Simple Doesn’t Mean Easy

Over that last few months a local workshop for non-profits has been gathering weekly. Around 80 people from various organizations are involved. The hosts invited everyone early on to join Slack to apparently be leveraged between live sessions and carry on the dialog (I say apparently as this was not actually articulated).

After several weeks, 10 people have posted once… each. Three of the 10 were the hosts. It’s a ghost town. Go figure.

This isn’t really about Slack though…but it is. You see, Slack is often chosen because it’s free and it’s supposed to be simple and fun. It’s the gold standard for chat today. Every start-up is running to it – the “email killer”. But that doesn’t make it right for everyone or every situation and simple and fun doesn’t equate to adoption, that my friends is a people issue. But an even bigger problem than this group failing to connect with Slack is that many will walk away blaming the tool.

The reaction by this group is inevitably one of Slack is stupid. And for many that’s it, the social soup is spoiled. Wrong tool, wrong reason (if any reason), poor planning, poor implementation, and poor support. Bolting it on and flicking the switch works for very little with the exception of an electric light. Many will leave this half-baked effort viewing all enterprise social tools and efforts as pointless voids and frustrating time wastes. So next time the opportunity arises, it will likely be met with a “oh yeah, we tried social media. It didn’t work” response, making sincere efforts all the more difficult due to the often impenetrable wall of first impressions.

This is ultimately a failure of expectation, or a failure because there was an expectation that connection, conversation and collaboration are easy because you’ve employed simple technology.  Thanks to all who leap before they look…

Just because the tools are getting simpler to use, more natural, and common place and even with a lot of fun buzz and hype – it doesn’t mean it’s going to “work” out of the box. It is still and always will be people and purpose, trust and not technology that drives the social engine.

The Ghosts in Our Machines

GhostlyDollFace

The singularity, or the union of humans and machine/AI, for me always conjures images of embedded machines within our skin helping us think faster, move easier, monitoring minute vitals and ensuring our system performs optimally. But before all this I think we’ll see our union with machines through an emotional connection, and one that is more than the affections we see people have for their devices today. It’s actually already happening with Bots, the software programs that appear in our social tools like SlackBot does in the Slack platform. It’s easy to see how they will only continue to grow in acceptance and presents us with some interesting scenarios.

For starters, social referral is surpassing web search as we are turning to others more online to not only share but to find. We are retreating into smaller, trusted communities, sets versus our scenes as Stowe Boyd once wrote, to gain better insights in the face of increasing amounts of information and often dubious information. Bots, like SlackBot are useful in these “sets” as today they can be summoned to assist in our activities and point us to timely, targeted resources. And as machine learning and natural language processing advance, it will make it increasingly difficult to distinguish Bots from our virtual human connections – even when we know we are interacting with a one, our trust in them will only grow through the value they continually bring.  A Bot has the advantage of appearing as any other disembodied community member, without a face, just an avatar with only its written word and deeds seen. It won’t suffer the Uncanny Valley fate as robots in more human form do, and in this state it would pass theTuring Test with flying colors.

As Bots become deeply embedded in our network interactions and people continue to move to more fragmented conversational apps, it’s obvious that data seeking organization’s (Google, Facebook, etc) will need to get closer to the action… and Bots are their in. No more promoted ads, instead Bots will present just the right solution or product suggestion in the most natural rhythm of our emotion laden conversations. And as covert as this is, they will be an undeniable performance support agent. I can foresee where they will seek answers from us in more qualitative forms so as to better understand our emotional state, our relationships and our needs beyond the professional. Maybe Bots will serve as coaches to hone our personal knowledge management skills. And will complex community work, work of community managers, ultimately be outsourced to the automated?

Of course all this demands a bit more in the way of Artificial Intelligence, but are we really that far off from Bots becoming an indistinguishable and trusted member of our communities – learning along with us as they learn about us?

 

The Beat Goes On

I recently attended a local, day long social media marketing conference. Unsurprisingly I left feeling a bit disheartened. Most of what I saw and heard was nothing more than doing the traditional marketing with new tools; same thoughts on strategy for getting clicks, people as targets, and conducting multi-channel campaigns. There was nothing about conversation and there was an odd lack of empathy. There was also no sense of the irony in that everyone there was a “target” by another marketer, maybe even the one they sat next to.

babybirdsThe view of the consumer at this event was less an equal or a partner and more something to feed, one that is not astute in social or savvy in the mediums. What these marketing folks didn’t appear to consider is these consumers, their customers, are continually seeking ways to cut to the chase and slice through the nonsense, they we want to trust, they we want relationships. They We are doing it openly in the same tools the marketers are pumping out content in.. For many, it’s still the “I know-you don’t know-I have the upper hand approach

The world has changed and if social technology does one thing really well, it casts a light on everything it touches. So if you’re promoting a product you don’t understand or believe in, or you approach customers as targets for conversion rather than opportunities for conversation then your practice will eventually be exposed as a fraud.

Social tools really provide the best opportunity to transform the marketplace because at their core, social technology can expand and extend our humanbeingness. The trust, relationships, and transparency they can perpetuate are quite simple, yet simplicity isn’t easy – especially if you’re buried under the burden of chasing the newest technology and following last century approaches.

The Future Organization is a Porous Organization

I read recently that according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (2012), the median number of years an employee stays with their employer in the U.S. is 4.6. On the surface this seems like a long time. However I suspect that it will be significantly shorter soon as the “Gig Economy”, where tenure and titles will matter little as mobility is the norm, takes off. If trends continue, I suspect two things will need to change in organizations:

1. Faster Trust Building. Trust is the bedrock of collaborative and cooperative work which quite frankly is the future of work (well, work that won’t be automated anyway). Today we know trust is developed over a long period of time and even then it’s with a select and small subset of people in an organization. Trust is often limited to those we work closest with on projects or in departments. So if the average tenure is 4.6 years, it’s safe to say as soon as real trust is being formed, people move on.

I think one practice organizations can take to build organization-wide trust is to support and encourage Working Out Loud (WOL). If work is done in the open (not just status updates and summary posts) in collaborative spaces and with opportunities for critique and contribution from all levels, it creates an environment for honestly, altruism and transparency. Additionally, when new employees enter an organization that engages in wide-spread WOL they can quickly see the sincere interactions and reactions that have happened within the connected workforce. Many from people who may no longer even be there. These artifacts can be inspiring, bringing about the same behaviors in these newest members, as it’s seen to be a activity that is safe and encouraged. It’s self-reinforcing.

2. Focus on Residue over Retention. Related to my last point about WOL is one that, with people coming and going as often as they do (and increasingly so), successful organizations will need to harness the energy of continual movement. The new economy is fueled by the Internet and Web 2.0 acts as a amplifier, a spotlight for talent. Talent can now be found anywhere, investing heavily in inane engagement activities to retain talent makes little sense. For organizations the smarter move is to put greater emphasis again on capturing the inertia of the pass-through employee, in other words their residue. Organizations now need to focus more on creating an ecosystem suited for capturing and tagging contributions in a form that they can easily be discovered, used and built upon. This is the grease that lubricates the perpetual motion needs of today’s organizations.

If the Internet has taught us anything it’s that everything moves now and moves quickly; money, knowledge, opportunity and even people transition faster and easier than ever before. It’s ludicrous to think otherwise and try to slow things. The success of an organization will be based on it’s ability to embrace rapid change and understanding the necessity of being porous inside and out.

The Long Tailers of Social Business

Social business talk hasn’t progressed much beyond what it is or how it’s done. Jon Husband noted this in a brilliant and succinct post back in 2013 where he said that “most of the conversation circulating and re-cycling regarding [social business] … what ‘social business’ is and/or is not, how to do it right, or in 7 easy steps, or with pizzazz and ROI and why it’s changing everything (or nothing at all)

What has changed however in the past 2 years is that the idea of Social Business, like Social Media, has been further positioned by large firm Marketing and Advertising departments as their charge. Markets are conversations so says the ClueTrain Manifesto and so shortsighted marketing and sales have moved to “Social Business” strategies which mostly just employing social technology with the same push information tactics.

Social LongtailHowever where social sincerely exists are those businesses on the long tail . Organizations here, the smaller more niche players, are more often inherently, unconsciously and positively social inside and out. Their business survival is predicated on a meritocracy over hierarchy, openness, trust, feedback and transparency – it’s here where the soil is most fertile.

Social Business, (what we do) can’t survive long without firm roots in a Social Organization (who we are).

For the larger, market dominating organizations, they turn to social technology (like any other technology) to fix problems vs. prevent them. Inside these organizations social tools are applied in a futile effort to open communication for knowledge sharing, a cure for their social atrophy. However the best opportunity for social technology inside has passed, the arteries are now clogged by competition, policy, procedures and rigid hierarchy.

Social technology may be best as preventative medicine vs. the miracle cure.

It’s the Long Tailers that need to understand this and move quickly to stay who they are. But to stay small as they grow larger, technology alone won’t be enough – social requires people and a holistic approach. They should also employ a Change Prevention strategy (vs. Change Management), maybe a new internal role of an Unchanging Officer to help leaders see their culture today and the big picture potential of social tools beyond communication and knowledge sharing. A well crafted change prevention strategy can anchor their progressive culture and help maintain the healthy status quo.

It’s far too easy for long tail business leaders to fall into established, yet floundering, 20th century practices as they grow. There are still many visible, seductive monuments of this past success and misguided social business approaches.

Long Tailers must act now for there is much to lose if they don’t change.