Repost IBM Insights blog: Super Bowl, the power of connecting

I recently started writing for the IBM Insights blog As part of a team of Redbook Residency bloggers. The aim is to write about anything having to do with Social Business or Social Media. To keep track and a personal log of it all I will repost the blogs I write for the Insights blog on my personal blog as well.
Original publication date: February 10 2012

Food for thought… Super Bowl, the power of connecting

by Femke Goedhart, Business Consultant, Silverside
Last weekend I experienced my first ever Super Bowl. “First? Where have you been??” I hear part of the audience thinking now, but yes, my first. Because American Football really is, well…. American. And, as I am, really European….a place where American Football is, at best, a niche sport. So I had no clue about Super Bowl Sunday and everything it stands for in American culture.
That is, until Twitter
In my social network I’ve accumulated a large number of American contacts over the last few years and a part of that group are avid Giants fans. So when the Giants made the Super Bowl, my Twitter stream exploded with NFL-related content. Not afraid to get into a conversation, I mingled in and before I knew it I was being educated on the merits and fascinating aspects of the sport… eventually getting invited to a real American Super Bowl party. Not one that would require me to hop on a plane and fly over, but a virtual party, through a Google hangout (multi-person video chat) on Super Bowl Sunday watching the game together (while apart) with a bunch of other American and Australian football fans.
Of course I accepted! This was just too much of a chance to skip. Not just to watch the game (I really had no clue about it anyway) but more as a great social media experiment. Plus I’m always in for trying out something new and uncommon, and doing a virtual video Super Bowl party with people from three continents certainly qualified as such.
But I also quickly realized that I needed to at least get a basic knowledge of the game, and so I dared my Twitter friends to train me.
For the next two weeks I got relevant information and links through Skype chats, pop-quiz question tweets and even LotusLive meetings with diagrams full of arrows and marks. By game night, I was prepared to watch my first ever American Football match.
I loved it!
So what does this have to do with social business?
Well on first face, probably not a lot. But what it showed me was that by building a network and interacting with people, I was able to get information and training (in this case on American Football) in a way that made it accessible and manageable to me — personalized to my needs and geared to the info I was going to need (I surely didn’t have time to learn all NFL rules in less than a week).
And, interestingly enough, also from sources that weren’t always obvious. One of the people to get involved in contributing to my knowledge turned out to be an Australian – not the first person I would have turned to for knowledge on something so typically American! It turned learning sports rules (something I’m usually absolutely not interested in) into a great adventure.
But how would this apply to a social business environment?
Finding relevant and to-the-point information in the vast amounts of information that is offered to us today can be daunting. Lots of people nowadays struggle with information overload. And distinguishing between relevant and irrelevant information can be a problem. It’s not just a question of getting information. It’s often a question of getting the right bits of information. I found the NFL rulebook on my first query, but dismissed it more or less right away because I was never going to be able to finish it, let alone understand it, in less than a week.
And that’s exactly where social business comes in, because it offers ways of connecting to people who know where to get information that can be relevant to you and that know how to prioritize the information you are after. Building networks and making connections is invaluable to tapping into that knowledge. But it also means creating a culture where not only sharing, but asking too, is stimulated.
From sharing to interacting
The mistake sometimes made is thinking of social business as a culture of sharing.
It is, without a doubt. But it’s only part of the equation. It should be just as much about a culture of feeling safe to ask for help. Sharing alone is not enough to start a real dialog. You don’t want people to just share information; you want them to interact on that information with others: with peers, but also, and maybe especially, with those who need the information to learn from. That way it gets challenged, tested for relevance and enriched. To get that interaction, however, people will need to feel comfortable asking for help and admitting they lack certain knowledge —something that isn’t natural to a lot of us, especially in highly competitive environments with strict role divisions.
But, it’s also where companies stand most to gain. Getting people to step outside their own little bubble and learning from others directly, eventually enriches all involved. It makes inventions and process improvements possible and encourages personal growth. It does, however, involve changing the culture. And that is something that won’t happen overnight…something that was clearly demonstrated when years of training, and instinct to always go for the touchdown, caused running back Ahmad Bradshaw to make the most awkward and unwanted winning touchdown ever…
So, is your company ready to change the rules of the game?
For a more detailed account of my Super Bowl initiation, go to my Virtual Super Bowl party.