Repost IBM Insights Blog: Food for Thought: Social Trust

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 regularly repost the blogs I write for the Insights blog on my personal blog as well.

Original Publication:
Original publication date: March 9th 2012

Food for Thought: Social Trust
Femke Goedhart, Business Consultant, Silverside

Social media use is everywhere. With more than 800 million users on Facebook, more than 225 million Twitter accounts, Google+ rapidly gaining on the competition, and countless other platforms popping up left and right, it’s hard to ignore. But how do you control your people going online and using social media and are you even allowed to?!? That is a question that more and more companies are asking themselves nowadays.

Personal versus professional
Traditionally the division between personal and professional life was something that was strictly observed. What you did at home had little to do with what you did in the office and vice versa. People who walked around in suits all day could go out partying at night without any of their colleagues ever knowing it.
Social media is changing that. The traditional borders between personal and professional life are fading with people engaged in social media posting pictures, tweeting and Facebooking about all aspects of their lives — often, even mixing their professional and private social networks together. It is forcing companies to search for ways to handle their “social exposure.” But it’s not an easy topic.
The main reason for this is the cross over into the personal domain. What rights do copanies have to restrict people in their personal life?
But it’s not just in the personal domain that there are limits to what a company can restrict. The element of freedom of speech and common law limit what can be restricted in professional life also. This was recently highlighted when the US National Labor Relations Board started a review of cases in which social media had played a role in firing employees. A large number of these cases turned out to be about overly broad social media policies infringing on the protected conserted activities rights of employees.

Taking control
So how do you (if at all) control what is being said? Well, the first step is in recognizing that it is going on. Companies that think ””my people don’t tweet” are in denial. Social media is gaining popularity everywhere and not just with the younger generation. More and more people 35 and older are joining in the conversation on one or more social platforms. Sometimes just to follow what their friends or kids are doing but often simply because they are interested themselves.
The second step is to figure out what it is you want to prevent.
Forbidding it outright isn’t really an option because that infringes on personal rights and reaches deep into the personal life of employees. Forbidding social activities in the professional realm is disputable as shown above, but most of all it can have serious downdrafts.
For instance: If you meet your hairdresser at the grocery store and greet her but she ignores you completely, because her boss told her not to engage in any conversation with customers outside the work environment, then you would be offended and would probably not return to that hairdresser’s shop again.
So why would you want to get that same effect with your employees being social? Customers are just as likely to be on social media, and restricting your employees from interacting with them might make them seem aloof and arrogant, which in turn would look bad for your company.

Restricting the already restricted
Another major aspect to consider is the employee contract. Any self-respecting company will have clauses in its employee contracts restricting employees from performing acts detrimental to the company. The same applies for non-disclosure clauses. So in fact, most of the things social media policies try to restrict are things that are already restricted.
Does that make them obsolete? Not necessarily. There does seem to be a need to re-enforce restrictions as employees are having trouble distinguishing between their professional and personal “social” life and forgetting about responsibilities. The question though is if that really needs to be in the form of another restrictive contract or policy type document. Sometimes, just reminding them of their responsibilities should be enough.

Guideline versus policy
So the question is whether having a social media policy is really the answer. An interesting shift is that some companies are now moving off the idea of banning social media through policies and opting for embracing social media through guidelines. This is based on trust and respect for the employees’ ability to act responsibly, and the implicit assumption that most employees really don’t want to do harm to their own company but do want to engage in social media.
Enforcing the positive behavior the company would like to see instead of discouraging misbehavior is the goal. This is an interesting shift because it means that instead of thinking of the employees’ social media exposure simply as a threat, it now can become an asset.
It does also mean accepting that people will sometimes mess up, which is human. So, telling people how to react in those situations should be a part of the process, as shown in the following excerpt from the IBM Social Computing Guidelines:

“Be the first to respond to your own mistakes. If you make an error, be up front about your mistake and correct it quickly, as this can help to restore trust, but make it clear that you have done so.”

It speaks of respect when companies feel confidence enough in their people to trust them to act wisely.

Take the lead
Don’t ignore what is going on. With social media not likely to go away any time soon, it is better to start identifying its opportunities instead of simply focusing on the risks. Acknowledge the role it is playing and start training the employees in how to use it responsibly.

Repost IBM Insights Blog: Food For Thought – The New Player on Stage

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:
Original publication date: February 22 2012

Food For Thought: The New Player on Stage 

by Femke Goedhart, Business Consultant, Silverside
So here’s a thought…. At this year’s Lotusphere, IBM’s annual collaboration and social software conference, during that all important Opening General Session (OGS), Who was the real star of the conference?? 
Was it the band ‘OK Go’? Or Michael J. Fox with his inspirational speech? The IBM executives sharing plans for the upcoming year?  The people demonstrating it all?  Or the customers telling their success stories? Or was there another star to this show….. the audience? 
It is interesting to see how social media has changed the role that people are taking while listening to someone on stage. They are no longer a passive audience, waiting to be impressed. They are active participants using social media to hype the event and their fellow audience members, updating those staying at home and in doing so broadcasting their personal expectations, experiences and opinions to the world – effectively becoming a presenter themselves.  
They are far from uninformed either. Social media exposes any news with lightning speed and search engines allow users to quickly proof check any statement made. The audience no longer is a passive listener; it’s a fiercely regarded critic and a channel to reach a much wider audience. A 5,000 man audience in the room easily reaches a hundreds-of-thousands-strong audience outside. A power not to be ignored! 
And a power to be utilized by those on stage as social media is also quickly leveraging the power of peer-to-peer recommendations. An enthusiastic commentary on social networks by the audience members often does more for creating a positive vibe around a product announcement than any official reporter or analyst could ever hope to accomplish with their articles. 
But the audience is also a fickle player to include in the play; one that generally has a short attention span and has a nose for set ups and over-embellishings. One that wants to-the-point information, real demonstrations, interaction and involvement. And one that can make or break an event, a speaker and an announcement. 
Something that was clearly shown at last year’s Lotusphere OGS. The audience did not like the lengthy customer panels and made that abundantly clear on twitter and other Social Media channels – bringing the overall sentiment on the OGS down to an absolute low. Only after a bright new face – Brian Cheng – entered the stage to do demos did that sentiment change — instantly elevating Brian to a Twitter celebrity. However, by that time, some damage had been done.  
It must be hard sitting back there watching all this going on, knowing that there is little or nothing you can do to change it. The scripts are set, the show is staged and you can’t just break into that. At the same time you can’t ignore what’s going on either.
 imageSo this year was different. IBM clearly listened to the critiques and tried to accommodate that all important new member of the cast. Shortening the length of the OGS, dividing it up in short sound bites, acknowledging last year’s missteps, involving the audience as much as possible  and using lots of graphics and live demos to keep people’s focus on the stage instead of on their Twitter streams. Even showing an actual representation of the audience sentiment of the event as it was going on.
And it wasn’t just in the OGS where this was felt. Instead of being afraid of the social backlash that had occurred the previous year, IBM embraced the challenge and invited the audience to be even more ‘social’. Setting up Social Lounges where people could learn how to use social tools, offering communities and apps to connect to other attendees and by actively promoting the use of hashtag #LS12  and showing those Tweets on blogs, Web sites and at the event itself. 
Not just involving the audience, but effectively making them stakeholders in the success of the event.
To unleash and actively stimulate thousands of internet savvy critics to comment on your work is a bold move to take. But Lotusphere this year showed it can work. The opening session was highly appreciated resulting in 3 positive trending topics on Twitter that day. Sentiment was definitely up and it set the stage for the rest of the week. Being heard and being taken seriously meant that the audience, that all important player, was part of the team once more.  
So what is the future of this? This new player to the stage is certainly a force to be reckoned with. Not just for major events like the Lotusphere OGS but within daily business as well. People are utilizing internal as well as external social tools more and more as a medium to not only update their friends of what they are doing but also to gather information, discuss things going on and to gauge opinions. Broadcasting their feelings to their audience and connecting to people and sources both inside as well as outside the company. They are no longer just contributors or consumers of information; they are becoming the main distributors as well.
Ignoring it is dangerous, controlling it often impossible… or is it?

The fear of the unknown and a loss of control is what is holding back many companies in really addressing this. But with millions of people joining social networks each day, it’s a force that can’t be ignored. And even though the company might not be so far, the people often are, branching out on public networks and forging connections to co-workers, customers, friends as well as competitors, building their own audience as they go. It is time to catch up and start talking. Because if there is one thing social media has made clear, it is that individuals love to be part of a social team/network….So isn’t it about time you define your stage team and make them a part of that?Watch the Lotusphere 2012 OGS. Registration required.

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.

Follow up "Lotusphere-less"

A few weeks back I posted a blog with helpful links to Lotusphere resources for those of us that won’t be going but want to taste the atmosphere anyway. An updated follow-up of that blog with additional links is now posted to the IBM Insights blog. Check it out!