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Competing on the Field But Cooperating in the Office

August 30, 2011

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It’s not difficult to find examples of sports teams using social media. From the player (Gilbert Arenas’ landmark blogging in 2006) to the team (the Red Sox using Twitter to give away free tickets during a rain delay) to the league (the NHL’s tweetups), social media has gone from being an innovative marketing tactic to a must-have component of any marketing strategy. League and individual team marketing functions are hard at work thinking up all kinds of new ways to use social media to increase fan loyalty, buy tickets, buy merchandise, and watch/listen to the games via myriad devices. Here’s the rub – in any one league, this brainstorming is happening, sometimes 30 times over, in the league office and in each of the team’s front offices because there’s no single platform where team and league staff are sharing this information.

Enterprise 2.0 conference, Jun 2009 - 26

There are plenty of case studies of sports leagues and teams using social media for marketing purposes - where are the examples of using social media to improve league and team collaboration?

Disappointingly, a search for examples where teams, leagues, or college conferences are using social media to communicate and collaborate internally yields a much shorter, less relevant list. For all of the media attention that’s heaped on these leagues and teams for their use (or lack thereof) of social media to communicate with fans and the media, internal collaboration amongst league and team front office staff is still ruled by phone calls, shared drives, and emails. The personal relationships established among front office staff at games and league functions have become the de facto collaboration mechanism for the PR, customer service, ticket sales, media relations, broadcasting, and other front office staff. Despite all the gains in using social media for marketing, the sports industry, by and large, has failed to capitalize on the opportunities social media can bring them internally.

As I mentioned in a previous post, there are actually a lot of similarities between the sports industry and the government when it comes to using social media. While the Air Force, Army, Navy, and Marine Corps all maintain fierce loyalty to their respective service branch, they also realize they are all ultimately fighting for the same cause, for the same team, and it’s up to the Department of Defense (DoD) to bring all of these individuals together under one mission.  Similarly, the Penguins, Flyers, Bruins and Capitals are rivals on the ice, yet they all realize that when push comes to shove, they all play in the same league and all need to work together to grow the game. Unfortunately, while the DoD is using wikis to conduct intelligence analysis and social networking to get new employees up to speed more quickly, professional sports leagues continue to rely on tools that are inaccessible, unsearchable, and unorganized to collaborate with one another. By relying on personal relationships instead of using open platforms that connect teams and leagues together, professional sports leagues are missing a golden opportunity to reduce duplication, cut costs, increase morale, and increase employee performance.

What if leagues and conferences were able to create a common platform where all of their teams could collaborate with one another, sharing best practices and lessons learned?
Wouldn’t that be better than relying on phone calls and emails to share this information?

What if each league had an idea generation platform a la Manor Labs where staff could submit ideas that would be discussed and voted upon by their colleagues across the league?
Wouldn’t that be better than sending around “what do you think of this?” emails?

What if each league had one shared platform accessible to all of the communications staff from each of the teams where things like marketing campaigns, communications templates, and results could be uploaded and shared?
Woudn’t that work better than digging through old emails and shared drive files?

What if the league stopped mandating policies and technical platforms on their teams and instead co-created these policies and collaborated on the best technical platforms?
Wouldn’t it be better to be seen as a partner instead of an adversary?

Competition on the field and collaboration in the office isn’t a new idea. This idea that the whole is greater than the sum of its parts has permeated the sports landscape this year. From revenue sharing across all teams in the NFL’s latest collective bargaining agreement (the teams that bring in more money share revenue with the small market clubs) to the new conference realignments happening in college (Florida and Georgia may be rivals, but you can bet their rooting for each other if they’re both playing teams from the Big Ten), leagues and teams have realized that a healthy league makes for healthy teams. It’s hard for the average fan to understand, but just because Terrell Suggs and Hines Ward may not be the best of friends doesn’t mean that the Steelers communications staff and Ravens communications staff are necessarily at each other throats too.

What if the sports leagues and teams took advantage of these Enterprise 2.0 technologies, learned from what’s been done in other similar organizations and used technology to enable this collaboration to take place not just at the collective bargaining level, but at the day-to-day level?

Perhaps the more important question is…what happens if they don’t?

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Mr. Popularity and Your Enterprise 2.0 Community

August 22, 2011

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Let’s do an experiment. Take five minutes and do a quick search of your organization’s blogs, microblogs, wikis, and forums that are available behind your firewall – and then let me know what the most popular topics are. Do they involve “social media,” “Web 2.0,” “new media,” “mobile,” “enterprise 2.0,” or “collaboration?”

Now, take a look at who is posting and commenting on these topics. Are these the same people who also have the most overall comments, posts, edits, and connections? If so, Mr. Popularity may be taking over your community and the worst part of it all? He may actually think he’s helping you.

Starting and maintaining a vibrant online community behind an organizational firewall is already fraught with challenges – integrating it into the workflow, securing funding, scaling across the organization, developing policies and guidelines, creating rewards structures, identifying active champions – and now I’m here to tell you that those very active champions who are so critical to the early growth of your community may also be the cause of its downfall.

You see, while these active champions are responsible for seeding a majority of the content, answering questions, posting content, editing pages, and creating topics, they can also skew the content to suit their own agenda and create a chilling effect on opposing viewpoints and topics. This makes your communities far more social media and technology-oriented than your organization really is. In the early days of your online community, this may be of little concern to you – content is being created, new members are joining, and discussions are happening. This creates a vibrant community for those employees interested in social media and technology, but unfortunately, further dissuades those interested in other topics from joining. Mr. Popularity, once an ally, now becomes a challenge to be overcome.

I’ve actually experienced the pros and the cons of being Mr. Popularity on our  own hello.bah.com community a few years ago. I was one of the first community managers and was a very visible and active champion for the platform. I became known as the guy who could get conversations started, who could help increase traffic to a post, and who would be willing to give an opinion when no one else would. Our internal communications staff was even pitching me to get me to share official corporate messages because I had built up a decent sized following on my blog. This worked out great in the beginning – I was able to help drive some additional traffic to the platform, increase user adoption, and create a ton of new content that was shared across the firm. The double-edged sword of being Mr. Popularity hit me right in the face though when I got the following email (excerpted below):

“When I ducked into our VP’s blog, I noted you had already jumped in with what appears to be a standard, or getting there, pat on the back and tutorial…  Are you becoming too intrusive beyond cheerleading?  The speed at which you’ve already entered the room is giving me the thought that you are becoming Master Control from the movie Tron. I can’t recall reading anyone’s blog that I can’t remember seeing you there in the first couple of replies.  You write extensive replies very quickly that to me verge on being somewhat inhibiting for others, like me, to weigh in so as to not repeat a point.”

Wow! And here I thought I was being helpful! I thought by commenting on everything I could get to, I could help build and reinforce the collaborative culture we were trying to create. And at first, that’s exactly what I was doing. Little did I know that as the community grew beyond the early adopters, my hyper-activity that was a boon at the start was now becoming a detriment. Instead of a community manager, was I becoming a community bully?

To find out if your Mr. Popularity is negatively impacting your community, ask yourself these questions:

  1. Does Mr. Popularity know that he/she is having a negative impact? These active champions probably don’t even know that they’re causing harm. Quite the contrary – they probably believe that they’re helping. Like the email I received above, reach out to them and have a discussion with them about their contributions and show them areas where instead of helping create conversation, they may have inadvertently stopped it.
  2. Who are your most active contributors beyond social media and technology? The best way to lessen the influence of Mr. Popularity is to identify people in other business areas who are willing and able to post and discuss content areas like HR, Legal, and Operations.
  3. What is your role in the community? Do a bit of self-reflection – maybe you are Mr. Popularity. Talk to your colleagues and find out what they really think of your online presence. Do you come across as overbearing? Too focused on one topic? Closed off to other opinions? Publicly, you may be receiving all kinds of positive reinforcement. But what are people saying among themselves that they aren’t sharing publicly?
  4. What other possible reasons exist for the gluttony of social media/tech-related topics? Are community members discouraged from discussing operations? Has the Director of HR banned his staff from participating? Having a few individuals who are hyper-active on your online community and skewing the conversations toward their interests is like having two good quarterbacks and not being able to decide which one to start. It’s usually a good problem to have, and despite some of the challenges identified in this post, they are still likely helping more than they’re hurting your community.

Mr. Popularity isn’t necessarily a detriment to your community. Quite the contrary – they’re likely some of your most valuable members. But, left unchecked, they do have the potential to take over the community – its members, its content, and its discussion. The key is in channeling their energy and enthusiasm and focus it on helping grow the community as a whole, to include topics other than social media and technology.

*This post originally appeared on my AIIM Enterprise 2.0 Community blog.

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I Didn’t Fail the Test, I Just Found 100 Ways to Do It Wrong

June 22, 2011

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I like failures. I like hearing about failures and learning from them. I like hearing that other people have made the same mistakes I have and succeeded in spite of (in some cases, because of) those mistakes. I like hearing how one social strategy fails miserably in one organization yet thrives in another. Sure, I enjoy talking with my counterparts in other organizations about their successes, but I almost enjoy hearing about the failures more. At least then we get to talk about some real honest stories instead of an endless of marketing-speak talking about engagement, authenticity, and community.

I’ve written before about the need to start talking about failures at conferences so that others may learn, so that’s why I was excited to attend Kevin Jones‘ presentation, “Enterprise 2.0 Failures – And What We Learn From Them,” yesterday at the Enterprise 2.0 Conference here in Boston. Kevin is a Social Media & Network Strategist/Manager at NASA’s Marshall Space Flight Center, and he gave us several “ways to fail” at Enterprise 2.0 based on his experiences at NASA. Update: Make sure you check out Kevin’s post on his presentation as well as his slides/video that he used.

Here are ten that I particularly liked:

How to Fail at Enterprise 2.0

  1. Work in a Culture of Low Trust – Kevin said he was talking to one manager who said, “I just don’t trust my people. “If they bash another group, I don’t want that group to see it. Their English is really horrible – I don’t want anyone else in the organization to know that my people are idiots.”  You could have the greatest tools in the world, but no blog or wiki is going to work if this is the culture in which it’s implemented.
  2. Rely on Stats – Trotting all of the latest industry stats on Enterprise 2.0 adoption and spending is great, but nothing resonates as well with a senior leader as actually getting them to sit down and use the tools until they have that “ah-ha” moment for themselves.
  3. Underestimate the Political Landscape – Kevin had “a NASA employee assigned to watch over me to keep me out of trouble, but I still got my hand slapped multiple times.”  He was told by the CIO to let him know if he encounters any problems, but then another senior leader told him that he wasn’t allowed to speak to the CIO unless he was accompanied by this other leader. Not understanding the unique office politics at play and how to make them work for you is a recurring theme in Enterprise 2.0 failures.
  4. Ignore people who have done this before – This is the “but I’m unique!” argument. Everyone thinks their organization is unique and different from everyone else that they ignore the lessons learned and best practices of others in their organization and assume that they know best. Unfortunately, they usually don’t.
  5. Treat this as YOUR project – At first, Kevin thought of himself as the Head of All Things Social. He soon realized that he was spinning his wheels as others weren’t buying into his vision. Not until he gave others ownership over certain parts of the strategy did he start to garner support.
  6. Treat this as an IT project – In Enterprise 2.0 implementations, the money often comes from the IT department, and unfortunately, that means that these initiatives are often implemented like an IT project. “Let’s just get the tools up and running – we’ll worry about the people later!” Enterprise 2.0 has to be treated like people project with an IT component, not the other way around.
  7. Go Cheap – You get what you pay for, in terms of hardware, software, and people. Kevin mentioned that he led this huge promotional push to get people to log into the platform and it worked! Unfortunately, it worked much better than the IT people thought it would, and they didn’t have the right server space/bandwidth in place to handle the influx of people. So instead of a good news story about user adoption, it turned into people logging into a new collaboration site, only to receive a 404 error. You can’t commit halfway to Enterprise 2.0 – you can’t say, “well, we can afford the tools, but not the community managers” or vice versa.
  8. Assume this is about collaboration, being social – Enterprise 2.0 isn’t about creating a Facebook behind the firewall or giving people a way to collaborate. It’s about using technology to help employees do their work. The ability to create a blog that your co-workers can read is meaningless to most people. The ability to easily update and share your weekly status report with your entire project team without having to sift through multiple versions in your inbox? Now that’s something they can get on board with.
  9. Make Policy Ugly – Forcing your people to read and agree to a lengthy document filled with do not do this, do not do that legal-ese is akin to putting up a “Beware of Dog! No Trespassing!” sign on your front gate. That doesn’t say come on in and collaborate – that says, we’re protecting our butt because we don’t trust you.
  10. Forget that you’re working with humans – These aren’t “users” or “visitors” you’re dealing with. These are people. These are your colleagues. They want to feel like they’re joining a community of other people who can help them, not using some impersonal tool with strict rules and policies governing their every move.

*The title is a quote from Ben Franklin

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Everyone’s on Facebook, Why Aren’t They on the Intranet Too?

April 30, 2011

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Thanks to all who came to my presentation at the ACMP 2011 conference – as promised you can find my entire presentation here!

In the fall I wrote a guest post entitled, “But I Don’t WANNA Change” about using change management techniques to encourage the adoption of social media within organizations. Over the past six months, I have seen how many people are interested in this topic, and I will be discussing it again at the Association for Change Management Professional’s conference May 1-4. One thing I have learned, however, is that even though social media is sweeping the world, that doesn’t mean your internal platform will engage your employees.

Social Media is Fast

Collage of social media icons

Photo Credit: Flickr, myretailmedia

Over the past five or six years we have seen a societal transformation take shape. Social Media has forever changed the way the world communicates. At the root of that change is behavior change; the idea that people had to learn to start doing something in a new way. There are always those early adopters (think Twitter users in 2007, Facebook users in 2004), but generally large-scale adoption of new communications tools takes years, often decades (think radio and television) – until now. Social media has raced across the globe in just a few years, with billions now taking part.

Social media has even had time to have what I call ‘nano-changes’ (nano as in rapid changes within a larger change). In the last several years we’ve seen a remarkable shift from blogs and discussion forums to instant update platforms like Twitter and Foursquare. There has also been a substantial move to mobile technology.

Behavior Change is Slow

A turtle slowly plods along

Photo Credit: Flickr, jhoward413

So how does understanding this information help you build a successful internal social media platform? Because to unleash the power of social media you have to understand human behavior. We are social creatures, but businesses that assume our social tendencies will ensure the success of a new collaboration platform are gravely mistaken. Why? Because they underestimate one crucial human behavior, we are social creatures AND creatures of habit. Change is hard, change is work, and getting people to change behavior requires significant effort.

These platforms often fail because:

1. They are poorly implemented and explained
2. Users don’t have a clear understanding of why using the site will help them
3. Leadership doesn’t lead by example and engage users via the platform
4. The tools don’t provide meaningful, updated information
5. They weren’t designed with the end-user in mind, so the user interface is complicated or confusing
6. They don’t continue to evolve

Here’s my take on each of these issues.

1. Solve a specific problem: A poorly implemented and explained IT implementation will always fail. (And make no mistake building an internal collaboration platform is an IT implementation.) My previous post has some detail around this particular issue, but one point reigns supreme: build the platform to meet a business need. Define the goal clearly and help employees understand how this new platform will achieve that goal. Is your goal to train employees, improve morale, or communicate more effectively to a global workforce? Define the goal, then design the platform to achieve it, and then communicate the hell out of it!

2. Clear vision: If users don’t understand what it is or why they should use it, it’s because the vision for the project was not clearly articulated. Take this example:

We are designing a web portal that through a user authentication process will enable simultaneous global interactions in a safe, behind-the-firewall employee collaboration platform.
OR
We’re creating a secure website where our employees can collaborate, share ideas, and inspire one another.

Articulating the vision is leadership’s responsibility, and the first step is to make certain people understand the critical elements. The second message clearly explains what it is, who it’s for, and what the benefits are, without using jargon.

3. Lead by example: If your CEO is still sending mass emails to everyone instead of launching the latest firm initiative via the new platform, then employees are receiving conflicting messages. Not only that, but if leadership is noticeably absent from the blogs, discussion forums, or communities created in the new platform then they are not reinforcing the use of the tool by modeling the behavior they expect to see – the employee thinks, ‘well the boss doesn’t use it, why should I bother to learn how?’

4. Content drives adoption: If people find the content engaging, informative, and useful they will return, if they don’t they are history. There are two parts to this: first, the content must be provided in an interesting manner. Don’t just post the company’s newsletter on the platform – make it interactive, use the discussion forum to determine the content for the next newsletter, etc. Second, the content needs to be consistently updated, which means you have to allocate enough resources to make sure the platform stays relevant and organized.

5. User first! It is always surprising to me how often the simplest (and arguably most important) issue is lost in the myriad of technical details – if the user experience is poor, they won’t use the site. Very few people will take the time and money to do a full, extensive usability review, but there are other options. First, there is ‘do-it-yourself’ usability that can be quite helpful. Steve Krug has a great book on this topic that has practical tips that really can improve any website. Another solution is to launch your new platform in beta, tell everyone it’s in beta, ask for their honest, candid feedback, and then (here’s the trick) listen to them! People are MUCH more forgiving of a new platform if they can see the site improving and evolving, which brings me to my last point…

6. Evolve, evolve, evolve: A platform that doesn’t grow with the needs of its users, no matter how well promoted it is, will ultimately stagnate and die. You don’t have to have a complete overhaul every six months, but you do have to continue to provide your users with more value. The other key here – don’t just add stuff, go back to your business drivers and add the stuff that reinforces those business objectives. Ask users what features or functionality they would like, and if it’s technically feasible give it to them.

Each of the issues above are core change management principles: creating a sense of urgency, articulating a clear vision, leading by example, and gathering feedback to continually evolve are all crucial steps to ensuring a successful internal collaboration implementation. It’s not build it and they will come, it’s more like build it, do all of this hard work, get them involved, and then they will come! But hey, better that than yet another wiki that no one uses, right?

Michael Murray is an Associate at Booz Allen Hamilton, where he has helped clients use social media to engage people around the world and in the office across the hall.

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