featured, IT, Social

Rise of the Social Business

10 May , 2013  

In addition to the commercialization of IT, BYOD, and the use of personal cloud services, mid-sized businesses are grappling with how to manage, adopt and embrace social media as a tool for internal business collaboration and communication. Social media has proven its value in our personal lives, through the sharing of ideas, opinions, stories and personal status. In the business context, social business tools can bring similar benefits to employees and staff, serving as a platform for communication and collaboration that breaks through traditional organizational and communications barriers.

Generational Shift In Communications

Why do mid-sized businesses struggle with the internal use of social media? Like a majority of the current workforce who didn’t grown up in a world enveloped with texting and social media, businesses are experiencing the effects of the generational shift to this new model of communication. In a subtle but fundamental way, social media doesn’t rely on the same large message, sender controlled communications model inherent in email, fax, telephone and voicemail. Business oriented social media tools appear at odds with the tried and true communication methods relied upon for decades.

How is social media different than traditional communications? Lets use email as an example. With email, control of the content and who consumes that content is sender controlled. The sender specifies the audience (one or multiple recipients) for which the information is intended, and the sender by in large is in control of who receives the email. Unless the email is forwarded, only the a limited set of intended individuals can access the contents of that email. Additionally, email messages can be of any length, frequently containing lengthy, rich content and attachments.

Social media flips this traditional communication model on its head. The sender is no longer in control of who receives their communications; the universe of “followers”, friends or potentially anyone (including automated processes) can consume content when it’s sent. The sender likely never knows who consumed their content, unless recipients reply, converse or direct message the originator. Content consumers have total control over who’s content and what content they wish to view, follow and be in conversation with. The sender’s content is “out there” for virtually anyone to consume, often by content consumers the sender may never know.

Social media tools often enforce message size limitations, such as Twitter’s 140 character limit which drops to around 117-118 characters when a URL is included. While other social media tools such as Facebook don’t enforce such a limited message size, social norms emphasize brevity, shorter and more frequent messages that often include URLs to articles or additional content. Lengthly and verbose posts are ignored by most content consumers and go unread. The same brevity norms apply to text messaging.

Understanding the fundamental shift of social media aides in increasing user adoption and makes it easier to understand how social business tools can increase engagement and knowledge sharing, and better facilitate collaboration compared to traditional communications tools.

Increasing Social Business Adoption

Digital social interaction isn’t new to mid-sized businesses; it’s already happening via email, instant messaging and online forums. The challenge is getting the frequently long threaded email chains out of email and into conversational social business tools, where broader groups of participants can interact. Migrating from online forums to social business tools such as Yammer or Jive is less challenging than getting users to try tools beyond tried and true email. It’s often too easy to live out our work day in Outlook, versus expecting users to take the conscious steps of using an alternative tool.

New applications, particularly unfamiliar social business tools, can appear intimidating and users often need compelling reasons to try out something new. Here are five ways to help encourage interaction on social business tools.

  1. If you know Facebook, you can use social business tools. During a meeting, one participant sited his reason for not using Yammer was due to his lack of knowledge with how to use the tool. The answer provided to him was actually very simple; he already knew how to use Yammer because of his experience using Facebook. Re-enforce with users that social business tools operate very much the same way as the social media tools they already know.
  2. Lighten your Inbox load. Who doesn’t suffer from too much email in their inbox? Everyone can relate to solutions that alleviate influx of email into their inbox. Suggest to users that social business tools help move those annoying email threads they are frequently cc’d on to a more appropriate tool where you can more easily chose to participate,  follow the conversation thread (versus fragmented email conversation threads), and manage your notification level.
  3. Asking the question can be more important than the answer. Asking the right questions can rapidly create engagement amongst staff who have views and ideas on the topic. Put questions out there and see what topics and types of questions generate the most interaction. Post questions such as; “What is the one thing you would do to most improve customers’ experience when doing business with us?”, “What’s the best product you’ve recently discovered?”,  “What could we do to improve our presentations?”, “Why is our company a great place to work and what could we do better?”, and “How would you reduce calls to customer service?”.
  4. Create opportunistic social collisions. When senior leadership posts on a social business tool, employees pay attention. It often creates an implicit expectation to join in. If the CEO posts about a topic, or encourages employees to participate, it’s a pretty strong message to everyone that we should all join in. And there are many ways to create opportunistic collisions through content that engages staff. Social business tools often include the ability to host an online poll. Create an area to post about interesting and thought provoking posts, industry related news, and feedback about company products or events. Or create a section about ideas for innovation.
  5. Integrate important content with your social business site. Most mid-sized businesses already have an intranet, likely in a wiki or content management system such as Drupal or Joomla. Integrate social business tools into your intranet and other frequently accessed internal content. The opportunity for interaction is much greater if users are already going to the intranet to get a form or lookup information.

Short URL to this post: http://goo.gl/HbBNp

IBMThis post was written as part of the IBM for Midsize Business program, which provides midsize businesses with the tools, expertise and solutions they need to become engines of a smarter planet. I’ve been compensated to contribute to this program, but the opinions expressed in this post are my own and don’t necessarily represent IBM’s positions, strategies or opinions.

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Blog, featured, General, Social

How to get started at blogging

19 Nov , 2009  

Write a one sentence blog post per week.

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featured, General, Social

Social Media Is Building Schools In Africa $10 At A Time – Please Donate

17 Jun , 2009  

Earlier this year, a client I advise about social media and web technology approached me asking for help with a fund raising effort on Twitter. The idea was to raise enough money, $10,000, to set up a young Kenyan boy and his brother with a store they could operate and make a living. 


This situation was special because the boy had lost his arms after both his parents died from AIDS. He was so distraught, the village elders were worried he might take his own life, so they tied him up, cutting off the circulation resulting in him losing both arms. It was a tragic story but one with a happy ending. The www.boywithoutarms.org campaign raised over $10,000 to build the boy and his brother their store. Donations were raised over a 48 hour period, using Twitter and a web page, asking for $10 donations. A similar effect was sucessful at Thanksgiving last year, but frankly, the results amazed me.

Jeff Power, US Mobilization Director with Global Hope Network International, a non-profit and non-religious organization, is undertaking his next Twitter-based fund raising campaign to build two schools, one in Kenya and the other in Ethiopia. Same approach: Twitter, requests for $10 donations, and a web site, http://buildanafricanschool.org.

Social media is getting a lot attention, especially Twitter and Facebook. CNN, Dell, Microsoft, and countless other businesses use Twitter to reach their customers. Individual users Twitter to connect with colleagues, family and friends. But there's more to Twitter than just a short message, micro-blogging platform. 

Twitter can mobilize people, it can call them to action, and it can do good in the world, reaching even the poorest villages in Africa. Whether you're a social media wonk or a sckeptic, social media is having an impact on our society. I'd prefer it be a positive one, and the Build An African School shows us just how much of a positive impact social media can have.

Now… here's your chance to make a difference in the lives of a bunch of kids in Kenya and Ethiopia who can move from holding school under a tree, to school building and a classroom. Over the next two days (Wednesday and Thursday):

featured, General, Social

Video Interview About $200m Russian Facebook Investment

27 May , 2009  

Michael Arrington at TechCruch (a great site, btw) posted an interview on YouTube that he did with Facebook’s Mark Zuckerberg and Yuri Milner of Digital Sky Technologies, the investor who just plunked down a $200m investment in Facebook at a $10B valuation.

The interview focuses on the question of why Zuckerberg took the investment, how this investment was a bargain comparted to the Microsoft (and other) investment made at a $15B valuation in 2007, and opens the question of whether Facebook will be doing much more with acquistions this year.

You’ll find this interesting if you like to follow the investment and financial side of social media companies.

Blog, featured, Social

Recession Accelerating Social Media Adoption

23 May , 2009  

“Crisis brings opportunity to change.” Keep that quote in mind for a moment as you read this blog post.

You can’t watch a cable news channel, particularly CNN, without hearing some reference to Twitter. Facebook has pretty much supplanted myspace as the dominant social networking platform, thanks in large part all of the applications, groups, social causes and the beginnings of businesses using Facebook to reach customers. It’s pretty easy to find a blog post or a site about tips and common mistakes when using LinkedIn, Facebook, Twitter, blogging and just about any other social media tool.

The activity I’ve seen lately seems to fall into six categories:

  • Folks who have been using social networking for some time now (experienced Twitter’ers, Facebook, etc.)
  • Individuals exploring the use of social media as part of an entrepreneurial, small business or “multiple streams of income” effort,
  • Business networking between professionals falling into business development, sales and professional networking,
  • Job seekers who have been laid off and are working to find their next position, or are proactively building up their network in case a pink slip event occurs,
  • Traditional media reaching out to readers and watchers through Twitter and blogging,
  • Spammers, lurkers, etc., using social media as an email replacement for lead generation.

I’m sure there are probably more classifications, but those stand out for me from my perspective. The social media topic comes up in the circles I operate in almost every day. Just as an example, I had lunch with a friend today and our discussion was all about social media, sharing experiences from blogging and social media, and how that applies to generating multiple streams of income.

The prior day’s lunch was with someone I work with and our discussion was all about using social media to more effectively start up and engage small, specific interest groups interested in volunteer activities. (Sounds like I must go out to lunch a lot, lol.)

At a business executive meetup group I attend bi-weekly, many of our discussion topics have been around social media’s application in business. All of this is representative of only a fraction of the conversations, projects (through my Converging Network business), email threads, and various inquiries I receive involving social media.

I have a theory about all of this activity — it’s being driven in part, possibly in large part, by the recession we’re currently in. Business has slowed across the board for most everyone. Everyone is trying to figure out how social media can help them network, identify new customers, find leads and business opportunities, get a lead on a job or increase our personal income.

I heard Muhammad Yunus (Nobel Peace Prize winner and founder of the Grameen Bank) on Bill Maher’s show say, “crisis brings opportunity to change”. Muhammad was specifically referring to our over emphasis on making money and reform of our banking system, but that statement also applies to the growth we’re seeing in social networking.

People are reaching out. Some of it is for comfort… reaching out to old college friends, coworkers and family.  Part of it is driven by the motivations I listed above. But if in the end, one of the things the recession does is expand the relationships we have with other people, using social media or otherwise, then that is certainly one of the opportunities created out of crisis.

Blog, featured, Social

Blog Shoutout – Steve Baker

6 Apr , 2009  

I had the pleasure on Friday of speaking at a business breakfast about the topic of blogging. During the process I discovered that the group organizer, Steve Baker is a blogger as well. Steve's an entrepreneurial business guy with lots of wisdom and experience to share. He's sharing that by authoring a book, Pushing Water Up Hill With A Rake, and a companion blog. I have had a chance to read some of the posts and like what he's written.

So please check out Steve's blog at http://www.pushingwateruphillblog.blogspot.com

General, Social

Real World Experiences In Product Strategy, Creation and Social Media

18 Nov , 2008  

Social Media – Fad, Fame or a Valuable Pursuit?

Remember the days when having a web site was something every business was supposed to do, but nobody was sure what to do with a web site?

Now, having a social media strategy is in vogue. Every business should have one, at least that’s what “they” say. But social media brings about a whole new set of questions:

  • How do I go about blogging?
  • Corporate blog or personal blog. Which is better and why?
  • Is it my blog or the company’s blog?
  • Should my blog be led by marketing, product managers or individuals?
  • Should I hire a traditional ad agency?
  • Everybody’s suddenly a social media consultant, but are they for real? 
  • Who writes the content? Marketing, engineering, management, or me?
  • How much of a time investment am I committing to?
  • What should I write about and will anybody be listening?
  • How should I involve marketing in my blog?
  • Besides a blog, what about podcasting or sites like Facebook, Digg, Twitter and so many others?
  • How would I know I’m getting any ROI from my social media investment?

Those were all questions I had when I first began blogging as CTO of my network security product company.

MRA_portrait_thumbnail Hi, I’m Mitchell Ashley, founder and principal consultant of Converging Network LLC, technologist, product creator, entrepreneur, blogger and podcaster. I’ve been blogging as a technology executive and product spokesperson in the networking and software industries since 2006. Through those experiences I’ve learned a lot about how social media can benefit businesses, their customers and individual thought leaders. In addition to my own blogs and podcast, I also blog and podcast for Network World where I frequently reach forty, fifty and as many as ninety thousand readers per month.

I’m sure there are lots of smart people out there who can tell you that you need a corporate blog and then go about setting up a blog site for you. Just like that first web site, a blog is pretty useless if you don’t know how to use it,how it can benefit you …and more importantly… how it can benefit your readers. Few have the hands on experience neccesary to help you determine if social media activities like blogging, podcasting and social networkings sites are even for you, can show you how to develop an online persona and a personal voice using social mediums, help you pursue unique areas of personal wisdom that create thought leadership and attract the attention of customers, press and analysts, and setting you on the path to successfully creating an online community of readers.

Converging Network LLC offers packages and personalized programs to help corporate executives, technical leaders, product managers, marketers and individuals gain the many benefits of blogging, podcasting, and social media sites.

Contact Converging Network LLC to learn more about how you can accelerate your social media learning curve and inject new life into your existing social media strategy.

General, Social

Blog Shoutout – ShawnDavison.com

17 Nov , 2008  

A very dear friend, business partner and superbly bright entrepreneur decided to give blogging a try. Meet Shawn Davision, who writes at his new blog shawndavison.com.

Every chance I get, I always encourage people to share their wisdom. I believe each of us has unique wisdom that is worth sharing. That’s one of the reasons I encourage friends, colleagues, clients and readers to pick up blogging, write a book or find some way to share what’s inside them. I’m super pleased Shawn has decided to start blogging and use his blog to share his unique wisdom.

If you read my blog, you know I’ve written about the value of investing in and growing the people you work around and with. I believe in people and the capabilities they possess, including the potential they and you don’t even know about. Amazingly infinite things are possible. I’ve known Shawn now since the early 1990’s when we began working together on a product called City Services, a very  early Internet service. It took only a few seconds after meeting Shawn to know this was a guy I wanted on the same team with me.

Shawn was also one of the first people to join me in starting BoldTech Systems back in 1996. Shawn then went on to successfully create KBToys.com and Store Perform, and he’s accomplished many great things since. More recently, Shawn was the featured partner speaker at the Microsoft PDC 2008 where he stood on stage, following Ray Ozzie's keynote, talking about business process trading networks using cloud technologies like Windows Azure.

So I invite you to follow Shawn as he explores the medium of blogging. Blogging is kind of like sailing. You start to develop a voice, or your “sea legs”, as you get more and more posts up. It become easier and more natural as you do it (and your stomach gets a lot less queasy.) 

I know Shawn has some fantastically valuable knowledge to share about his hobbies, vocation and views on life, and I look forward to what he’s going to share with us. If the benefit you receive is only half of what I’ve gained from Shawn, then you will be a truly enriched person. 

Podcasts, Social

Podcast 60 – Sam Van Ryder from Medioh! Studios

24 Oct , 2008  

Alan and I welcome our friend and former StillSecure colleague, Sam Van Ryder. Sam is now with Alert Logic where he heads up their partnership with Ingram Micro. Alert Logic is a security managed services provider and Sam gives us  a look into the MSSP provider market. Alan also scoops the traditional media, announcing the McAfee's new NAC (network access control) product is actual a reannimated Lockdown Networks product. Much was made of Lockdown's death spiral and Alan makes sure he gets in the last shovel of dirt in this blog post, NAC of the living dead. We also talked about blogging, suggestions for getting started, why Sam needs to get after it, and why Scott should quit. You'll have to listen to the rest of the podcast to learn about the difference between a brazillian steak house and a traditional steakhouse (I can't give it away here.) Anyway, it's always fun to record a podcast from Scott Converse's Medioh / podcasting studio in Boulder, CO.

Check out the podcast here. Enjoy the podcast and email us with any comments, ideas or suggestions. Blessings!