I’ve Been Writing A Lot Lately, Just Not Here

I only update this blog occasionally because most of my writing these days appears on other people’s websites. But my blog is still my home base. Here’s a round up of what I’ve been scribbling about elsewhere of later.

Social is the Future of Search (Profitecture Blog)

BuzzFeed HQ

(Photo credit: Scott Beale)

What could possibly unseat Google as the king of the Web? The answer might be incubating in fast-growing media operations like BuzzFeed (right) and Upworthy. These publishers eschew search optimization in favor of creating content that people want to share. From an SEO perspective, they do a lot of things wrong. And they’re killing it online at the moment.

Marketing’s big miss (BtoB magazine)

A new McKinsey & Co. report reveals a startling disconnect between B2B companies and their customers that should give every marketer pause to reflect on his or her priorities. The research shows that the themes that B2B companies emphasize in their marketing messages are wildly inconsistent with the factors that B2B buyers care about most.

Short on content? Repackage (BtoB magazine)

A lot of marketers are frustrated by the perceived need to turn out a lot of content, but the problem is much more manageable if you reuse and repackage creatively. Here are some ideas for how to get more mileage out of the stuff you already have.

Rewarding Bad Behavior (Godfrey Blog)

Marketing and sales organizations at most B2B companies have a relationship that can be politely described as strained. Sales complains that marketing gives them lousy leads while marketers charge that sales wouldn’t know a good lead is it bit them on the nose.

Both sides are correct. That’s because many organizations reward their sales and marketing people for the wrong things. Improve lead quality and a lot of the bad karma disappears.

Altimeter’s Brian Solis: ‘It’s the Customer Experience, Stupid’ (Huffington Post)

Brian Solis at Upload Lisboa, Portugal.

Brian Solis (right) is one of the most consistently provocative and perceptive analysts in the world of new media and social business. I caught up with him shortly before his Pivot conference in October to find out what’s on his mind. He believes few CEOs know how dramatically their businesses will change as a result of customer empowerment. And he thinks any business can enchant its customers. Even one that makes hammers.

Five Important Differences Between Paid and Earned Media (Profitecture Blog)

Many marketers treat social or “earned” media the same way they treat advertising and direct mail, but the two forms of media are very different. Earned media is more valuable because people volunteer to share your information. This benefits small and patient companies disproportionately. If you talk at customers in earned the channels the way you do in paid channels, your results will probably disappoint you.

 

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Not Dead Yet: Blogging’s Popularity Surges Among F500

There’s no fluff in the press release, so I’ll just excerpt it word for word. Nora Ganim Barnes and her team at the Charlton College of Business Center for Marketing Research at the University of Massachusetts Dartmouth continue to produce some of the most consistent, rigorous and comprehensive research on social media adoption by both small and large businesses. And they’ve been doing it every year since 2008, which makes the trending data particularly useful.

It’s no great surprise that this year’s report shows a broad-based increase in adoption of all types of social media. What is surprising is the sudden popularity of corporate blogs. After stagnating at just above 20% for three years, use of corporate blogs has shot up to 34% of the Fortune 500 in the last two years. That’s nearly a 50% increase.

This comes just as many of the digerati are writing off blogs as yesterday’s news. Maybe the technology isn’t very sexy, but the utility sure is. Blogs are search engine magnets and search is still the killer app for people researching purchases. It will be for a long time. Be careful of dismissing mature technology just because it isn’t cool any more. Did you know that e-mail still has a significantly higher conversion rate than any other B2B Web traffic source?

Read more and download the full report at “2013 Fortune 500 Are Bullish on Social Media.”

In the past year, the Fortune 500 have increased their adoption of blogging by 6%, their use of Twitter for corporate communications by 4% and their use of Facebook pages by 4%. Sixty-nine percent of the 2013 Fortune 500 use YouTube, an increase of 7% from 2012. These was among the key findings of the latest benchmarking study conducted by Dr. Nora Ganim Barnes, Ph.D., Senior Felow and Research Co-Chair of the Society for New Communications Research and Director of the Center for Marketing Research at the University of Massachusetts Dartmouth.

The new report is the outcome of a statistically sound study of the 2013 Fortune 500 list. The study examined these institutions to quantify their adoption of social media tools and technologies. This is the seventh year that Barnes has tracked social media usage by this sector, and it is the only statistically sound longitudinal study of its kind with every company in the Fortune 500 included. Key findings of this study include:

• In 2013, 171 companies (34%) had corporate blogs showing the largest increase in use of this tool since the 2008 study of the Fortune 500.

• Companies that blog include two of the top five corporations (WalMart and Exxon), leaving the other three (Chevron, Phillips 66 and Berkshire Hathaway) without a public-facing blog.

• Three hundred eighty-seven (77%) of the Fortune 500 have corporate Twitter accounts with a tweet in the past thirty days. This represents a 4% increase since 2012.

• Facebook, new to the Fortune 500 list, has the highest number of followers on Twitter, followed by Google, Starbucks, Whole Foods Market, Walt Disney, JetBlue Airways and Southwest Airlines.

• Three hundred forty-eight (70%) of the Fortune 500 are now on Facebook. This represents a 4% increase since 2012.

• In 2012 one hundred fifteen companies (23%) had neither a Twitter account nor a Facebook account. This year that number has dropped to eighty-four companies (17%).

• Approximately 40 companies of the Fortune 500 are now using Instagram, Pinterest and/or Foursquare.

Charts

Fortune 500 Corporations  With Public-Facing Blogs Slide1

Gordon Gekko is So Last Century

More evidence that the values of the modern workforce are changing not just in the U.S. but worldwide comes from a new Thomson Reuters survey of  more than 1,000 professionals in Brazil, China, India, the U.K. and the U.S. The key finding is that a majority of workers today say they are more motivated by what they do than how much they make. The majority of Americans would rather have a job they enjoy (72%) than one that pays well (28%). Further evidence that Gordon Gekko is a historical relic.

Those who still cling to racial stereotypes should read Daily Beast’s take on the survey: “Workers are now united by global connectivity and curiosity rather than race, class, or gender.” The Beast also notes that the gender gap is rapidly closing, particularly in developing markets. “Ultimately, 52% of professionals in emerging markets see an equal number of male and female corporate executives within the next 25 years,” compared to  36% of professionals in developed markets. In other words, emerging countries are leveraging all their workforce resources to beat us.

Naturally, there’s data on collaboration and social media. Some highlights:

Ninety-percent of professionals who telecommute on a daily basis use at least one social media platform. Comment: Facebook is replacing the socializing power of the office water cooler and powering the distributed workforce revolution. I can’t remember the last time I talked to someone who comes in to the office five days a week. Social networks are transforming the way we work (whether the IT organization blocks them or not).

Fifty-nine percent of satisfied professionals say that their organizations allow them to participate in online groups and/or chat rooms as part of their work compared to 40% of dissatisfied professionals. Comment: Note the “satisfied” qualifier. I wish the IT organizations that still block Facebook and YouTube would get the message: Socializing has always been part of the workplace and is essential to worker satisfaction. Let people use these platforms. They will figure out how to apply them to the business. Just like they did with e-mail and the Internet,

Eighty-two percent of emerging market professionals and 41% of developed market professionals agree that blogs, information from social media or crowd-sourced information on the Internet are highly useful in helping to understanding an issue or news item. Comment: In other words, the developed world still has an old-media mindset whereas people in emerging markets have never had old media. It’ll be interesting to see if their more expansive perspective helps them actually understand the world around them better than we do, and perhaps understand that there is a world beyond their own borders.

Eighty-three percent of emerging market professionals and 49% of developed market professionals agree that carefully filtered information from blogs, social media or crowd-sourcing can be as accurate and useful as traditional media information. Comment: Sort of a restatement of the results above, but it’s further evidence that companies in emerging markets are more adept at internalizing information from many sources. If they continue to build better products at lower cost than we do, we should pay attention to that.

More from Thomson Reuters:

Thomson Reuters data on news consumption

 

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Marketers See Value But Remain Wary About Social Media

This article originally appeared in BtoB magazine.

For the past year, business professionals have connected to each other online as never before. Now marketers are trying to figure out a way to monetize these new networks.

The MySpace effect finally seeped into the business world, triggering explosive growth for the new darlings of social networking: Facebook and LinkedIn. Both networks had breakout years, with Facebook breaching the 60 million-member mark. LinkedIn, with 20 million members, broke from the pack to become the place where business people make contacts, find jobs and develop professional relationships.

Social networks are proving to have the kind of stickiness that marketers have long dreamed of. People give up all kinds of details willingly in the name of furthering friendships. Facebook’s early 2007 decision to open its platform to developers has created a gusher of 16,000 new applications. While few have gained much traction, marketers are pushing ahead in hopes of inventing a megahit like Scrabulous.

The battle for supremacy in the broad social network market is effectively over. MySpace and Facebook together account for 88% of all visits to social network sites, according to HitWise (LinkedIn wasn’t included in those totals). Although MySpace holds a three-to-one advantage in total visitors, users actually spend more time on Facebook, according to comScore Inc. Emory University surveyed its incoming freshmen last fall and learned that 97% had Facebook accounts.

YOUTUBE A BIG WINNER

Another big social networking winner is YouTube, with 66 million videos. Although widely perceived as a playground for backyard videographers, YouTube has had some notable b2b successes. IBM’s tongue-in-cheek “Mainframe: Art of the Sale” videos have grown traffic to its associated blog tenfold. JetBlue Airways CEO David Neeleman took to YouTube to explain the February 2007 crisis that left thousands of travelers stranded.

Social networks are now springing up in vertical professional communities. Sermo claims to have 50,000 members in its online physicians network. Big winners overseas are virtually unknown here. They include Orkut.com (Brazil), Cyworld.com (Korea), Mixi (Japan) and Grono (Poland), to name a few.

Now the vexing question is how to market to these groups.

Social networks have remained stubbornly resistant to promotional campaigns. Many experts believe that’s because the intensely personal interactions between members prohibits traditional interruption marketing. MySpace has made the most progress. Researcher eMarketer expects it to generate $820 million in advertising this year, nearly four times the estimate for Facebook.

But there have been disappointments. Google’s subpar fourth-quarter results were blamed, in part, on MySpace advertising shortfalls. And recent data has indicated that social network traffic is leveling off.

B2b marketers have been wary about social network campaigns. For one thing, the conversation is unpredictable. Reliable metrics still don’t exist and the paucity of success stories has also dampened enthusiasm. Then there was the outcry over Facebook’s social shopping experiment, called Beacon, which let members see each other’s purchasing activity, sometimes without their knowledge. Marketers wrestle with how to engage an audience that shuns messaging.

Social media thus stands at an awkward transition stage: businesses overwhelmingly understand its importance but are unsure of how to take advantage of it. While 78% of respondents to a Coremetrics survey said social media marketing is a way to gain competitive edge, they’re spending less than 8% of their online marketing budgets there.

BLOGS GO MAINSTREAM

They aren’t nearly as curmudgeonly about blogs, however. Corporate activity in the blogosphere has ramped up even as the hype has died down.

Recent entries into the blogosphere include Marriott, Johnson & Johnson, Toyota and Wal-Mart. Even the Transportation Safety Administration has gotten into the act, giving five midlevel employees the green light to blog on behalf of the organization about the practices that befuddle frequent travelers.

There’s a trend here. B2b marketers are finding that employees can be powerful and persuasive advocates of the company message. Microsoft and Sun both claim to have more than 5,000 employee bloggers, and corporate giants like Southwest Airlines and Kodak have structured their blogging initiatives around ordinary employees and even customers.

The surprise social media winner has been podcasting. Those downloadable radio programs have turned out to be a hit with time-challenged business people.

Emarketer estimates that the U.S. podcast audience grew 285% in 2007 to 18.5 million people and will hit 65 million people in 2012. More importantly for b2b marketers, Arbitron reported that 72% of podcast listeners are older than 25 and 48% are older than 35. General Motors, Purina, HP, IBM, Kodak, Wells Fargo and many others are using them to reach business influencers.

It all adds up to a chaotic scene, although there are signs that consolidation is setting in and the flood of new services is slowing.

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Small Firms Again Trump Enterprises in Social Media Use, UMass Study Reveals

The Center for Marketing Research at the University of Massachusetts Dartmouth is out with its latest survey of the Inc. 500’s use of social media, and once again small companies outpace large ones. Ninety-two percent of the Inc. 500 use at least one of the tools studied, which include blogs, Facebook, LinkedIn, YouTube, Pinterest and Foursquare.

Blog use by Inc. 500 and Fortune 500 companiesInterestingly, the use of blogs jumped among the Inc. 500 after four years of little or no groth. Forty-four percent of the 2012 Inc. 500 are blogging, compared to just 23% of the Fortune 500. The figure is a jump from the 37% of Inc. 500 companies that were blogging in 2011. Researchers Nora Ganim Barnes and Ava Lescault found that 63% of Inc. 500 CEOs contribute to blog content.

Also notable is the surge of interest in LinkedIn, which is being used by 81% of companies compared to 67% for Facebook and Twitter. Facebook was the big loser in this survey. Its usage dropped 7% from last year.  Up-and-comers are Foursquare (28%) and Pinterest (18%).

Growth in social media investment showed signs of slowing in this survey. Only 44% of respondents says they’re looking to spend more on social media, down from 71% in the 2011 survey. Forty-one percent say their level of investment will remain, up from 25% last year.

Sixty-two percent of respondents said social media is “very necessary or “somewhat necessary” to the growth of their company. This is the sixth year The Center for Marketing Research at UMass Dartmouth has conducted the study.

There’s lots more on the summary page, including links to downloads of the full results.

 

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Microsoft Down, But Hardly Out

I followed Microsoft closely for many years when I was in the technology press, visited the company every year or so and even sat down with Bill Gates for interviews a few times. I was always impressed by the competitiveness of the Microsoft culture, and wondered whether it could resist the disease that killed companies like Digital Equipment, Wang Laboratories and Compaq, and that nearly killed IBM and Novell.

That disease is described in Clayton Christiansen’s 1997 classic The Innovator’s Dilemma. Companies that dominate technology industries tend to become so addicted to the products that made them successful that they fail to respond to changes in the market and are done in either by low-cost competitors or a platform shift.

A new article by Kurt Eichenwald in Vanity Fair paints a dismal picture of Microsoft’s performance over the last decade and doesn’t offer much optimism for the future. The article is currently available only in the printed edition of VF, but you can find a summary here and dig up scans of the printed piece if you look around a bit.

Creeping Bureaucracy

Eichenwald documents a decade of missed opportunities, unforgivable delays, bureaucratic infighting and intellectual stagnation that made this once-fearsome competitor a caricature of the company that regulators on two continents tried to break up a little more than a decade ago. He recalls the Windows 95 launch, when people lined up around the block outside consumer electronics stores to get the first copies. Today, the idea that anyone would get that excited about any kind of Microsoft product launch seems unfathomable.

I only have a couple of comments to add to this well-reported piece. The first is that Bill Gates’ departure from the helm of Microsoft at the end of 1999 was the beginning of the downward spiral. While many people thought his self-imposed demotion from CEO to Chief Software Architect was a ruse at the time, it now appears that Gates really did step away from active management of the company.

Steve Ballmer at CES 2010He handed it over to the wrong guy. I personally like Steve Ballmer, and I have great respect for his competitiveness and sales/marketing skills, but he’s not a product guy. It seems that great tech companies only stay on top as long as there are technical visionaries at the helm, and it’s clear that Microsoft lost its vision years ago. Jim Allchin and Ray Ozzie perhaps had the technical chops to do the job, but neither seemed to have the natural leadership skills. Ballmer is the perfect guy to take a completed product and drive it into the market, but he’s obviously not the guy to get the product to market in the first place. I don’t see that changing, and I don’t see Microsoft turning around as long as Ballmer is in charge.

Misplaced Management Technique

My second comment is about the Microsoft management tactic called “stack ranking.” This forces managers at review time to designate two people out of every 10 as superstars, seven as average and one as trouble. The person at the bottom isn’t likely to be around very long.

Bloggers have been kicking the crap out of stack ranking since the VF article appeared, but it’s really not as bad an idea as it sounds. I worked at a company that used a similar system, and in the right scenario it’s actually pretty effective.

The goal of stack ranking is to force managers to make hard decisions about weak performers. Most managers hate even to give bad reviews, much less fire people, and stack ranking enforces a certain toughness that many managers could use, in my experience. It sends a message to the organization that poor performers won’t be punished by merely getting a 2% smaller raise than the top performers.

The problem is that stack ranking doesn’t work in organizations that put a premium on innovation and creativity. If Xerox had used it at PARC in the 1960s, we’d probably still be using MS-DOS today. Creative people shouldn’t have to worry about sucking up to managers and competing with the person at the next desk. They should spend their time being creative. Stack ranking works great for sales forces and process-oriented jobs, but it’s a disaster when applied to engineers, programmers, graphic artists or writers.

A lot of people are beating up on Microsoft right now, and with good reason, but this company is hardly a basket case. Futurist Thornton May recently told me that Microsoft goes into the top engineering schools each year and scoops up as many of the best graduates as it can get. It has a desktop franchise that won’t stop throwing off cash anytime soon and its position in the corporate data center is secure. The biggest problem there is that the future of the corporate data center is in some doubt right now.

Eichenwald contrasts Microsoft’s performance to Apple’s, and the Redmond giant comes off looking pretty pathetic. But then again, so does everyone else. This piece will hopefully cause some soul-searching within the Microsoft executive suite, and maybe restore some of the drive that once made that company so terrifyingly great.


Update: Dan Gillmor reaches much the same conclusion, although for different reasons. He points to some Microsoft innovations that the VF piece overlooked, and also notes the depressing effective of an antitrust settlement on the way a company works.

A CIO Who Gets Social Business

CIO Tom MurphyOne of my favorite CIOs is Tom Murphy, who long headed IT at AmerisourceBergen and who is now in transition to a new role (any company will be lucky to have him). Tom addressed the CIO Solutions Gallery at the Fisher College of Business at Ohio State University this morning on the subject of the role of CIOs in social media. Earlier in the day, a show-of-hands poll of his audience had indicated considerable skepticism among the audience about the value of social business in general and a clear sentiment that CIOs should not be closely involved with social business other than as gate-keepers. In light of that reluctance, I found Tom’s comments particularly refreshing. What follows is a more-or-less verbatim transcript of what he said. I hope other CIOs will listen:

To me this looks very much like the early days of the Web. Everybody figured they had to be out there but they didn’t know what it meant. We’re going through a lot of the same machinations. In the early days of the Web you saw consumer packaged goods firms throwing up Web sites without a lot of idea what they were trying to accomplish. The same is happening with the social space, but it’s happening so fast.

The speed of social media today is stunning. I think the biggest mistakes we’re making are around the consistency of the message, the brand quality and the way we have traditionally done things, which is a one-way dialog. By definition, social media is a two-way dialog between your customers and your employees. I have seen more mistakes with people jumping into the social media space without understanding this simple precept. This is a two-way dialog and someone needs to be handling that conversation.

Also, if you’re going to ask for opinions, be prepared for what you get. You need to be able to react to requests and to complaints. You turn this thing on and you get hundreds or thousands of dialogs coming in. How effective is the organization at responding to that? Do you have the tools to effectively engage in this dialog?

Social media is not a technical expertise. It’s a cultural expertise. Right now the pendulum is swinging more and more toward social media as the tool to communicate. It is a tool, but companies should not lose that direct contact with customers. There’s a risk of losing face-to-face engagement with customers and employees.

The other thing I worry about is the explosion in data collection. All this dialog has created a mountain of data and we have to figure out how to apply social analytics and who’s got the toolsets that can help us. How do we collect all this data and apply tools in a space that’’s moving so fast that people expect immediate responses. How do we do that while protecting the integrity of the brand?

Most of us do not have the skills to collect and understand the data we’re collecting. They’re spending a lot of money on this and there’s a lack of understanding about the value we’re getting.

The other issue I worry about is security. Social media doesn’t introduce new risk in itself, but it does present the opportunity to identify risks earlier. However, it also creates the opportunity to detect problems within the organization. If I can listen in on my associates’ dialogs, I can analyze it and identify potential risks in the organization before it’s apparent. I can identify individuals who may present a threat to the organization. Now there’s a big leap between doing that and taking action without evidence, and I’m not advocating a Big Brother approach, but I think a big part of the social future will be companies’ ability to listen in and understand what employees are talking about.

Organizations that are going to optimize social are going to need to make organizational changes, put tools in the hands of their employees and then get out of the way. But that’s not really a big leap. The fallacy of our current situation is that you think you have control and you don’t.

As the CIO I don’t want to own this space but I want to enable it. This is a fabulous opportunity to take your relationship with the CMO to the next level.


This is one in a series of posts sponsored by IBM Midsize Business that explore people and technologies that enable midsize companies to innovate. In some cases, the topics are requested by IBM; however, the words and opinions are entirely my own.

A Chance for CIOs to Lead in Social Business

I’m presenting a session at the CIO Solutions Gallery at the Fisher College of Business at Ohio State University tomorrow on the topic of “Measuring Social ROI: The CIO’s Role.” The subject got me thinking about a topic that’s close to my heart, which is the low profile IT executives have assumed in driving social business at their organizations. The absence of IT at the strategy table perplexes me,  since social technologies are arguably the most important force guiding the evolution of relationships between companies and their constituents. IT departments played an important role in the last transformational change, which was the adoption of enterprise resource planning in the late 1990s and early 2000s. So why aren’t they more active in driving the socialization of business?

I created the presentation below largely for my talk tomorrow and wanted to share it. In particular, look at slide 3, which shows the results of a recent Economist Intelligence Unit Survey of 329 Business Leaders. The survey asked which group within the company had primary responsibility for social business. Not surprisingly, marketing topped the list. Surprising is that IT isn’t even on it.

Study after study has documented that companies are doing a poor job of measuring the results of their social media marketing efforts and have made only weak attempts to integrate customer service data and so-called “social CRM” to create a holistic view of their customers. IT leaders are experts at measurement, and they also have cross-functional visibility that makes them the most logical candidates to integrate islands of automation. This is an opportunity for them to pick up the ball.

I suggest in my presentation that there are several initiatives IT could lead that would give them a critical role in social business. They include standardizing and improving measurement criteria and give businesses a more complete view of their markets. Feel free to download the presentation; it’s posted on a Creative Commons Attribution License.

And please let me know what you think.

IBMer: ‘Social Selling’ Is a Sales Process in Itself

It’s no secret that the factors that motivate salespeople to change the way they work have to be pretty simple: Help them spend more time selling and less time scrounging for information and telling managers what they’re doing.

So when IBM began to introduce the concept of “social selling,” it chose a test base of a few hundred salespeople and their managers to build a set of integrated systems that improved productivity and reduced administrative overhead. In a presentation to the SugarCRM SugarCon conference in San Francisco earlier this week, Gary Burnette, vice president of sales transformation at IBM, told how the implementation team at IBM succeeded in making social selling a coveted goal rather than another set of rules and reports.

“We didn’t think of it as social selling; we thought of it as improving sales productivity,” Burnette said of the pilot. “It was about returning value and time to our sales teams for their time invested.”

Familiarity Breeds Intent

The program began with the assumption that nearly every salesperson was already familiar with the value provided by Facebook and LinkedIn in their personal lives. The tools made it easy to find information and expertise by consulting friends. Those same capabilities could be useful as a formal part of the business process.


Download Gary Burnette’s Social Selling Presentation here


A key goal was to simplify reporting, an already distasteful task that becomes more intrusive as the end of the quarter nears. Management has a constant need for information about the status of different sales opportunities, and as a result “We’ve had sales people called out of client meetings to answer questions from upline sales execs,” Burnette said. Much of this information was locked up in Excel spreadsheets owned by individual reps. The only person who could answer a question was the representative on the account.

IBM built a sales force automation system based on SugarCRM, Websphere and Lotus Connections to enable collaboration and streamline visibility into the sales cycle. Cognos and SPSS analytics were applied to better qualify opportunities and improve forecasting. As a result, salespeople now know more about their prospects and managers have better visibility into progress against goals.

Opportunity reports were replaced with an “activity stream” approach similar to the Facebook timeline that enables salespeople to document the status of each opportunity on an ongoing basis. Management can peek into the status of opportunities at any point in the process and get the latest information. As a result, lag times have been cut from five days to almost nothing and report preparation has been significantly reduced because everyone has access to the same information.

“I don’t think most senior sales executives have any idea how many people are behind the scenes creating reports and forecasts,” Burnette said. “If managers are in collaboration with their teams the information is more accurate and less filtered.”

All members of the team can now apply social tools like tagging and profiling to identify and recommend experts who can help solve customer problems and closed deals. “The management team is helping the seller sell instead of asking why they aren’t selling,” Burnette said.

Critical Success Factors

A project this ambitious can’t succeed without support at three levels:  top management, brand managers and the reps on the street. The fact that new IBM CEO Ginni Rometty had endorsed the project before she even became CEO was a godsend, Burnette said. Also critical was involving users in the development of the dashboard. Nearly 800 sales reps gave feedback at every step. Brand leaders helped in strategic direction so that the most important information would be the easiest to find.

Social selling is now being woven into the mainstream of IBM’s business process, but adoption was never a sure thing.

“Becoming a social business is a transformational journey,” Burnette said. “The onus has been on us to translate these systems into something that has clear business value.” As word-of-mouth has grown, the new social selling process has taken on a life of its own. “It started with us deliberately selecting the people to participate, but now it’s ballooned to the point where people are saying, ‘I want to be a part of this.’”

Read more coverage of Burnette’s session.


This is one in a series of posts sponsored by IBM Midsize Business that explore people and technologies that enable midsize companies to innovate. In some cases, the topics are requested by IBM; however, the words and opinions are entirely my own.

Industrial Age Thinking Thwarts Potential of Internal Social Nets

About 15 years ago the CEO of the company where I worked decided that it was important that employees should learn to use the technology they were writing about. He asked my business unit to build a computer lab that employees could use at any time to play and experiment.

A large rectangular block of space was annexed in the middle of the open office and a spacious facility was constructed with spot lighting, tinted picture windows and all the latest PCs and Macs with large color monitors, color printers, a flatbed scanner and Bose speakers. There was even a NeXT machine.

The lab was christened with fanfare and highlighted in the company newsletter. It then sat unused for two years before it was quietly torn down and converted back to practical office space.

Why did the directive from the CEO of the company go unheeded? Because it was neither supported nor enforced by the managers below him. The managers – myself included – were given no incentives to make the CEO’s vision real. None of the executives used the lab themselves. Anyone who did could be observed by the entire office, as if to advertise that they had nothing else to do. The message was clear: Using the lab was equivalent to goofing off. Needless to say, people stayed away.

Unrealized Promise

That story popped into my mind last week as I was participating in a webcast with The Conference Board about internal social networks, their promise and the significant impediments that many organizations face to adopting them.

The social networking metaphor is increasingly expanding into the enterprise as a means to encourage knowledge-sharing among employees. Last month I attended Lotusphere and heard presentations by companies like 3M, Caterpillar, TD Bank North and Cemex about their successes in using Facebook-like technology behind-the-firewall.

Their stories, however, may be the exception. Recent research by InformationWeek found that less than 40% of users of internal social networks rated their usefulness as good or excellent. McKinsey reported last fall that only about half of the companies that met their definition of fully networked enterprises were able to maintain that state over time. “It appears that it is easier to lose the benefits of social technologies than to become a more networked enterprise,” McKinsey wrote.

This is despite the fact that internal social networks offer unprecedented opportunities to unlock the knowledge capital within organizations. For example, a sales rep trying to close a deal with a German company can discover an accounting employee who speaks fluent German and leverage that person’s skill to help get the business. The marketing department can discover the manufacturing employee who has outstanding Web design skills by simply posting an inquiry to the network. When employees can freely share knowledge and needs with each other, knowledge tends to bubble up in unexpected places.

Unfortunately, social networks challenge entrenched political boundaries and threaten the managers whose support is needed to make them work. They’re also incompatible with conventional organizational structures, which actually work against information sharing.

Factory Thought

Female Factory Worker, 1940sMost businesses are still built upon management structures that were conceived during the Industrial Revolution to optimize operational efficiency. Job descriptions, reporting structures, departments and business units were all needed to ensure that organizations produced the necessary goods on schedule and that each participant in the process was accountable. These structures have become a burden today as challenges have shifted from process management to knowledge management.

In most companies managers are rewarded based upon the output of their group. Incentives to share resources are few; in fact, such behavior is more likely to be penalized than celebrated. The accounting manager has no reason to share the German-speaking employee with the sales rep because gains nothing from doing so and others in the department have to pick up the slack of the absent employee.

Knowledge sharing initiatives don’t work if the organization doesn’t change. Executive vision must be supported by line managers who have goals and incentives that encourage them to share their treasured resources.

Getting started isn’t that difficult. Spot bonuses, recognition in company awards programs and articles in the company newsletter can highlight desired behaviors at little cost. However, to really optimize knowledge sharing within an organization, executives need to think bigger. They need to institutionalize practices that encourage the smooth flow of information and skills across the workplace. They need to rethink the knee-jerk approach to departmentalizing everything and rewarding line managers solely on the basis of departmental performance. They need to let teams form fluidly without penalizing people who wish to contribute outside the confines of their job description. They need to let people experiment and play without fear of recrimination.

The reward is a smarter business with happier employees who are engaged in work they love. That’s a concept the architects of the Industrial Revolution never even imagined.