Essential Tools for the Social Leader

This continues to crop up in conversation with my colleagues and customers. What are the essential tools for leading in a networked and social era. Here are my top 5.

  1. Evernote. Strictly speaking, not really a social tool. However, those that are living in the cloud (living the vida nuba) need a note taker that is versatile and available on any device that they have to hand. Evernote does this and much more. If you are not using it you are missing out. Check out Evernote Hello too.
  2. Buffer. If you have something you want to say to a community that spans the globe and that have busy twitter streams themselves then you might need to say it late at night or early in the morning. You might even need to say it twice. This needs a tool that manages your posting to a timetable so that your sharing can be sometimes scheduled and sometimes impromptu.
  3. Klout. Err, I’m sorry. I care about my social influence. Not obsessively you understand. I just want to understand if what I am sharing is working. One way of knowing if you are contributing something positive to the global conversation is to check what others are doing with your Tweets, Updates and Posts. That’s what Klout does … and there are Klout Perks too.
  4. Unfollow. If you follow me and we share interests, I follow you back. Unless you spam me, we will spend a long time sharing. I expect the same in return. Nothing anyone has to say is that important that they can’t listen from time to time. Unfollow will highlight all those one way conversationalists so that I can unfollow them. You are not Brian Solis, after all. Unless you are.
  5. Linked In and Twitter Apps. Yes, I know that this is two really but what I mean is native apps. Whilst I use aggregators  the native apps keep getting better so I use them frequently for new insights into how they can be used to  nourish my network.

That’s my list. My essentials. There are more of course including pocket (you really need this!), bitly, feedly and flipboard but I really could not function without these any more. If you are part of the connected generation you will have a similar list too and no doubt we some in common.

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Gamification and Gamified Business Intelligence

Gamified

I have become somewhat preoccupied with gamification of late. After the usual reading and research concluded with some structured study with the Wharton School through the excellent Coursera program, it became apparent that it was less of a diversion than I first thought. Indeed, there is considerable overlap between the aims of gamification and the aims of Business Intelligence.

To understand why, let’s start with the  definition of gamification from Professor Kevin Webach, the course lecturer and also the author of ‘For the Win‘ which is;

“The Use of game elements and game design techniques in non-game contexts”.

It’s an excellent, insightful and crisp definition. However it really only explains the ‘what’ but no the ‘why’. For this, I would refer you to Brian Blau and Brian Burke of Gartner who extend the definition as;

“The use of game mechanics to drive engagement in non-game business scenarios and to change behaviors in a target audience to achieve business outcomes”

Level 1

Both definitions are about using game elements in a non-game context but  Webach is being more inclusive whilst Gartner very specific. For Gartner is’s about business whilst Wharton include  external gamification and gamification for behavioural and social change. The former is gamification as a marketing device such as Foursquare. The latter is a rich and interesting area that would include Runkeeper and Zamzee encouraging us to be become a little fittter and OPower which, by comparing our energy usage to our peer group, helps us be more aware of our consumption.

The third Wharton category, internal gamification has the greatest overlap with Analytics, Business Intelligence and Performance Management. A definition of which can be derived from some minor modifications to the Gartner definition of gamification;

“The use of  analytics, business planning and key performance indicators to drive engagement  and to change behaviors in a target audience to achieve business outcomes”

Analytic applications are systems, sets of mechanics, to align, engage and improve the performance of the business. They, like a gamified system, are an abstraction. They are a derivation of business activities not the activities themselves. The numbers, charts and indicators become a new reality distinct from the business activity from which they are derived. They are, in a sense, gamified systems but with only a small subset of the rich set of (game) mechanics that might be made available. In fact I have argued for some time that this subset of mechanics is as woefully inadequate as the user experience/user interace design effort in most corporate analytic applications. We still think that a dashboard is a pretty cool interface.

Achievements

Business intelligence can, more often than it should, be driven by whatever data is available. Equally common is to deliver a system that is a marginal improvement in the information system it replaced but in a new tool or technology. The design will pay scant regard to how the information will really be used and are open to being ignored or even ‘gamed’. Measure a sales team on orders and there may be an increase in cancelled orders. Measure baggage handlers on the time it takes the first bag to arrive on a carousel and the second and subsequent bags might wait for the first bag on the next flight.

Internal gamification is designed around a deep understanding of the players (staff, workforce) and their motivations. It draws inspiration from an extensive palette of behavioural (game) mechanics.

Level Up

Business Intelligence then, could reasonably be defined as an early attempt to gamify the workplace. Sophisticated BI  intended to engage the workforce and align organisational behaviours through carefully designed elements of which analytics and key performance indicators were just a small subset, would be a game that many businesses would find worth playing.

What Has CRM Ever Done for Us?

Actually the Romans come out rather well when Reg asks the questions of a bunch of masked activists in Matthias’s house in ‘The Life of Brian’. The aqueduct was just the beginning. Would CRM fare so well in a contemporary and probably unfunny update of the classic scene?

What has it done for us? Don’t misunderstand me. I use salesforce, my chosen flavour of CRM, every day. I wouldn’t be without it. Everything I do is captured in those seemingly simple customer, contact and opportunity tabs. However, what has it ever done for me … as a customer?

I have just finished Doc Searl’s latest book, the Intention Economy. It is a jarring book which turns CRM on it’s head, instead describing a world where software helps customers manage their suppliers rather than the other way round. It manages to be visionary by illustrating with situations which are utterly everyday. As customers, like frogs on slow-boil, we have come to accept the unacceptable. We tolerate what should be intolerable.

For example, Doc makes the point that when he travels by air (not unlike me) he has no special dietary requirements, places few demands on cabin crew, is likely to offer up his seat to accommodate a family or couple travelling together and is willing to pay (a little rather than take out a mortgage) extra to reduce the stress of travelling because the novelty has long since worn off. What his frequent flyer programme knows about him (and mine about me) is the total miles we have travelled and our address. Hmmm.

Yesterday,  I received a ‘personal’ note from a high street chain that I used to visit often but haven’t been able to recently.  Let’s say it’s a shop for the body. I shop here because I admired their deeply principled founder and her stand on ethical, environmental and social issues. I also like smelling like a satsuma. Mostly though, I shop there because there is convenient outlet on Waterloo concourse my gateway into and out of London. Rather, there was an outlet. It closed down during the station refurbishments and has yet to reappear. The CRM system that delivered the ‘personal’ note to me notes that they hadn’t seen me in a long time and offered me a generous discount to return. So far, so good. However, the featured products were wild rose hand cream, lip butter and a free makeover. I am a modern man and I freely admit that I prefer the smell of citrus fruit to masculine musk but it didn’t seem like a particularly compelling selection even for me.

And, this is a business I respect. At least their CRM had  spotted that it had been an unusually long time between the last transaction.

Another on-line retailer that I have been ‘loyal’ to for years has been through a recent CRM upgrade. I now only receive the section of their clothing catalogue for men. They finally understand my gender and no longer assume that my wife and I automatically like the same brand because we pick out curtains together. They worked out that I am a male and that I have different shopping habits to my wife. Big whoop.

This is the reality of CRM and Big Data today. Companies at the top of their game, with the most sophisticated CRM have worked out households, genders and not much more. And B2B is generally not even close. Many direct mail (interruptions) that I receive in my office inbox don’t even get my name correct and few, if any, are relevant to my job title or role.

It is true that sophisticated relevance marketing exists. These are the types of systems that can tell when you have started and finished the Atkins diet but they require a level of exclusivity associated with a church service and a gold band rather than the somewhat lighter associations most of us have with our grocers, coffee shops or satsuma scented shower gel supplier.

The Romans did actually give us irrigation, underfloor heating and straight roads but what has CRM ever done for us? We need more than a wallet full of loyalty cards, an iphone full of apps, licensing terms that we accept without reading and  discount vouchers with a redemption date just expired at the time we want to use them. It has a long way to go before it makes good use of all of that data, all those cookies and screens of social analytics. Mostly CRM needs to respect that unless it is going to make good and positive use of all of that data, that customers might tire of waiting, take it all back and start building VRM. The clock is ticking.

Sales Cycles Suck

Sales cycles are a preoccupation for sales professionals? Where is the deal in relation to the cycle? Is the prospect progressing through the cycle as forecast? Organisations invest thousands of man hours in training and countless more in implementing them. There are more than two hundred and fifty titles on Amazon alone that cover the subject. They can be strategic, complex, intuitive even scientific. Take a detailed look at the range of books on offer and you would be forgiven for thinking that most sales cycles are broken. The majority of materials are all about simplifying, mastering, rethinking, shortening and taking control of them. In other words, sellers feel that theirs are too difficult, too long or out of control.

The problem, however, is more fundamental. They suck. They generalise behaviours on the assumption that if you put prospective buyers in a wide funnel at one end and take them through a series of qualifying and processing steps that they will pop out the other end and the cash register will ring. Sounds logical enough but they assume that it’s all about the seller. The buyer is reduced to a target, an object, a mark. If you are not offended by that you should be.

I for one, don’t want to be in their sales cycle. If I am in any cycle, I am in my buying cycle.

A rep from an alarm company once called me after I chose his competitors product.  As far as he was concerned, he had the better product, a competitive price, had answered all my questions and managed all my objections. He had run the perfect ‘sales cycle’ and yet I hadn’t behaved in the way that he predicted. He had probably forecast me at 100% to his manager. His frustration was palpable. I went with a slightly more expensive option even though the products were broadly comparable. It made no sense to him and he told me so. The trouble was his competitor had been recommended to me by a trusted friend. It aced anything he could say or do and it wasn’t on his sales cycle. However, it was on my buying cycle.

Professional sellers often argue that they don’t mind being in someone else’s sales process at all. In fact many claim they actually like it. However, probe further and it becomes clear that this is out of a respect for their own craft. It’s rather like a musician being asked up from the audience to guest with the band. They like being sold to because they get the rules, understand the techniques and can take an informed and objective view of someone else’s performance.

Most of us though find them awkward, unsatisfactory and disagreeable. They are are built from the sellers perspective. They are all about closing and commissions. The buyer is someone with a business problem that needs a solutions but this is incidental to the fact that they are a budget holder and can make a purchasing decision. Not that a sales process is a bad thing. Not at all. It is only sensible to make sure that expensive resources requires to implement sophisticated solutions are allocated to the right buyers at the right time. However, any sales approach that doesn’t have the buyer at it’s centre is fundamentally flawed. Unless the sales cycle is unambiguously built around the needs of the purchaser to the extent that at it’s core, it is indiscernable from the buying cycle. It a sales cycle that sucks.

Unplugged but Connected

A funny thing happened at Waterloo this week. Whilst walking from the over-ground to the underground, a man, about my age and similarly suited, asked me which line he should take for Covent Garden. At the same time, a similar conversation was taking place between two women walking alongside us. One was offering advice to the other on the District line. The ‘askers’ went one way and the ‘answerers’, she and I, another. We caught each others eye, struck by the small coincidence. As we walked on together, we had a brief exchange.  We observed that the coincidence would have been unremarkable a few years ago but today these questions usually  get asked of a device not of other people.

In all that I enjoy about the convenience of Siri, my Starbucks app, Tube Planner Deluxe and Google Maps I still value these interactions. It was a a rare(ish) set of human associations on the way to the the Waterloo and City Line an experience for me that is usually far from human. It was a couple of minor but briefly important connections quickly uncoupled once everyone was headed in the right direction. Whilst I was unplugged from my calendar, email, social platforms, phone and playlist it transpired that I was still fortunate enough to be very much connected to people.

Mediterranean Murder Mystery: Marketing Kills Product on idyllic Spanish Island

In the early 80’s I holidayed in a lovely fishing town on one of the Balearic Islands, an archipelago of Spain. It was bliss. Quiet, peaceful days followed by a relaxed evening stroll around Town hunting for the perfect place to eat.  Choosing the restaurant was as much of the experience as actually dining.  Our rudimentary Spanish and what was, at the time, exotic sounding dishes made the whole thing a voyage of discovery. We would peruse menus, scrutinise the wine list, check out the existing clientele and finally make a selection based on all these things and our mood. After returning, we talked of it often. It was the perfect, as one of my colleagues refers to them, ‘fly and flop’ holiday.

Marketing Begins to Suffocate it’s own Product

We made the mistake of returning some years later. There was little room for building so it hadn’t fallen prey to over development. In fact the beach and the local walks were every bit as relaxing as we remembered. However, the Town had become a battle ground.

It was clear what had happened. One restaurateur, tired of waiting for customers to randomly walk into his establishment erected  a much larger menu board than anyone else. Other’s responded so the Town was awash with ugly over-sized signage. The heat of competition hadn’t stopped there though.  In a level playing field of deals, discounts and enormous menu’s the restaurateurs started sending their staff out each evening to huckster holidaymakers before they walked on elsewhere. As we strolled we were interrupted with information about chef’s specials and one night only deals. Coupons and mini menus were thrust into our hands as we walked. We were even  sometimes accompanied if the desperate seller didn’t feel that we had quite understood the quality of their food or the generosity of their deal. The dining experience had stopped being about the customer and was all about the restaurant. It had stopped being about a relaxing holiday experience (interaction) and was only about filling tables and cash registers (transaction).

In the Absence of Product, Nothing is left But Marketing and Marks

Add a few timeshare touts also in pursuit of their transactions and what was once idyllic was now annoying. What was once a joy of discovery became as irritating as a picnic near a wasps nest. We ended up hiring a car and eating out of Town but the collective opinion was that the quality of the food and service had taken a nose dive too.

A whole Town was behaving like the worst kind of modern marketers. They had forgotten that their value is in meeting the needs of their customers. Their customers, actually holidaymakers, wanted to make their own choice, in their own way largely without interruption. The ‘product’ was a set of interactions, driven by the desire to discover, to explore, to find local dishes. To uncover the best fish in Town or find a rare Rioja whilst promenading and people watching.

Instead a whole Town full of Restaurateurs forgot about good food, great service and reputation. Even in holiday Towns, you get to hear about the good and the bad very quickly. Instead, they fixated on what happened at the end of the meal, their bill, and worked back. We don’t get the transaction unless we remove that random element of discovery and exploration so we will slowly and persistently drive it out. They killed the very thing that their customer came into Town for.

In Memory of the Interaction

I hear that the Town is much quieter now, European holidaymakers favour long haul destinations or stay at home vacations. I am sure though that it is also because they tired of the huckstering. What used to be a warm, and fun experience, a rich set of human interactions became all about the transaction.

Picture: Katherine Le Grice: Mediterranean Village

Hippo Decision Making

According to Andrew McAfee of the MIT Centre for Digital Business in an article in MIT Sloan Management Review many companies still practice decision making by Hippo. Actually he refers to it as HPPO,  the Highest Paid Persons Opinion. 

This resonated with me having just completed the draft for a chapter on networked decision making in our upcoming book Decision Sourcing, published by Gower. 

McAfee argues that the next wave of enterprise 2.0 will see organisations make decisions in new ways. Decision making by HPPO is in sharp decline.

 

The book argues that the current default mechanic for organisational decision making , the hierarchy, has literally run out of steam. It’s origins are rooted in a time where capital was scarce and labour was abundant. The top of the hierarchy was probably occupied by the owner of the capital. They also had the most business experience, the most knowledge and enough life experience to co-ordinate the work of everyone else. In a knowledge based economy, these things just don’t align any more.  One of the hottest jobs at the moment, that of ‘community manager’ didn’t exist five years ago. If you are managing a community manager today, you have most likely never been a community manager yourself.  As a manager of a community manager you better be good at co-ordinating the work of others, the primary purpose of management because you are not adding too much in the way of domain experience.

 

Social Decision Making, those decisions made by Socially aligned organisations will take many more inputs, many more perspectives all helped by the automation afforded by enterprise social platforms. There will be no decision made simply because of the HiPPO. They will undoubtedly be better for it.

Enterprise Social Circles

Paul Adams,  Facebook Product Manager and former Social researcher at Google led the charge into Social Circles.  Quite frankly, according to Adams, ‘Friends’ really didn’t cover it. We have family relationships, relationships with our colleagues and closer ‘besty’ friends. We also have relationships that are built during life stages (university) or around hobbies (football teams, diving) and those that are built because of locality (neighbours)

 

These are all social circles appropriate to (what I call) lifestyle social circles. But what about our professional social circles? Professional social circles, professional communities are built in Social platforms like LinkedIn or inside our own organisation. These circles, or communities, also include life (or career) stage communities such as inductees and locality (same office) But what other types of professional social circles are there? Some might be functional, customer specific, product or service specific?

 

I would welcome your suggestions and comments here:

Collaborative Decision Making and the Big Salad

Tom’s Diner

DSC01291Some good friends of mine have asked me to take part in what seems like an amazing concept later this year. Rooven Pakkiri and Stuart Mcintyre of Collaboration Matters are eschewing the usual cubicle stylee stand at their next show at UC Expo on the 6th and 7th March. Instead, they intend to build an all-American Diner complete with actors rather than the usual ‘stand’ sales folk.  This really caught my imagination not least because I had paid a recent (last year) pilgrimage to possibly the most famous diner in the world, Tom’s Diner, in New York, the setting for a Suzanne Vega song and Monk’s Diner from Seinfeld.

 

Nighthawks

The idea is to contrast Edward Hopper’s famous painting ‘Nighthawks’ a study in loneliness and alienation in a big city with Josh Ellingson’s modern take of a Diner, Wifi Diner. Ellingson’s work, commissioned for Wired Magazine, shows what is possible when we are all connected. For me, this sounds like it may take a little explaining to a crowd that are used to something very different but it will be a welcome relief and a great introduction Social Business for many. Businesses, in my view, should do more of this. It demonstrates leading rather than following.

 

Watch and Listen

The stand will feature a live debate between thought leaders in the Social space and I will be representing my own company, Artesian Solutions, innovators in Social Listening and will be sharing my thoughts on Social and Social Analytics.  See you there.

Social Media Listening, Lets Call the Whole Thing Off?

The couple in Ira Gershwin’s song Lets call the whole thing off  lamented the way they pronounced the same words differently because it exposed class differences which might eventually be their undoing. Human communication is a funny thing. If Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers had met on Facebook then regardless of how they pronounced neither, either and tomato, they would have assumed that they, like the spelling, were a perfect match.

Understanding nuance in human communication is a preoccupation for those of us building social media analytic applications and specifically as it applies to the Social Listening process. Social listening is the data collection process in a social media analytics application, the point at which the vast sea of blog, editorial and social media content is collected and converted into usable analysis. The purpose of Social Listening is to collect and filter ‘mentions’, instances of the company, brand, product or marketing campaign being referenced in an item of online content. Most platforms are good at collecting mentions but many fail in their level of accuracy, not because of scale and volume but because they don’t understand the human capacity for saying the same thing in so many different ways.

Fred and Ginger were both speaking (American) English and yet still had problems because language is only one of the many considerations when we try to understand the written word. Slang, regional idioms and differences in style relating to social groupings, profession, generation and gender are just a few others.

Anyone with teenage children can tell you about generational language differences. At one time my Son and his friends frequently used the expression ‘you just got pwned’ or ‘he pwned me’ usually but not exclusively when gaming. It describes the process of being decisively and unambiguously beaten by a competitor. ‘Pwned’ is a corruption of ‘owned’ attributed to a mis-spelling by a world of warcraft map designer and for some reason it fell into common usage. Unlike much of what we deal with in information systems, there is no rule, no derivation, it is simply something which is known. Without this knowledge what would a social media monitoring platform make of the tweet ‘coke pwns pepsi’ (or the other way around, of course)?

Other differences are equally obtuse. Take emoticons. Baby boomers rarely use them, gen-X ers commonly use them and gen Y-ers use them but differently. A gen-X er is more likely to use 🙂 and a gen -Y er 🙂 Very little difference to the human eye but in traditional text filters they simply don’t match.

Many are a little surprised when I point out that the author’s gender makes a difference to the language used. Of course, women might be more likely to discuss hormone replacement therapies and men more likely to discuss male pattern baldness if they are blogging about their mid-life crisis but given a gender-neutral topic, men and women still use different language. One website, gender genie, can identify the gender of the author of a piece of text with a surprisingly high degree of accuracy.

What does all of this mean? It means that Social Media Analytics platforms have to understand the rich, inconsistent and unfathomable ways in which we all converse. To get more specific and technical, social listening must employ linguistic variant sets to accurately disambiguate language variations. Simply put, they must be able to handle a set of alternative way of saying the same thing. Social listening must be inclusive of all diversity regardless of age, gender, ethnicity, social status, profession and yes, sexuality before they can capture data suitable for the purpose of analytics. Otherwise, you might as well just call the whole thing off.

 

Also reproduced for IBM Vision for the IT expert community.