Social networks maturing fast
Twitter and Facebook top of mind: The nascent power of weak ties and small touches
What a difference a year makes! The Social Networking Conference debuted several years ago as a forum for social networking sites and vendors, with enterprise clients few and far between. Miami 2009 took place January 22-23, 2009 at the Miami Beach Convention Center, and it was a veritable enterprise 2.0 conference. Many of the presenters hailed from enterprise-focused high technology vendors, but they spoke as social networking practitioners. The good practices they shared reflected the maturation of social networks. Don’t get me wrong, we are still in early days, but it was obvious to see that social networks would be completely mainstream this year. Enterprise-focused vendors provided additional evidence by explaining some of the new social network features in their offerings.
Social Networking Watch’s Mark Brooks gave an overview of key trends, while jetBlue’s Morgan Johnston and IBM’s Adam Christensen drove home the message that companies could be rewarded for trusting their customers in social networks. Ford’s Scott Monty, Sun’s Lou Ordorica and Microsoft’s Marty Collins shared how they were using social networking to evolve their companies by opening up to customers and adopting P2P, two-way communications.Yammer’s David Schwartz and Faceforce’s Clara Shih presented two tech innovators that promised significant disruptive potential. SAP’s Steve Mann, Opera’s Thomas Ford and Dow Jones’ Tom Aley all shared fascinating social networking elements of their portfolios, which were all enterprise-focused. Awareness Networks’ John Bruce was on hand to share good practices and pitfalls. I presented the only industry-focused preso, focused on how social networks were beginning to disrupt the U.S. healthcare industry. I also gave the pre-conference workshop, Successful Social Networking Projects in the Enterprise.
Between my workshop and conference track, I scribbled enough notes to share the high points of many of the tracks, which I’ll summarize before offering Analysis and Conclusions. The reportage follows this convention: the summaries are from my notes of speakers’ remarks, and [when a sentence is bracketed], it is a comment. Click on logos for abstracts of the tracks.
Microsoft’s “Anytime, Anywhere” long-term strategy
Marty Collins recapped Microsoft’s use of Twitter and Facebook to support the Windows 7 release.
- Windows 7 Facebook Page in September 2008; there were already 30 user-generated pages, and we had to figure out what to do about them. We decided to let them be. Actually, there are also over 500 “Windows 7″ Groups as well. [I believe that the Facebook Page to which Marty referred was this one, but it's all Windows, not just Windows 7. This makes sense (why balkanize the different versions?), but the support for 7 may be less than the number of fans indicates (79,000 fans).]
- We launched our own page, and we have 80,000 fans worldwide as of today, out of one billion total users.
- It’s hard to measure success. Is 80,000 users out of one billion good? Bad? We don’t know. P&G had 3,000 viewers of a recent video on YouTube.
- We launched a Windows 7 Twitter stream in 2009. Before that, I read what people were saying but didn’t know what to add to the conversation, so I just listened.
- We credit the Windows 7 Twitter stream with driving significant downloads; demand was so strong, it took down some of the infrastructure.
- Twitter also helped us to manage the download process because it gave us real-time feedback and allowed us to correct problems quickly.
- On being a part of “the conversation”: know where your people are and listen. For us, that meant Answers.Yahoo.
- On changing sentiment: To measure customers’ sentiment about Microsoft and Windows, we used TruCast, which segments people into “red” very negative, “gray” neutral and “green” positive. We focused on changing gray people to green rather than focusing on red people, who were probably very difficult to change.
- It took us six months to build the business case to use social media.
Opera: Preparing social networks for a cross-device consumer
- Consumers are proving that they are “cross-device,” and the Web unifies experience. During the “connected day,” consumers use their computer at home, their mobile phones on the go, numerous computers at work and gaming consoles at night, just to name a few.
- The iPhone was a phenomenal breakthrough because it brought the Web to the phone in a usable way. It has served to marginalize WAP, which most consumers found to be a largely unrewarding experience.
- The growth of the “mobile web” is exploding; Indonesia, for example, has virtually no WAP offering because phones can deal with the “real” Web well enough (as the iPhone does).
- Opera Mini is a phone operating system and network solution that shrinks the Web to make it display well on mobile phones. Because Web content goes through Opera servers that “shrink” it for the Mini browser, it enables Opera to track content consumption very accurately. Siting impressive numbers from Opera’s State of the Mobile Web report, he explained that (telecoms) operators worldwide were renewing their efforts to hasten mobile Web adoption among consumers: their revenue from voice and SMS (text) services are leveling off. He implied that the device, thanks to iPhone innovation and leadership, is no longer the bottleneck it was.
- Widgets and the home screen remain top battlegrounds for influence among operators and content providers. This is true on phones and digital set-top boxes.
Social Networking Watch: 2008 year in review
- Social networking continues its explosive growth in the U.S. MySpace and Facebook account for 75% of total U.S. (either members or data).
- The iPhone represents a new paradigm because it makes the Web accessible and usable. MySpace and Facebook are aggressively doing deck deals with telecoms operators to increase stickiness.
- LinkedIn is a hero because its revenue model is beyond advertising, so it is blazing the trail, showing that non-advertising can work. Another standout is Cyworld in South Korea.
- Mark contrasted Facebook with Friendster and MySpace. Facebook’s growth has been slow and steady, and it has largely avoided a Friendster-style flameout (didn’t have the infrastructure to deal with the growth and was subsequently overtaken in the U.S. by MySpace and others). But Mark presented another conclusion: since Facebook was founded at Harvard University and expanded initially only to other universities, the ties of its members are stronger overall than general sites MySpace and Friendster.
- Japan is far ahead on the adoption curve; there, social networking is banal because older people have joined in droves; it’s not cool any more. The curiosity factor is largely gone. He implied that markets elsewhere would experience a similar backlash.
- Facebook is experimenting with the (Google) AdWords model.
IBM: Enterprise social networking for Fortune 100 companies
Adam Christensen presented from the point of view of IBM as an enterprise user of social networking, rather than their role as a vendor of enterprise 2.0 solutions. He also emphasized that he did not consider himself a social networking expert.
- Always remember that (corporate) culture and business model trump any new thing. IBM is a diverse culture of experts (150 languages) that is nonetheless quite risk averse.
- Employees are the company, so get people to participate and create trust, which will increase learning.
- In 2003, IBM introduced wikis and blogs to all employees. India, China and Japan had the highest usage, and today the U.S. employee participation is about half of Asia.
- Values Jam 2003 was another milestone. It was conceived as an online brainstorming session over a period of 72 hours. IBM invited employees to share ideas. however, the unexpected happened. Over the first 8 hours, people started by unpacking their disappointment in IBM, and the tone was largely negative. Executives made the decision to turn it off, but somehow it didn’t happen. Then the tone turned, and people started coming out with more positive ideas, which overwhelmed the initial negativity. IBM learned to trust employees. By the way, I heard from Sam Palmisano earlier that this included spouses, too.
- IBM’s employees wrote the company’s Social Computing Guidelines, and it was blessed by Legal. It was a three-week wiki project, not a top-down effort.
- IBM began inside the enterprise and is now taking the techniques outside enterprise walls. Adam emphasized the need to trust and experiment.
- Interesting global collaboration story: IBM wanted to determine social networks’ impact on productivity, so it mandated about five cross-border teams (U.S., EMEA, India, etc.) to use Beehive and other social networking tools when they first were engaged for their projects. IBM knows that it takes this type of team about 17 weeks to attain optimal productivity (this served as the control group). Similar teams in the same geo require four-five weeks. The teams using Beehive attained the same level of productivity in about ten weeks. Even more important, they used Beehive for things that traditional “bosses” would deem trivial, like sharing pictures of their families and personal lives, things they liked to do.
- IBM followed up its Values Jam initiative with several Innovation Jams to which the public is invited. Employees are increasingly comfortable with using social networks in cross-boundary situations, and IBM wants to nurture this (see 2008 CEO Study and 2008 Human Capital Study). IBM has 300,000 employees and alumni on LinkedIn.
- Adam answered my question about the cross-border Beehive study: the sharing of personal information enabled teams to get closer personally, trust each other and work together better.
- View his deck here.
Ford: How social networking has changed the auto industry
- Ford is trying to differentiate itself from GM by not asking for assistance and by using Twitter. Scott’s “counterpart” at GM hates Twitter, but Scott thinks it can help make Ford more personal and relevant. Calling the company a “faceless brand,” he is leading a movement to activate employees, who live in a culture of fear.
- Ford has also been focused on listening and learning; he sees a backlash against “hyper-friending” because it reflects superficial relationships.
- Ford is a Microsoft shop, and they are using Sharepoint for many projects. Scott’s role is often to heat up communities and hand them off to brands. The main Ford Facebook Page was started by a fan, who subsequently gave Ford admin rights.
- An emerging good practice is aggregating all the company’s social media activity [links or widgets displayed on a prominent Web page such as the home page].
- A recent win was an impromptu Twitter interview with Ford CEO Alan R. Mulally, who is a real people person. Scott interviewed him and tweeted the results. He also had the Ford team live tweeting at Daytona. Another initiative has been the “Fiesta Movement,” in which the team has been engaging people with Ford’s first global platform car through a contest in which winners bet to drive Fiestas for six months and blog about the experience. This reminds me of The Internet Car in 1999!
- Scott closed with a video showing Ford Sync in which the company partnered with Microsoft. Sync functionality is an in-car concierge that reads emails, manages calendars and integrates GPS. Scott said that the scenario was only “a couple years away.”
SAP: Social networking: the back-office & SAP
Steve Mann explained how social media was a key part of SAP’s attempt to broaden its appeal beyond the large enterprise software market. Generally, most enterprise software vendors are targeting the SMB/SME (small/medium business/enterprise) market because it shows growth where the global enterprise market is growing much more slowly. SAP is integrating social network data with CRM.
- Conversations are not organized any longer, they self-organize. Since they are not controlled, a company must seek to participate.
- Social networking is a house of cards, delicate and easy to build, and it amplifies customer experience and empowers customers to buy. Customers are in control.
- We are looking to integrate social media into our core processes; humans play an integral role in the concept of brands. It’s not easy to be a part of the conversation [if you're an enterprise like SAP].
- We are integrating Web 2.0 into our core processes. Your Twitter inbox is a real-time sentiment indicator that we are integrating it into our CRM and BI software. CRM includes sentiment analysis and Folksonomic tagging. Representatives can also communicate with customers on Twitter via SAP CRM. Sentiment shows up in the BI software, and we compare it also to service calls that are logged by the CRM system. Push out special offers in response to tweets. Mash up your brand identity with your Twitter identity.
- Customers have a different role now; a company has to earn the right to talk with them. The SAP Community Network is like open source because the roles and interaction between the community and SAP is very fluid and collaborative. We are pursuing co-innovation, and not only on products. We ask their advice on everything, including service and design.
- LinkedIn is the premier business network, and we want to use their technology on SAP, we want to leverage the LinkedIn community. [SAP has literally invested in LinkedIn]
- SAP is engaged in a major repositioning task, so social media is of strategic importance.
Dow Jones: Social networking & business IT
- Quoting CSO Insights, Tom revealed that the prevalent failure point of [B2B] deals is that the prospect had a pre-existing relationship with a competitor.
- Deloitte used to average 20,000 emails per day from members who wanted to know “if anybody knew anybody” in prospect companies.
- Dow Jones’ E-Class Relationship Mapping maps the relationships between two companies, enabling executives to understand composite “social” graphs. Dow Jones’ crawlers also pick up public information about executives, and they invoke other DJ sources and purchased data to provide a more complete picture of the selling environment.
- Using publicly available information [including public LinkedIn profiles], DJ can also provide competitors’ relationships with the prospect. They produce “threat maps.”
Yammer: New applications for business social networking
- There is a shift to “the cloud” that is irreversible [SaaS, software as a service].
- According to Forrester, more than one half of “social networking revenue” will be enterprise expenditures. A key driver is that most digital information is siloed and inaccessible, losing much of its value. Examples are email, SMS, voicemail and instant messages. [he did not mean that they were absolutely inaccessible, but practically so because they prevent many-to-many use]
- The Web 2.0 pub/sub [publish subscribe] model is changing everything; users have granular control over what they receive and when [and everything lives in the cloud]. Web 2.0 applications are relatively easy to build and to use; there’s no learning curve. [I would temper that by saying the learning is more about why to use than how to use]
- Web 2.0 is shifting the IT approach and the employment approach.
- Yammer’s go-to-market strategy is the freemium model in which a free introductory version is available and upgrades cost. What’s interesting is that, like Facebook began with .edu emails only, Yammer users must have company emails to use the service. This enables the interesting scenario in which several dozen employees can collaborate for months using Yammer without paying for it, but the pressure increases over time as people get excited and use spreads. Only a company may “claim” its site and access advanced features, but anyone with a company email can start it.
- Imagine Twitter with no character limit, tagging, threaded conversations, social bookmarking and the ability to attach files. Yammer carries the “update” concept further in that people create a “conversation,” but they can also share documents. Everything in transit is encrypted; Yammer aims to be an enterprise solution, they use the “Salesforce.com security process.”
- Yammer gives companies the ability to have a “status” of a project or a team.
- Yammer makes no claim to the data; if a company subscribes and later cancels, it can take the data.
- Yammer will introduce other functionality to enable cross-boundary engagement teams to use it.
Faceforce: Sales and marketing 2.0: Winning in the Facebook Era
Clara Shih shared some fascinating points from her book, The Facebook Era, which describes social networks’ transformational potential using Facebook as example. Clara’s session was easily the most profound of the conference sessions I attended, and I’ll have numerous comments in Analysis and Conclusions.
- Facebook is far more than a sexy social networking site. Businessweek designated it as one of the “World’s Most Influential Companies” while Forrester’s CRM report calls social technology “most important.”
- The main theme of Clara’s remarks was the “power of weak ties”: it is becoming [to executives] socially acceptable in Facebook to be connected to people that you barely know or have never met. Describing a hypothetical person, she joked, “Oh, he’s a Facebook friend.” [This development is rich in opportunity, which I'll explain in more detail below.]
- Without explaining in these terms, Clara described a world of very low transaction costs that has little downside. When you are friends on Facebook, it’s easier to ask a favor and harder for people to turn you down. This has created a new class of relationships and the “casual communication mode.” It is socially acceptable [I would say among certain demographics; others are still getting used to it.]
- Email is faceless. Facebook is bi-directional, where email is more one-way. It is easy to “stay in touch” with Facebook friends.
- Facebook applies the social graph to selling. Customer references are “friends.” Trust is transitive: if Clara is my friend and you are also my friend, you trust Clara because you trust me.
- It is no longer sufficient to be “business relevant” when you are competing for a deal. You must increasingly know the decision makers’ friends and get a personal reference.
- Facebook enables on-the-fly hyper-targeting as Clara demonstrated. In Facebook, advertisers can search by ZIP code, gender, keywords, age, education level, interests, workplace, relationship type (single, married, engaged, married). Facebook gives you, in real time, how many people your choices screen out. You do this on a laptop in ten minutes. Current legacy processes can produce a similar result, but at a much higher costs in funds and time.
- Facebook enables a new level of “persona marketing” in which [a generic] product is “given” a personality to make it more appealing. She sited Jack in the Box for its campaign.
- On “the cloud”: each part of the cloud (Internet) has its own services [keep in mind she works at Salesforce.com, this is where they live]. Salesforce.com has forged the first formal partnership with Facebook, the leading platform for the social graph. Salesforce to Salesforce enables two Salesforce.com clients to share their data. Of course, this ostensibly means Faceforce data ,^y
My presentation: How social networks are growing in healthcare
My presentation was the only industry-focused at the conference. It showed how social networks were acting to transform various parts of healthcare, as the Obama campaign (suddenly) transformed U.S. elections. Although it was a U.S.-focused presentation, many of the principles are relevant to healthcare globally. After describing the adoption drivers (the crisis), I presented eight case studies. For another look, listen to my radio interview.
- Several drivers are finally causing the healthcare transformation pot to boil: the U.S. spends far more on healthcare than other industrial nations, yet its quality of care is inferior. U.S. patients get the right healthcare 50% of the time. Healthcare administration accounts for $906 billion, 6.6% of U.S. GDP. It adds no value to quality; it’s the cost of doing business. It’s a balkanized environment in which all players are trying to survive by pushing costs on each other. Technology is creating a global pool of providers; healthcare used to be hyperlocal.
- The U.S. has a looming financial crisis; most economists predict the bankruptcy of Medicare and Social Security by 2050. Healthcare is a big part of the problem and the solution.
- CDC uses numerous social media to enable citizens to educate and communicate with each other via podcasts, games, video and blogs; their good practices are starting small and investing in several areas.
- Pfizer was an enterprise 2.0 case that showed that the barrier to adopting social technologies is extremely low; Pfizer’s wiki became known as “Pfizerpedia” and went global quickly. It began when Christopher Bouton installed Mediawiki on an old machine under someone’s desk, and it spread virally.
- Mayo Clinic was an early adopter of Facebook Pages. Its patients, their families, their prospects (who are evaluating Mayo Clinic for care) and their employees share reflections on their experience and insights into healthcare on the page’s wall. This resonates with Mayo’s marketing approach, which is experience-driven.
- MedCommons uses Amazon Web Services and heavy duty encryption to give patients a “Health URL,” which they give to providers, family and other trusted people to access all the health records they they have uploaded there. Moreover, the company has a Facebook application that enables trusted people to collaborate and access the person’s health information. This is critical because, from a family and care perspective, healthcare is a team sport, and Facebook enables cross-boundary collaboration. I presented Facebook as a platform.
- Change:Healthcare enables people to upload their EOBs (Explanation of Benefits) to the website, so the company quickly gains high-quality information on healthcare costs. This enables patients to log in and get high-reliability information about healthcare costs, by procedure, geography, provider and others. Patients can also comment on providers. It provides an average of 25% savings on procedures.
- The Hershey Center for Applied Research is a life sciences incubator that uses its custom social network as a key element of its value proposition. Not only are venture capitalists, researchers at nearby research institutions, government and industry accessible, but HCAR makes “the world” accessible to start-up companies, and it explicitly tries to leverage its social network to shrink clients’ business cycles.
- PatientsLikeMe is a public website in which terminally ill patients share extensive health information about themselves in order to prolong the lives of others with the same disease. The site adds value by asking patients to report information in such a way that it can compile statistics that are useful by other patients to increase quantity and quality of life.
- Sermo is a physician community in which M.D.s and D.O.s ask advice of each other on any aspect of treating patients. Sermo verifies the credentials of members, who are anonymous on the site, which removes the barrier that doctors would otherwise have in revealing their uncertainty about some aspect of care. Doctors vet each others’ advice, too.
- What is impressive to me—and completely unsurprising in retrospect—is the breadth of applicability of social networks on healthcare and any human endeavor.
- See my deck here.
Awareness Networks: Building online communities for enterprise businesses
- Not having a clear rationale for the initiative.
- Measuring the wrong things.
- Not recognizing that traditional marketing problems persist, such as not understanding the customer [I think what he meant was that social networks don't take away underlying marketing issues, as if by magic ,^)].
- Overreaching; make sure to have a cohesive effort [and avoid scope creep].
- Collect and utilize meaningful data.
- Realize that “agencies just don’t get it” so avoid depending on them too much.
- You need a “sustained release” concept: success won’t come overnight, and you need to invest over a period of time; a good tactic is to withhold the software’s bells and whistles; add them over time to maintain interest.
- Adapt your measures; you will be surprised [be open minded].
- Be prepared to participate; when you launch a community, you need to be there. [I think he meant that you have to be the host and conjure conversation that's meaningful to the people you care about].
- Sony is a current client that pushed back on the sustained release [many clients want to throw everything at customers from the start to wow them].
- A good tactic is to launch communities via invitation-only; this enables the most excited participants to self-select and seed content before you invite everybody.
JetBlue: Social networking and the skies: How airlines aim to gain
- An inflection point for the company was February 14, 2007, when a major ice storm snarled the U.S. airline schedules for several days. CEO David Neeleman said that it was “defining moment in the company’s history. Notably, it forced the company to cancel flights, which the company had had a policy against [One of its customer promises is that flights would not be cancelled]. This challenged the company’s relationship with customers, many of whom were “raving fans.” [In the days following the crisis, customers voiced their disgruntlement; there were many stories and blog posts because of jetBlue's unusually good relationship with customers]
- In response, jetBlue management made several changes to the airline’s policies within days. They published a Customer Bill of Rights. Neeleman went on YouTube to apologize and explain what had happened and what they were doing about it. Customers could sense the authenticity as Neeleman spoke. [He comes across as very natural and makes no excuses]
- Morgan pointed out that their response was “very fast” in airline standards, but they realized that it was much too slow for customers. They needed to do something. They decided to embrace social media.
- Morgan focuses on Twitter because it enables them to monitor what’s happening, to react and communicate quickly, to inform and to humanize. Passengers and customers know what is happening and how to contact jetBlue [http://twitter.com/jetblue]; they can make infrastructure adjustments and give customers real-time status. Customers tweet about everything, they make adjustments and tell people [who also talk to each other in line, in the terminal, etc.]
- On the other side, customers are already there and voice their opinions even before they ask questions. For example, a customer traveling from New Orleans to JFK didn’t get her bag right away. She was there for a photo shoot and told the airline that they had to buy her a new wardrobe. She tweeted her experience and, within 20 minutes, at least 10,000 people knew about it. Of course, her bag arrived ten minutes later. Morgan’s takeaway: it was there to begin with; jetBlue needs to react more quickly.
- Reacting quickly is not easy, but making policy changes is more difficult; an example of this is the policy for bicycles (everyone pays $50 per bike). When a customer showed up with a fold-up bike with a case that looked like a suitcase, he complained loudly (it’s a suitcase). Within twelve hours, jetBlue changed its bicycle policy: “If it acts like a bag, it’s a bag and won’t be charged extra.” ,^) . After 14 hours, the story showed up on The Consumerist, an empowerment blog.
- Morgan offered these good practices: watch and listen to customers and competitors; define your audience and your voice; plan for the hard questions; get and stay involved; this is a 24/7 proposition; ask for feedback constantly; use Tweetdeck.
- Monitor every blog, but decide which ones to respond to. Someone tried to resolve a jetBlue customer service problem on LinkedIn by approaching an employee.
Sun Microsystems: Social media strategies
Lou Ordorica pinch-hitted for colleague Sumaya Kazi, the owner of Sun’s Facebook Fridays and podcasting initiatives. She couldn’t make it at the last minute. He shared Sun Microsystems’ experiences with social networks.
- Sun has succeeded in engaging customers to write and maintain documentation for its Communication Suite; they no longer need the technical writing team that used to do it. [I'll wager that customers like this much better because they can get involved and contribute]
- Sun launched Facebook Fridays in which it encouraged employees to connect and have fun. It began as a Sun employee-only venture but today is public, and Sun credits it with facilitating work relationships with employees and alliance partners; notably, it has helped Sun morph beyond its traditional email culture.
- Socially Speaking is a podcasted radio show in which Sun invites social media luminaries to share their visions with users. Sun credits it with burnishing its brand.
- Blogs at Sun are near pervasive. One quarter of all Sun employees blog, and clients love it because Sun is easier to engage. It also enables Sun to be much more responsive. Case in point: where [software] fixes used to require weeks or days, now they’re virtually real-time. [Lou didn't say this, but I'll wager that Sun doesn't have to touch the fixes a large percentage of the time because clients help each other directly]. It’s also great because it puts Sun engineers in direct contact with clients, [which helps across the entire life cycle]. In addition, it yields public client accolades and client reviews, which drive new business.
- Sun also uses social media to keep track of competitors like Dell. They just follow them on Twitter [and gain insights into their interactions with clients and what matters].
- Lou also distilled Sun’s experience into some “social media good practices,” which I’ve abbreviated here: Memes spread in hours if not minutes, so it’s 24/7; success isn’t about tools [it's about people]; be honest and respect your limits; join conversations that matter and tag influencers and convos that count; don’t mistake thought leaders for the pack; when you start a social initiative, be honest with yourself and ask whether you’re willing to cede control and take risks; make sure you have an executive sponsor and have a long-term commitment. Some tactical metrics to consider: reduced incidental support costs, increased page rank, increased member numbers.
- See his deck here.
- In 2007, social networking was a child, and now it has clearly reached early adolescence. During 2008, it began to prove its relevance among early enterprise adopters, and these presentations showed signs of emerging good practices. Similarly, enterprise vendors such as Dow Jones and SAP are fielding some interesting solutions that reflect their understanding of social networking’s relevance to B2B relationships and business.
- Presenters’ stories showed that enterprise social networking’s battlefield promotion (jetBlue, Ford) as well as a more studied yet still courageous approach (IBM, Sun, Microsoft).
- Companies showed that they were willing to use disruptive technology strategically and adopt aggressively when they don’t perceive good alternatives. JetBlue was shaken to the core during the 2007 Valentine’s Day fiasco in which it was far more affected than competitors. A key part of its brand promise was deeply questioned, and it put social networks on the front lines of reestablishing its trust with customers. Ford’s existential crisis may be less dramatic, but it, like U.S. competitors, is worried about its survival and its relationships with customers.
- IBM has been on a new trajectory since its own near-death experience during the 1990s. It is unequivocally a service business, and it knows that service means people. I have been constantly impressed by its vision and thought leadership. Adam’s account of the Values Jam reflects a prevailing challenge at traditional companies: a paternalistic culture in which employees are regarded as dependent beings who cannot be trusted. As IBM learned, when people use social networks to start talking in a highly visible way, they are going to talk about the entire spectrum of experience. Negative comments are the mouse, the corporation the elephant. In the end, people will do what makes sense. The faster companies learn to trust their employees, the better off they will be.
- Sun and Microsoft are in the process of remaking themselves, and they have enlisted social networks. Sun has always been a scrappy company, and it’s been struggling mightily to find its way since playing an instigator role in Web 1.0 and being trounced during the 1.0 meltdown. Its struggle is causing it to adopt social networks more aggressively, which will be to its advantage because its customer relationships will strengthen. Microsoft may have a tougher challenge: it is slowly losing relevance, and it has no real crisis to force change more quickly. Its adoption of social networks seemed to lag Sun’s and IBM’s as characterized by the presentations here, but I give Marty high marks for her candor.
- Enterprise vendors SAP and Dow Jones are striving to increase their relevance with social networks. SAP, like all vendors, cannot maintain its stock price by betting on the (large) enterprise client. Its brand is synonymous with large corporate projects, and small business is where the growth is. Like Sun, it is learning how to collaborate with customers in an “open source-like” way, which bodes well. Very interesting, its initiative to mash up social networking “sentiment” with CRM and BI (business intelligence). Similarly, Tom of Dow Jones claimed that its Business and Relationship Intelligence offerings were like LinkedIn except much more complete and sophisticated. I can’t verify that, but his preso was interesting because it clearly showed what business social networks will increasingly look like: invoking relevant information and integrating it with personally produced information, along with SNA tools.
- Social networking-specific vendors added considerably to the discussion. John of Awareness Networks contributed good practices and represented the specialist white label vendor category. Yammer is conceived as “Twitter for the enterprise,” which is simple enough, but I think its go to market is just as innovative. By giving free memberships to anyone with a company email, it enables employees to adopt and spread the word very easily. Its cost is very low, too, $1/employee/month.
- Lest we forget infrastructure, Thomas of Opera Software reminded us that social network adoption was very strong in mobile, which is how most of the world accesses the Internet.
- Transformation was on tap, too, in CSRA’s depiction of healthcare disruption and Faceforce’s vision for the Facebook Era. Clara made a convincing case that Facebook was enabling a new “class” of relationship, the “Facebook friend.” It’s fluffy, not stuffy ,^). Easy to ask, hard to say no. By suspending judgment, I can see tremendous potential. Think about it. We all have hundreds of people that represent exceedingly weak ties, people we run into occasionally at the grocer, the lobby of the building, neighbors who live several floors away, etc. These relationships are not actionable normally, but with Facebook, they can be. The question is not, “Why should I help this person?” Rather, it is, “Why not?”
- Twitter was absent at #snc2009; it didn’t have to show because it was everywhere. As I prophesied in 2009 Predictions.. for Web 2.0 and Social Networks, microblogging is exploding and will fully penetrate the Early Majority in 2009. The executives who underestimate its power show that they don’t perceive the potential of small, specific communications. Tweets are like gestures: one of them may seem idiotic, but when you see many at different times, you gain a unique insight into a person precisely because each is in relative isolation. Similarly, Facebook friends receive short shrift because they are part of a new model. Pregnant with potential.
- Trust was also an elephant in the room. Presenters showed that companies were at different stages of trusting their customers and employees to be the brand. Word of mouth has always been the most powerful marketing, but it’s been analog and invisible until it became big and bad during Web 2.0. I admire jetBlue for trusting its customers, admitting its mistakes and mobilizing quickly. Similarly, IBM for not turning off ValuesJam. It would’ve been fun to have been a fly on the wall then. Just imagine the irony if they had turned it off! Values. And there was no threat, except to the existing way of doing business. Marketers need to trust their customers in a similar way. Yes, negative things will be said, but if the company has integrity, negative sentiment will draw out positive.
- Let’s get over our fear of “social.” Many people have voiced discomfort with using the term “social” networking because they feel that it’s not businesslike enough. That’s pure rubbish, as Adam’s story about global engagement teams showed. How much more businesslike can one get than developing trusted relationships? People buy from people and companies they trust. By sharing family pictures and pastimes, people on the IBM engagement teams became closer, so they could take the risk of communicating more openly, which resulted in higher productivity. In most countries around the world, business is only done after extensive social activities.
- During Steve’s and Clara’s talks, I hatched an idea: someone needs to develop a framework to measure and classify “friend” types and levels. SNA already gets part of the way there, but it would be interesting to see it incorporated into the tools based on real-time algorithmic analysis of certain types of touches (transactions). A social network could add huge value by classifying “friends” far more specifically, given a goal.
- Facebook enables a new level of “persona marketing” in which generic products are “given” personalities to make them more appealing. Of course, this is the bread and butter of what marketing firms do; it’s a rather plumb assignment because it carries high value (the product, often CPG, has little on its own). The difference here is that people and relationships become the persona, and marketers have to trust them. Of course, the rub is, customers ultimately reflect the product’s true value: if the company and the product are truly mediocre, don’t expect customers to ford the river for you.
- LinkedIn is largely misunderstood, even among these conference attendees, and it was mentioned far less often than Twitter or Facebook, even though it is equally as transformational. Several speakers referenced it as an “online address book” that was indistinguishable from Plaxo. LinkedIn has its work cut out for it, as founder Reid Hoffman recently acknowledged: “Many (potential members) do not know how LI can help them, week after week.” In many ways, LinkedIn is focusing on one of the toughest demographics: executives outside the Valley are not usually open the experimentation with disruptive innovation that’s needed in the early market to precipitate early success stories and awareness.
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Christopher S. Rollyson is a partner in Socialmedia.biz and managing director of CSRA, a management consultancy that advises enterprises and startups on social business strategy and execution. Contact Christopher by email, follow him on Twitter and Google Plus or leave a comment below.