturing

Secondly I think Yammer can benefit from this as well. As I said before I believe Yammer has one of the best social conversation streams in the Social Business arena right now and their way of bottom up adoption is innovative and effective in getting new users, but their collaboration options (file sharing, activities, communities) just aren’t mature yet and on that end it was missing out and in need of some serious investment.

So combining Microsoft’s capital and Sharepoint’s collaborative content management with Yammers  capabilities in getting the social conversations going, I think, could benefit both. Especially as this is already being done. Integrating Yammer in Sharepoint isn’t something new, it is already there. This move will only embed Yammer into Sharepoint even more.

Competitive position

So what does this mean to IBM Connections and to Microsoft’s competitive position on the Social market?

To be honest, I don’t know. It all depends on Microsoft’s next moves:

  • Will they take Yammer as is and just make the already existing integration stronger? Yammer right now is a cloud based product. Will that appeal to customers who deliberately chose for on-premises installs?
  • Will they incorporate the Yammer data into Sharepoint? A big downdraft I see with the existing Yammer/Sharepoint integration is the fact that the conversation is separated from the content. The document, file or workflow being in Sharepoint and the ‘conversation’ and social content about that document, file or workflow being in an externally hosted social environment. Maintaining integrity and consistency of data with a model like that over time and during the contents lifespan can be a big challenge.
  • And lastly…. Will Microsoft allow Yammer to fully incorporate into Sharepoint allowing the social knowledge Yammer has to embed itself into the more document oriented current Sharepoint environment or will it remain a little new playfriend on the sideline? From the communications right now it seems Microsoft is keeping Yammer as a separate entity within it’s portfolio and not blending but integrating it into the other product streams, not bad from an innovation stand point but not beneficial to Sharepoint either which is in desperate need of some ‘social understanding’ influx.
Leading by example, building from experience

So what does all this mean to IBM Connection? Well, for now little I think. Of course, Microsoft will use this to strengthen its position on the social market and give some footing to it’s claims of being a social platform provider. Rightly so, it is taking steps. But to really leverage Social Business I think it needs to do more. It needs to start thinking as a social business.

And that is exactly where I see IBM’s strength coming through. IBM Connections wasn’t created as a platform to fill a gap for a new hype, it was designed from personal experience in becoming a social business, living an ideal and experiencing it’s challenges and pitfalls as IBM itself was becoming a social business. It was build on experience and is focused on getting people to leverage their strengths to grow as an organization by collaboration and participation. To say it bluntly: It’s not just about starting a conversation, it’s about getting that conversation to turn into collaboration and therefore to start generating revenue.

Taking it forward

Yammer was well on its way to build a truly collaborative social environment over the last year and a half or so. So if this move from Microsoft is going to succeed depends, in my eyes, solely on how much of this Microsoft really gets. Personally I hope Microsoft will recognize it and use the knowledge and social strengths of Yammer to, for lack of a better word, “infect” it’s organization and Sharepoint development with the social bug. Or, better yet, build out Yammer to eventually overtake Sharepoint (I know a bold thing to say!). The market for social business is booming and the combination of Sharepoint’s market with Yammers social aptitude has enough potential to grow into a major player. But I also think Microsoft still has a few steps to take before they truly ‘get it’.

After all, social isn’t just a tool to be bought, it’s a mindset and requires a major culture shift, and on those IBM can still teach Microsoft a lesson or two I think.

 

 

#StuffIBMersSay: testing IBM's social elasticity

A while ago I wrote a blog post about a twitter meme that was going on where people were tweeting funny things IBM’ers had said with the hashtag #stuffIBMerssay. It became hot real fast and got over 3000 tweets and retweets before it died out after about a week. In my post I did that first day when it all started I stated “ps. Seeing a perfect opportunity here for IBM to use it’s new Analytic tools to analyze this social phenomena!” and well, it seems they have.

I knew they were working on it but hadn’t seen anything made public about it yet until I saw a blog yesterday from Keith Brooks with a link to the research report IBM did on this, the official research page for the meme and an interview with the researcher. It’s really interesting to read and I can see how analyzing this kind of social meme’s can help understand sentiment and feelings within organizations as well as how the rest of the world perceives an organization.

But what this impromptu phenomenon and IBM’s response to it showed best to me is that IBM really is striving to be a truly social organization. Being a social organization isn’t just about providing the tooling and ‘talking the lingo’, it is about recognizing and empowering the individuals within the organizational eco-system so that they can leverage their strengths to get the organization to a next level. That also implies allowing yourself to be viewed through the eyes of those individuals both for the good as well as for the bad and both on the inside (employees) as well as on the outside (partners, customers, contractors, etc). A daunting thing to do, especially when it happens unexpected, unplanned and uncontrolled, which is exactly what happened here. The fact that over 75% of the people who participated were from within the IBM organization itself and that they felt save to tweet about this and inject a lot of humor and banter without feeling they were harming the IBM organization or their own career shows a remarkable openness and engagement. I think that is exactly why this whole thing grabbed me the way it did back then…. and still does!

So…

Nicely said but the real proof of the pudding is in the eating as they say and for me that proof was that seven months on, the two people who unleashed it all, and whom I’ve been closely following ever since, still proudly list “Working @IBM” in their Twitter profile 🙂

 

Especially had to smile while reading this:

“Second, the qualitative analysis suggested that contributors to the #stuffibmerssay thread were also able to poke fun at the bureaucratic nature of a large global enterprise. We termed this “the Dilbert effect” where tweets served as satirical observations of how the processes within a large organization could be bewildering.”

http://www.jennthom.com/papers/stuffibmerssayshort.pdf

So fitting with one of the tweets I quoted back then!

@FlemChrist: I swear that guy writing the Dilbert cartoon works here. #stuffibmerssay