Politics – the 3rd Wave of Social Media?

Growing up, a recurring joke in our house was mum and dad’s inability to use our video recorder. I still remember the excitement of the top loading VHS arriving in the house and, as was the case with any new gadget, it was left to the kids to work it out. My brother took charge of the manual; I took care of the cabling and TV hook up. For the most part this arrangement worked fine. We had some great times with that machine. There were times however when we had forgotten to program the video and an urgent call home to get the football recorded was met with at best a recording of Brookside or at worst complete bemusement.

The same technology generational separation occurs regularly and is happening today with social media. Nowhere is this more apparent than in politics.

A few years back we saw the impact of social media on President Obama’s election victory but it would appear that social media for most established political parties remains an anathema. The success of Beppe Grillo’s Five Star Movement in this week’s Italian parliamentary elections off the back of social media campaign however shows what’s possible. Previously political movements and parties were formed by like-minded individuals, locally connected. Now local connections are no longer necessary. We can find like-minded individuals anywhere.

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A meteor shower in Russia is on our screens within minutes. I live in Ireland yet I talk face to face with colleagues in the U.S. on a daily basis. Horses from Romania are in my evening meal. We are connected as families, employees and businesses across countries and continents as never before.   While technology has made the world smaller, more connected it has also made our lives more susceptible to a wider spectrum of influences.

So it seems strange to me that while our personal and working lives are increasingly influenced by global factors our political structures remain organized on a national basis. Global warming and the financial meltdown show the powerlessness of national governments and nationally organized political parties. It’s only a matter of time before the establishment of continental and international political parties enabled by social media. In recent years we have seen tentative moves in this direction through the Green Party and the Occupy movement. Social media has been central to the national political changes in the Middle East.

The use of social media has experienced a number of waves, from its initial use in our personal lives to maintain bonds with distributed family and friends to its use in a business context to flatten organization hierarchies and remove business siloes.  Politics represents the third and potentially most disruptive wave with national boundaries proving to be irrelevant. Depending on your view point politics and social media is a match made in heaven or hell. Politics is about conversations and social networks take conversations to a hyper level.

It’s often said that social media has made customers more empowered than ever. Not only can a single customer refuse to do business with you they can also destroy your reputation in minutes through amplification of their issue on social media. This empowerment is extending to constituents as well.

The web and social media is borderless.  Politics will soon be borderless too.

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Social Marketing – You’ve been framed!

Like a You’ve Been Framed clip of a dancing granny whose had too much sherry and falls into the Christmas tree or watching your uncle trying a bit of hip hop at a family wedding this week’s attempt by UK supermarket chain Waitrose to “get social” was both hilarious and deeply worrying at the same time.

Waitrose this week challenged shoppers to “finish the sentence: ‘I shop at Waitrose because …’ #WaitroseReasons“. It backfired spectacularly as Twitter users piled in to ridicule the brand for its posh image.

The failure to understand social media is not restricted to Waitrose though.  Marketing departments globally have been guilty of failing to understand social media. Using for example Linkedin groups to promote your brand is like breaking wind in a tent and many organizations are abandoning their Facebook marketing strategies due to mixed results.

Social networks take conversations to a hyper level. The key word is conversations. Conversations are not about broadcasting marketing messages via social media channels nor are they about scanning or listening to social media networks for your company name. Conversations involve participants both talking and listening, not broadcasting and monitoring. Using social networks as a marketing channel is doomed to failure. As we have seen with Waitrose failure to understand social media can harm your brand and make you look completely out of touch.

Unsourcing – The Future of Customer Service?

Why bother outsourcing customer support when you can get your customers to do it for you. I’ve been watching the success of giffgaff with interest for a while. For those not familiar with giffgaff it is a UK mobile service provider where customers participate in the company’s business operations, specifically Marketing, Sales and Customer service.

As well as via the Giff Gaff community web page Facebook and Twitter provide additional channels for customer support. Support is provided socially, by fellow customers rather than using Giff Gaff employees.

This trend of setting up online communities to deliver peer to peer customer support has been dubbed “Unsourcing” and is not limited to Giff Gaff. The obvious reason for many organizations choosing to unsource is cost. Gartner estimates that using communities to solve support issues can reduce costs by up to 50%.

However viewing unsourcing as an opportunity to reduce customer support risks repetition of the same problems that have beset organizations who have chosen outsource their customer service to emerging economies, most importantly creating a disconnect between the organization and its customers. Simply viewing customer service as a cost center rather than for example an opportunity for differentiation and as a source of new product ideas is doomed to fail.

Unsourcing has a number of benefits. It allows Gen Y customers to interact with organizations via the social channels with which they are most familiar and to engage with fellow customers who share a common interest. In addition it creates a bond between an organization and its most important customers.

Unsourcing will become a key aspect of the customer service mix rather than a panacea. Organizations will still need to ensure that their customers aren’t left high and dry should they not get the right answer. If it’s a complaint they will need to ensure it is addressed as quickly as possible. They must monitor the channels to detect emerging trends, product problems or new product opportunities. In other words they will still need to tie the social or unsourced customer to business processes.

Social BPM – Reducing the Cultural Obstacles to Process Improvement

As BPM folk we are well aware that one of the major obstacles to BPM success is cultural. Most organizations are functionally orientated, organized on a vertical department basis; R&D, Manufacture, Customer Support, Marketing, IT, Finance, Sales and HR. Many business processes like warranty repair, complaint handling and order fulfillment however cut horizontally across many departments. As staff report to their individual department leaders naturally this is where their loyalty and commitment lies. Business process owners, if they exist, thus have the responsibility for the success of their process but none of the authority to ensure it is delivered.

A cultural as well as IT change is required if successful business process improvement is to be achieved. Organizations must begin to view the organization from a process rather than a departmental perspective.  Staff must perform the mental shift to realize that the department is there to support the process and understand that the business is in effect is the sum of its individual processes.

Outside of complete reorganization, businesses make regular attempts to facilitate this mental change. From goal setting to team building organizations attempt to forge stronger bonds between departments in order to improve process performance. In many cases despite initial good intentions to foster improved cross departmental bonds over time departments drift back to the norm.

This represents the big opportunity for Social BPM. Many commentators view Social BPM from the context of collaborative process design or the ability to trigger processes from social media events. While interesting use cases the major opportunity for Social BPM lies in its ability to support business process improvement initiatives by fostering closer alignment of the organization along process lines. Enhanced collaboration between departments facilitated by enterprise social networks help to blur the lines between departments, building trust and supporting the rapid sharing of ideas and problems. While organizations remain in their department structures enterprise social networks will help to improve interdepartmental collaboration ultimately improving process performance and the likelihood of process improvement success.

Social BPM thus represents an opportunity to eliminate one of the key barriers to success for many BPM projects, organization culture. Social BPM will allow organizations to deliver not only process change but mental change at the same time.

BPM and CRM – Inside the Social Train or Outside?

There’s a little known business proverb, actually it’s little known because I’ve just made it up. It says that in business it’s easier to urinate out of the window of a moving train than it is to urinate in. This is why businesses acquire or partner with other businesses rather than start up new lines of business or try and catch up themselves.

Social networks are throwing the rule book, of how businesses engage with customers and with themselves, out the window. BPM and CRM applications are right in the middle of this change with their responsibility for both customer and business processes. As a result many BPM and CRM applications are starting to add social capabilities, rebranding themselves as social BPM or social CRM platforms. But is adding social capabilities to CRM and BPM applications a sensible approach? Is this approach the business equivalent of trying to urinate into a speeding train?

In a previous post I suggested that successful enterprise social solutions will require a cultural change within an organisation. Successful social adoption must be enterprise led rather than by individual departments. Businesses must have a strategy for social adoption rather than acquire social capabilities via the back door through their BPM and CRM suites.

Not all employees will have access to the BPM or CRM application. Where is the value in a social BPM or social CRM application only accessible by a fraction of the organisation? If an enterprise social network is to be successful it needs to have enterprise wide reach, it must reach everyone the process can reach.

BPM and CRM applications should integrate with social applications rather than embed or mimic or social capabilities within their suites. BPM applications already orchestrate ECM, CRM and legacy applications so why would social applications be treated differently?  Why not integrate with the best of breed enterprise and public social networks instead of developing in house?

The social train has left the station, the best BPM and CRM applications can do is try and get on at the next station. Choo! Choo!

If You Build It They Won’t Come – Enterprise Social Networking

Following my earlier post “Broken Social Scene – Social BPM and Social CRM” two bits of “social” news caught my eye this week. First of all this post by Tammy Erikson in the Harvard Business Review discusses the difficulties business leaders are having realizing the benefits of adopting social technologies within their organizations.

The second is the news that a number of retailers are shutting their storefronts on Facebook due to a lack of interest.

The social media stampede is on but it appears many organisations are getting trampled because of a failure to understand what social really is. So what is social?

  1. Social is about conversations, taken to a hyper level. The vast majority of social conversations are public and on a one to many level. Most organizations don’t have the critical mass to support a vibrant internal social network.
  2. Social isn’t about the applications. Social is a human trait. It’s the human need to converse and engage with one another on topics of common interest. Social Media applications merely amplify or extend the reach of these conversations. No matter how many social applications you deploy within the organization they’ll wither unless there is something of common interest to discuss.
  3. Social networks grow organically. You aren’t mandated to join Twitter, LinkedIn or Facebook. As an individual you make the personal decision to engage with others. This presents a problem for organisations deploying enterprise social applications or adding social to CRM or BPM suites. You can’t tell your employees to “become social”.
  4. Social engagement is peer to peer. This contrasts with the hierarchical structure within organisations which again presents problems for enterprise social or CRM and BPM applications.  How social can you become if you know your boss is monitoring you?

In common with process improvement activities successful enterprise social solutions will require cultural change and a willingness at the organization level to do things differently. Without cultural change if you build it they won’t come.

Broken Social Scene – Social BPM and Social CRM

Just like when Homer designed a new car for his brother that included shag carpeting, three horns and bubble domes, BPM and CRM applications are in danger of trying to become all things to all men.

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