What’s the big idea with social media? #media140

Media 140 Perth 2012
Share

I was lucky enough to be invited to Media 140 in Perth recently to discuss what the ‘big idea’ is with social media.

The idea was for a context setting discussion about social media and how it is changing business and society.

DIGITAL REVOLUTION
We are living through a digital revolution that is changing the world we inhabit as absolutely and as irrevocably as the industrial revolution of the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries.

That previous industrial revolution changed our relationship with time, with money, and with people. It created the wage labourer that we know, and the unions whom we’ve to come know encapsulated by the term ‘organised labour’. It created a society governed by the mechanical clock and the notion of work versus non-work time.

The digital revolution is on a similar scale, and this scale is based on a remarkable shift in the means of production. The digital revolution has at its roots a democratization of access to the means of communication.

EXPECTATIONS AND ACCESS TO COMMUNICATIONS TECHNOLOGY
As a result we are seeing a shift in the expectations of ordinary people about communications technology and their access to that technology. Further, we are seeing a rapid evolution of behaviour in relation to communications technology – mainly in the use of smartphones and tablets.

All of this is leading us to significant shifts in society, and it is all fuelled by innovations in communications devices. The smartphone and almost ubiquitous access to the internet have created a new baseline expectation in people that they will always be connected. I have often argued that with Twitter we are seeing the genesis of the hive mind of humanity.

The digital divide is no longer about access to technology – as my friend Mark Pesce notes, even poor fishermen in Kerala have access – it’s about your willingness or desire to be connected.

However, people are finding enormous utility in being always connected. For example, the number of ereaders in the hands of people is growing enormously, doubling since July 2011. And an example of a behavioural shift afforded by the technology is the growth in women’s erotic fiction sales. Romance novels have always been a big business globally, but a recent sales data indicates a substantial growth in sales of erotica (the so-called ‘guilty pleasures’ factor) that has been fuelled by the anonymity offered by ereaders.

As long ago as 2008 Australia mobile phone subscribers outnumber people according to ACMA data. This means that individuals have more than one device connected to the mobile phone network.

SOCIAL MEDIA, SOCIAL BUSINESS
Along with this embrace of ubiquitous mobile connectivity we have seen the growth of social media and social networking. This growth of social media is part of the landscape that makes up the digital revolution. Social media is revolutionary because it empowers the populace with access to the means of communication that were once the province of rich media barons.

This growth in social media fuelled by mobile connectivity has also changed the business landscape in important ways. There is a shift from command-control and pipeline driven businesses to social business that is focused on continuous engagement and conversations.

The kind of new business opportunities enabled by this digital revolution include:

  • the ability to compete in a new geography without even opening a local store (like Amazon);
  • the opportunity to reduce complexity for customers and remove friction from business operations (like Telstra);
  • subverting traditional models like recruitment where businesses build online talent banks of people who are interested in working with them (like Deloitte).

However, the shifts in society are not limited to business and consumers. They are also changing some things that we have always accepted. For example, we have always assumed that there is a just and valid separation between the domains of public versus private, or between business versus personal. But now those verities are being shaken by social media and social networking.

Social media is blurring the boundaries between the public, private, business, and personal. We are still working out how to negotiate this new territory. But already we see reports of people turned down for jobs because their online reputation score was too low.

We are now seeing a world where reputation is created, maintained, and mediated by online channels. There are increasing tools for measuring reputation online, such as: Kred, Klout, and Peer Index. Bouncers are even reportedly using Facebook as an identification check for entry into nightspots according to the BBC.

SOCIAL WORKPLACES
Workplaces are changing too, partly in response to the digital revolution. Open plan offices with collaboration spaces and hot desks are enabled because of wifi and portable connected devices like laptops and tablets.

SOCIAL EDUCATION
Our schools and places of education are being swept along by this digital revolution as well. With schools handing out laptops to all students and wifi in schools, libraries, and on public transport our children inhabit an always connected landscape. A teen boy said to me recently of my complaints about the poor wifi in Sydney: “but it’s just in the air, it’s everywhere”. It is a good example of the world that our young people inhabit. They live in a world where the connectivity is just ‘in the air’ around them.

The physical changes in workplaces are being reflected in schools too. They are becoming focused on collaboration rather than rote learning of facts. Students are learning how to discover, assess, and synthesize information rather than memorize facts.

WTF?
When we put together the shifting physical nature of the workplace and schools together with the blurring boundaries between public- private-business-personal, and the always connected devices in the hands of individuals many opportunities and challenges arise.

It is an exciting time to live. We are living through a revolution. The real question is will we drive the revolution or let it just happen to us?

Share

The business of social business

Share

Social business is the new trend following on from Enterprise 2.0 – but underlying it is an essential conflict between two different styles of doing business.  The conflict is between businesses optimized for efficiency and those optimized for the creation of value.

Greg Satell encapsulates this conflict neatly in his 2010 post Creating Efficiency vs. Creating Value. He raises the notion of Kuhnian paradigm shifts and open innovation as a key part of creating value.

However, I suspect that Geoff Livingston is right when he argues that we are actually facing the post social media revolution era.

These two ideas – that we have entered the post social media revolution era and; that we need to create value as opposed to efficiency – frame the challenge of the next few years for business.

With the decline of the verities of the economic system that we’ve taken for granted over the past 30 years we are now faced with a new economic landscape within which to create and grow businesses.

In an environment of reduced consumer power, restricted credit and the prospect of sovereign crises, businesses need to find ways to harness creativity to generate revenue. This means we must diversify our efforts from a focus on efficiency and cost optimization. It means that we need to create mechanisms for creation and sharing of value.

We need to find new ways of doing business that do not merely follow the ideological constraints of what has gone before. Instead it is time to bring all of our commitment and determination to find new ways of doing things.

It will be insufficient to merely put the word ‘social’in front of our business activities. It will be necessary to find out how to embed social processes and technology within our businesses to meet the demands of these challenging times.

Share

Is 'social' the right term to use for everything online?

Share

There is a tendency to put the word social in front of many other words to day to describe some new use of technology. I remain uncomfortable with the way we have plonked the word ‘social’ in front of so many other things, for example; networking, media, computing, business, etc.

One reason for this discomfort is that everything that human beings do is social in some way. But that discomfort about the term aside we’ve got to call it something and that will do for the time being.

Going back to the origins of the word social we can see it comes from the Latin socius and meant companion or partner. That makes it an ideal word to use about collaborative acts or practices.

The trouble is that adding social in front of everything begins to devalue its descriptive utility. Instead it seems to become yet another piece of jargon as voiced by the shallow spruikers of the latest thing.  Using it in front of everything makes it into a joke.

I’m interested in how we keep things real. I think people need clear and simple communication. Meaningless jargon is not how we keep things real.

It makes me wonder though, is it the quality of the communicator and the truths that they speak that wipes away the feeling of jargon? Does it really all come down to trust?

Share

#c3t An Agreeable Swarm: Twitter, the Democratization of Media & Non-localized Proximity

Share

My co-author, Brian Ballsun-Stanton, presented this at the 5th ICCIT: 2010 International Conference on Computer Sciences and Convergence Information Technology in Seoul earlier today:

You can view a full text pdf version of this paper here
#c3t #ICCIT_10

Share

The starship, Enterprise: social business – opportunity and risk

Share

Navigating the tangled web of Enterprise 2.0 enabled platforms is indeed an opportunity “to explore strange new worlds” in business…

Enterprise 2.0 has been defined as “the application of Web 2.0 technologies to workers using network software within an organisation or business” (Dion Hinchliffe, 2006). There has been much discussion over recent years about Enterprise 2.0 and how it is revolutionising business. Yet, much of the promise remains unfulfilled, especially for large and complex organisations.

The general approach to Enterprise 2.0 has been much like the approach for earlier knowledge management and collaboration initiatives. It has been largely a mechanistic approach. Simply install the tools, train the people, do a bit of change management and leave them to it.

The challenge for organisations
A big challenge for larger organisations remains getting teams to work more effectively across team and organisational boundaries.

Recent discussions with people in Australian banks indicate it is clear that there is no lack of Enterprise 2.0 enabled technology. Rather, there is a great deal of it already in place. For example, one contact in a ‘Big Four’ Bank reported that his organisation has 11 “quite different intranets”. The complexity of navigating these is so high that they have implemented “a fully-federated search that spans them all” that provides “Google-like search with page ranking/indexing and the equivalent of sponsored/suggested links to help staff find critical information faster based on an identified keyword”.

Thus, the implementation of Enterprise 2.0 enabled platforms has resulted in issues of findability, usability and relevance of the information. The answer to these problems is not simply to acquire additional technology, instead it is important to take a step back from the technology and consider the business design. Using social business design approaches are important to enable effective use of collaboration technologies.

The social business solution
Since business is an inherently social process, it is worth exploring how we can redesign business operations and processes to leverage social tools more effectively. All too often, collaboration tools are implemented as yet another piece of technology without the support of social business design to ensure that return on the investment is achieved.

We have already seen the effectiveness of consumer oriented social tools, such as Facebook and Twitter, in breaking down barriers between people. And now social networking and social media is reaching into and across organisational boundaries. Businesses are under increasing pressure to incorporate these external social networks into internal collaboration systems (for example, through the application of social CRM tools). Social business design principles enable this same capability to assist people in working across organisational boundaries and engage each other more effectively for business purposes.

With social tools we have the opportunity to reshape our business architecture so that it better creates value between the participants. No longer do our people need to conform to the way the software needs them to act or behave. Instead, we can more easily tailor the Enterprise 2.0 systems to meet the needs of the people – staff and customers – that they are meant to serve.

Social tools like Facebook are re-educating our workforce and customers in the ways of online collaboration. Further, the success of online collaboration and socially calibrated activities can readily be monitored and evaluated. Social business design enables an evolutionary approach to business practices. It is not a set-and-forget approach like old style knowledge management; rather it is a plan-do-check-act cycle.

Risk of missed opportunities
Another key challenge for businesses in effective implementation of Enterprise 2.0 using the social business design approach is filtering the firehose of information coming into the organisation via so many sources. No longer do companies receive hard copies of media results, now they receive vast amounts of information from diverse sources. That information is about their operations, competitors, customers and industry trends. The opportunity for businesses is to create real-time listening posts that filter and categorise information.

If companies do not find a way to filter and analyse this firehose of information, then they risk missing opportunities. The answer is no longer to create expensive and complex data marts to manage this largely ephemeral information and to turn it into useful information. Enterprise 2.0 technology enables the creation of listening posts that filter and sift this firehose of information and can turn it into actionable insights.

It is possible to leverage the Enterprise 2.0 platforms that already exist within many large organisations. However, key to effectiveness is adopting a social business approach to re-imagining the business architecture. And the use of real-time social listening posts creates opportunities for businesses to reassess and recalibrate their activities based on real-time feedback.

Note: This piece was originally published in Online Banking Review on 21 October 2010

Share

Public discourse and private citizens – how free is freedom of speech? #groggate

Share

A recent disclosure that a Federal public servant has been blogging about matters political in his personal time has come to be referred amongst Australian journalists and bloggers alike as #groggate.

There has been much discussion about the rights and wrongs of this unmasking of a pseudonymous blogger who had the temerity to question the efficacy of the retinue of journalists who were following the election candidates around the country.

The debate about this continues to rage across the blogosphere and twittersphere; and in the publication that outed the blogger it seems they are using the issue as linkbait in fine blogger tradition.

But, as some wiser folks have realised, this matter is not about one public servant and his blog. It is about participation by private citizens in public discourse.

Up until recent times the opportunity for the average citizen to participate in public discourse was extremely limited. Instead participation by private citizens in public discourse was mediated by newspapers, magazines and television channels – the professional news media.

Because of this historical role as gatekeepers of access to public discourse the professional news media in Australia appear to believe that they have a privileged position to maintain. I believe that this feeling was what drove the unveiling of the author of the Grog’s Gamut blog.

It appears to have been a rearguard action by members of the professional news media who feel their gatekeeping role with respect to public discourse is being eroded. Funnily enough they are right. Their role as gatekeepers who set the agenda for public discourse is eroding under their very feet.

Instead we are seeing a fragmentation of the media landscape. Eternal verities such as guaranteed audiences are splintering and nobody really knows what will happen next. And into this shifting media landscape new voices – those of private citizens – are flourishing in niches. Not every new voice is excellent or expert. Not every new voice is skilled in the ways of fact-checking and other journalistic niceties. But some of these new voices are finding loyal and interested audiences. Grog’s Gamut was one such new voice.

But Grog’s blog was written under a pseudonym – it was not an anonymous blog as some have asserted. And the journalist and his publication could not resist the temptation to reveal the real name of the author.

That revelation means nothing to most people. But to this particular public servant it means scrutiny from mandarins at senior levels in the public service and the possibility that he might lose his job over his private opinions shared in his private time as part of his contribution to public discourse.

Further, it means that every other public servant will be watching what happens to the author of Grog’s Gamut. They will be watching to see if it is possible for a public servant to participate in public discourse in Australia. They will be watching to see if it is too dangerous for their jobs to put their heads above the parapet. They will be measuring the possibility of danger and assessing whether or not they should support Government 2.0 initiatives.

Other private citizens – those who work for major corporations – will also be watching what happens to Greg Jericho. Many will assess the risks of their participation in public discourse. Some might be discouraged from participation. But I hope that others will choose to embrace the new media tools and give voice to their opinions. I hope that others will share their opinions, ideas and information. I hope that they will continue to create niches and fragmentation of the traditional media.

We need new voices. We need to democratise participation in public discourse. Some of it will be ill-informed rubbish. But amongst the dross will be some gems and our society needs to find those gems.

Share

Time to drop the social and the media from our lexicon?

Share

I was reading the article If Every Company is a Media Company…Then Who Owns Social Media? after seeing a Twitter conversation between @DesWalsh and @Trib.

The article author, Don Bulmer, notes:

Social media is no longer just a destination or a set of tools and features. It has evolved into a very power extension and dimension of life and work…a new way of thinking about how business is done.

Asking the question (today) ‘who owns social media?’ in business is like asking the question ‘who owns email?’ Everyone does.

Seeing it put like this made me realise that what we’ve been talking about is really just communication.

Nobody actually owns communication in general. But what people and business entities do own is many of the communication channels and platforms. They also own certain kinds of protected content – like copyright, patents, trademarks, etc.

What we are seeing is a democratisation of corporate communication. In the past special departments of ‘communications’ were created to craft corporate communications.

The platforms and channels of communication were unwieldly and required specialist skills and training. Communications were split between internal and external. External communications were often outsourced to professionals like advertising agencies.

You don’t just let gifted amateurs loose on your multi-million dollar television communications program. After all they would not know how to buy the media space to get the advertisements run as and when required.

But the internet has changed all of that. Any person with broadband and a webcam can create video content and have it up on YouTube in a few minutes. The gap between the professionals and amateurs has suddenly narrowed.

Then I watched the Jeff Jarvis talk on Privacy, publicness & penises, where I picked up the insight that it might be better to think of the internet as ‘place’ rather than as ‘medium’.

If the internet is a place, and a place where humans congregate, then it is implicitly social. To keep nattering on about ‘social’ this that or the other is a bit mad. We don’t continually reference the social nature of places like bars, restaurants, football games.

So is it time to finally retire the words ‘social’ and ‘media’ from our lexicon and simply start thinking about the internet as a place?

Share