Tag social business

Google goes behind the firewall

Perhaps it’s not the most exciting news in social media land, but I think it’s certainly some of the stealthiest.

Google+ has just announced ‘restricted communities’ to complement ‘restricted posts’. Not particularly glamorous, but what it does do is open the doors for enterprises to start adopting the tool internally, safe in the knowledge that restricted information would be much less likely to breach the corporate firewall.

It also gives Google potentially huge amounts more sensitive corporate data to crawl over and index, but that’s another thing entirely.

I still think G+ will be big (especially behind the firewall – something the Altimeter crew have picked up on too). Hangouts are the future for customer service imho. And Google’s recent change to YouTube commenting – meaning you now need to have a G+ profile and can’t post anonymously (there goes Adam Buxton’s Bug comedy set) will bring even more people into the G+ fold – in many YouTubers cases kicking and screaming…

Google behind the firewall – a reality not a myth

Is Google + finally going to come of age?

I’ve long argued that Google+’s ‘public’ profiles are something of a stalking horse for Google’s more corporate aspirations. And at the end of August, the (former) search engine took another giant leap into offering collaboration and content software for enterprises by launching a set of Google+ features specially for businesses.

The quietly-announced development means that some corporates can formally use some of Google+’s innovative features as part of the suite of Google apps. Group video conferencing (on hangouts) during which teams can share, discuss and edit (google) docs in real-time is now a reality.

The battle-lines are increasingly being drawn for enterprise-level ‘social’ software. Microsoft recently bought Yammer, and IBM has long been active, along with Salesforce and Jive and a number of other players. It’s only a matter of time before Facebook makes a play in this financially-lucrative market.

The days of organisations being tied down to using what came bundled with Microsoft Office are drawing to an end.

And the days of organisations starting to build communications networks structured around the ways that people actually like to communicate are beginning.

Klout – don’t believe the hype


Q: When is a Tweeting clock more influential than the editor in Chief of the Guardian?

A: When you rely on a flawed algorithm like Klout to measure influence


Klout is an algorithm which promises to ‘measure influence’ in social media. But (as I seem to be arguing a lot recently) it’s immensely flawed. It’s also getting huge amounts of attention – yesterday/today (in Wired and the Wallblog) and last week, from Mark Shaefer, who was in London to promote his book Return on Influence).

As social media started to come under the wing of Marketing Directors and e-commerce teams, it was only natural that the ROI of social media activity would come under the same scrutiny as other comms. But because social media is by its nature networked and leads indirectly to people saying or doing things, and cause and effect is therefore harder to measure, companies like Klout and Peer Index started to offer ‘proxy scores’ of influence – to help marketing managers decide who is ‘influential’, based on social media footprint and activity.

But the fact that a tweeting clock‘s Klout score (69) is higher than Alan Rusbridger‘s (64) shows the system up for what it is – blunt, oversimplified, and just plain wrong.

Understanding influence is a social science of its own. Measuring it adds even more complexity. And one of the central concepts of influence is that it depends on who’s asking. So reducing ‘influence’ to one number, irrespective of the algorithm behind it, is always going to fail. Yes, a Klout or Peer Index score can help to identify some people’s networks, but it’s incredibly short-sighted to rely upon it.

As a social business consultant, when I’m asked to identify influential people in a community I never start with Klout. I always start with a question: Why? Why do clients want to identify these people? What do we want them to do once we’ve identified them? How likely are they to actually do what we want? Where do they hang out online, and who do they talk to? I take a lead from the PR industry, from years spent creating stakeholder maps, using a mix of data and gut feel to understand a community, ideally from within it.

Newer start-ups in this space, like Kred, are much more subtle in their identification and application of influence. But there’s still a long way to go – I recently blogged about how measuring social media influence is like nailing jelly to a wall. It will remain so for several years to come.

Until yesterday, @big_ben_clock was deemed to be ‘influential’ in drugs because it regularly used the word ‘bong’ in its tweets. In fact it pretty much only uses the word ‘bong’. That’s how wrong Klout can be.

(This is a slightly updated version of a post originally written for Cogs Agency)

One algorithm for influence? You’re having a laugh…

Understanding and measuring influence has vexed social media communicators for years.

Two good places to start would be the release of Brian Solis/Altimeter’s “how to” guide, The Rise of Digital Influence on 21 March, and last week’s panel debate (22 March 2012) at the Guardian’s Changing Media Summit, featuring Leo Ryan (group head of social at Ogilvy), Andrew Grill (UK CEO of Kred), Bonin Bough (global head of digital at Kraft), Philip Sheldrake (Author – The Business of Influence), and Joanna Geary (digital development editor at Guardian News and Media).

But neither one will nail it. Because trying to find a single algorithm to measure influence is like trying to nail jelly to a wall. Fun trying. Maybe a degree of success, but you’re going to basically end up in a bit of a mess.

That doesn’t mean you shouldn’t try. It just means that you shouldn’t rely on a single algorithm. Your mix of qual and quant tools and analytics has to have the right balance. Algorithms should be the starting point, not the end point.

And above all, it means you need to ask the right question to start with. You need to know exactly what you’re trying to measure, why you’re trying to measure it. And what all the proxies are along the way. Quite separate to that you need to ensure your tools aren’t being gamed – which they all are to a greater or lesser extent.

Yes, it’s possible to use tools like Peer Index, or Klout (or younger and better upstart Kred) to put a measure on ‘influence’, but influence always depends on the context of the question. By way of analogy, which of those tools would tell us: Who is the most influential journalist when it comes to reporting last week’s budget? Or even, which is the most influential newspaper, or broadcast channel? It all depends on who’s asking, and why they’re asking. Ask five different people, you’ll get five different answers, depending on their different perspectives. There’s no way an algorithm can answer the question and get it ‘right’.

Back in the day some people used to think that content is king. Then it became conversation. Now it’s context. While empirical data is always useful, it is shortsighted to run any ‘influencer’ campaign based on that data alone. And naive to base it on any one number which is spat out by an influence-identification tool without understanding individuals’ pre-disposition and motivation alongside it, as well as desired outcomes.

Brian Solis is right when he writes: Before you start to even try and measure influence, you need to understand what you want to achieve at the end of the process.

Which – hang on – is exactly what good PR people have been doing for years. Using a mix of qual and quant data, and a decent brief.

I’ve lost track of the number of stakeholder maps I’ve helped draw up using a combination of readership figures, demographics, gut feel and (the missing link with most of these tools apart from Kred) that stakeholder’s willingness to listen/participate – “to be influenced” if you like.

So I was disappointed to see that Klout featured so heavily in the Altimeter case studies. It’s an incredibly blunt tool, and extremely easily gamed. And it takes no account of people’s ‘receptiveness’ to what is essentially a PR approach. People who know their own Klout score know what’s expected of them when they’re invited to something. There is still no such thing as a free lunch. Or a free status update.

I therefore hope that the case studies were actually much more sophisticated than they’ve been presented. From my experience, all the UK mobile phone networks are already significantly more advanced in their social CRM and influencer engagement than the Windows Phone case study. And Nokia have been running a textbook influencer-engagement programme with 1000 Heads for years.

Having said that, though, Altimeter’s Influence Action Plan is spot on – maybe because it reads to me as a decent guide to running an effective PR campaign. The only thing that’s different compared to 5 years ago is the scale and the channels/tools to reach people. And while there are now tools to help measure influence which can cope with this recent change in scale and channels, I worry that the more the process is automated (i.e. based exclusively on Klout scores) the blunter and ultimately less effective it becomes.

I’m willing the tools to get better, I really am. Altimeter’s reviews and feature trackers are really useful in picking out some of the highlights. But those tools are never going to be as effective as people within organisations having a relationship with the people they are trying to influence – the ‘permeability’ that, as a social business consultant, I’m helping clients develop on a daily basis.

Yes, use the tools can help identify potential influencers. But those tools are better used, in my opinion, as a starting point for further research, not as a definitive list. Simply using an algorithmic tool to start a ‘transactional’ relationship will (as Dinah Boyd acknowledges) kickstart the Heisenburg uncertainty principle – just as professional ‘compers’ have mastered the “RT to win” phrase on Twitter.

Influence totally depends on content, context and nuance. That’s the problem with trying to measure it. Tools can help. But – although it’s time-consuming – eyeballs and gut feel should always play a bigger part in doing so.


(This is a version of a post originally written for Social Media Influence)

Organisational culture 7, social tools 1

Over the last month or so, I’ve been lucky enough to spend a fair amount of time with some of the UK’s foremost social business thinkers, letting their ideas ferment alongside my own. And I’ve been proudly commenting on blogs which extol the virtues of only loosely defining what social business is.

But the more I’ve thought about business culture v social technologies, the more convinced I am that culture beats tools hands down. The role of a social business consultant therefore becomes:

To help organisations develop and share a unifying and supportive culture

To advise on and introduce the most appropriate social tools to help people within organisations flourish and therefore do their jobs better

And while some businesses, particularly smaller, often newer and more nimble businesses find it easy to encourage everyone to adopt the same culture, adopting and adapting tools to help them do so, others are stuck in hierachical, geographical and political structures which make it harder to foster a shared culture.

To paraphrase some points from Euan Semple, JP Rangaswami and Lee Bryant recently:

For most of the 20th century, business communications relied on a cascades of paper, and business ‘memory’ relied on hierachical and structured filing systems. But now social technologies mean that networked communications can be much more the norm. And people can more easily find people (not follow processes) to help them do their job better.  As things were before the industrial revolution.

It’s no co-incidence that many of the bigger businesses which have ‘got’ social, have done so as a result of dealing with a crisis or a series of crises, because crises inevitably create a single challenge and focus for an organisation (the equivalent of a shared culture). During crises, hierachies go out of the window in favour of speed and skill. And crises rely upon a realtime data/feedback/information loop. Which I guess is partly how I’ve become so fascinated with social business as a concept – from running comms around crises.

The challenge that most organisations have – and which is great to hear people from Bupa (Nick Crawford), WWF (Adrian Cockle), IBM (Delphine Remy Boutang) and Adobe (Simon Morris), speak about before/during social media week and at Will McInnes‘ first social business session – is how to take larger organisations who haven’t had to focus on a crisis, on the cultural and technological journey towards becoming social businesses.

Social technologies can help organisations adapt some of their structures. But they will only really work if the organisational culture is ready for it. The organisation needs to be truly ready to listen to and act upon internal and external feedback.

You don’t become a social business by using the shiniest newest network featured on Mashable or Techcrunch.


Social business and serendipity – a match made in heaven

Newcomers to the concept of social business get hung up on the technologies, the shiny new toys that IBM, Jive or Yammer let people play with.

But what makes businesses social is not the technologies, it’s the culture. Which the technologies can amplify.

I’ve just finished reading the excellent Steve Jobs biog. One of the things which struck me about how he set up Apple was the architecture of the buildings he created for the company. Architecture actively designed to encourage people to bump into eachother.

Simply to use a toilet some people had to take a 10 minute walk – explicitly because Jobs recognised the benefits of serendipity. Yes there was secrecy involved in product development, but the company was structured so that people working on different things would bump into eachother in massive public spaces. So that random conversations might lead to cross-team collaboration.

All of which fitted neatly into the extremely iterative processes he liked. And which clearly worked.

Yes, there are new technologies now which make it easier for people to ‘bump into eachother’ online. And any number of companies are adopting social business technologies, but we shouldn’t lose sight of the fact that people like dealing with other people – not with departments and structures.

Social business is all about helping to make that happen. About encouraging serendipitous encounters. And about giving people (or in Apple’s case forcing people) to spend time away from the top of their to-do list, just to see what might happen.



Social business predictions part three

Reputation management will become a more recognised discipline around the board table

The more exposure the C-suite have to listening tools like Radian6, Sysomos, Onalytica et al, the more that CEOs will want to influence what they say. So-called ‘soft’ metrics are never going to have the clout of harder, ROI or savings-based metrics, but they will grow in importance.


Klout (and for that matter Peer Index and Kred) will have to fight even harder for credibility

Measuring influence is so totally dependent of the context, that the one-size-fits-all approach will be shown up. Just as it’s impossible to answer “what’s the most important newspaper” without knowing why the question is being asked, it’s also impossible to answer “who is the most influential person on Twitter?” without knowing why. That won’t stop loads of people peddling ridiculous ‘league tables’ of influence though.


Social media gurus will be found out. If they haven’t been already

They add no value. The people who will add value though, are the ones who can apply social tools to solve business-problems, ranging from cutting call-centre costs (by using more social channels) to increasing website conversions, or reducing staff-churn.

They are therefore likely to have more experience and a broader business perspective than one particular discipline. Already we’re seeing agencies like Dachis, Altimeter and Edelman blend these skills together. We like to think we do the same here.

In a really interesting post (and comments) Jay Bear suggests that PR agencies are not best placed to offer social business advice in this space. Perhaps unsurprisingly I disagree. For me, it’s the breadth of business experience (or capability) which is important, rather than the specific background of the consultant hired. And any PR consultant with a pedigree of crisis comms work can advise on operational/procedural change required to calm situations down…

But having said that – watch IBM as they start to make major inroads into the comms side of social business in 2012. The Lotusphere conference is a fascinating insight into what’s just around the corner – and proves that IBM have beaten both Facebook and Google to building enterprise social business tools.

Social business predictions for 2012 – part two

People will get bored of brands on Facebook

Asking people to click ‘like’ if they’ve had a good weekend, or simply not responding to the hundreds of comments on a question a brand asks is only going to work for so long before people start to realise the shallowness of many of the “relationships” they have. Brands are going to have to work harder than ever before to cut through. This is a massive opportunity for Google+ – a platform where people already have a ‘functional’ relationship with a brand, and where expectations for an ‘emotional’ relationship are close to non-existant.


Google+ will take off slowly but surely

Just before Christmas G+ saw its first page (Britney Spears, natch) clock over 1 million fans. The only way is up. Google will factor G+ pages into search results worldwide, the platform will improve, and more brands (and people) will start to see the potential for two-way targeted (by circle) communications which Facebook will never be able to deliver.

We’re right to be concerned about the monopoly of power Google will have. Facebook will soon roll out ‘frictionless’ contact – the long and short of which is that both companies will shortly be gathering even more data on how we all spend time online. Talking of which…


Just as every year since the start of this social revolution (whenever that was), we’re moving further into an era of radical transparency

Organisations will be more critically judged on how they behave, how they function behind closed doors, and how they treat customers and employees, not just by what they say. Brands cannot spin their way out of a crisis. They have to behave differently. If people like what you’re doing, you’ll be popular and drive repeat business. If they don’t, they won’t. Just look at the Qantas backlash last year…

2012 – Social Business predictions

We’ve all had fun (well, all apart from him), but the party season is now over.

At the same time, social business is now coming of age – and growing up quickly

I know I’ve been a touch quiet on the blogging front recently (mostly due to being extremely busy), but it seems only right to start January by publishing a few predictions about what 2012 might hold for social business/social media.

I’ll be posting a series of social media/social business predictions in total over the next few days, in no particular order, but a few a day. As ever, comments very welcome…


Enterprise versions of Google+ and Facebook will bring social business tools (if not thinking) into the mainstream

People will get more used to sharing information within organisations in a manner which does NOT rely on email – a trend exascerbated by the influx of Gen-Y and beyond employees. Email will not die – far from it, it’s still the document of record for back-coverers everywhere, but the providers of tools for social business – in particular Google+ – will have a very good year. Especially if they can sort out the ugly UI.


Organisations will radically streamline their social media presences

Jeremiah Owyang’s recent research suggested that the average organisation has 178 different social media accounts. These will have to be streamlined, and ownership/management will tend to be brought into the centre of businesses before being devolved to business units again once

The ‘Centre of Excellence’ model/hub-and-spoke leading to ‘dandelion’ approach will become ever more common.


Community Management will rightly start to be seen as a subset of Content Planning.

The more platforms that an organisation is active across, the more thought needs to go into the roles for each of those platforms (including the audiences targeted and communities served). It simply won’t be good enough to replicate your Facebook posts on Google+, Twitter, Path, etc. etc


Is your business ready for its social crisis?

We’ve been doing a fair bit of work with companies recently, helping them to dovetail social media and crisis response protocols for when the inevitable arises.

I’ve got form in this space: from my media-focused crisis communications experience in PR (cutting my teeth in the BBC during September 11th, then helping to run London’s Congestion Charging PR campaign), to then being called in by Eurostar to help them out with their sn0w-induced operational and social media crisis in Christmas 2009.

So this report naturally caught my eye. And I have to say, agree with pretty much every word in it.

Jeremiah Owyang and the Altimeter Group, undoubtedly one of the foremost thinkers in the social media space recently published a review of the state of readiness amongst 140+ organisations with 1000+ employees, and found a distinct lack of readiness across the board – apart from some of the very largest organisations.

Their starting point is this:

We define a social media crisis as a crises issue that arises in or is amplified by social media, and results in negative mainstream media coverage, a change in business process, or financial loss.

And one of his conclusions – that there is a significant amount that most organisations could do to better prepare themselves for a crisis is undoubtedly one we’d agree with 100%.

Which is, I guess, one of the reasons that we’re very busy in this space recently.

The full report is here – well worth a read…

And if you’d like to talk about how your organisation can better join up your social media and crisis response teams, then don’t hesitate to get in touch.