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Knock Down the Social Media Dominos

November 23, 2008

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Image courtesy of Flickr user rosendahl

Image courtesy of Flickr user rosendahl

If you’re on Twitter and follow Chris Brogan, you’re probably familiar with the “Chris Brogan” effect.  Basically, Chris has built up such a loyal following that whenever he tweets about one of your blog posts, tweets, etc., you immediately see a spike in your own Twitter followers and traffic to whatever he linked to.  In the social media community, Chris is a big domino, or as Malcom Gladwell put it in his book, the Tipping Point, a “connector.”  By reaching Chris, you’re not reaching just one person, but a whole army of people who are following him.

As a social media consultant for my government clients, this is a powerful concept, but it’s not new.  In the traditional media, why does the front page of the New York Times have more impact than the Des Moines Register?  It reaches more people.  It has more credibility.  It reaches a more influential audience.  This same concept applies, albeit in a different way, to social media.  The influencers are no longer restricted to just mainstream media like the Times or CBS News.  They are individual people now, not just age-old institutions.  Each niche topic area now has their own connector, their own Chris Brogan – someone who can reach a whole new audience that you haven’t been able to tap into.

An argument that I often hear is, “why should I spend the time hassling with some blogger with a few thousand readers, when millions read the New York Times?  Aren’t I wasting resources that could be used on securing media with a larger audience?

If I’m the public affairs officer for a smaller government agency trying to get the word out about a new program, I’m spending more time reaching out to the prominent bloggers in that topic area because I know that if I can get their support and they blog about how wonderful my program is, their readership will not only become aware of my program, they are more apt to support it because it’s coming from a trusted source.  And if I’ve identified the right bloggers, chances are good that the next domino, the beat reporter for the local paper, is also reading that blog.  They’ve now come across this great program that has the support of someone he or she trusts instead of receiving a pitchy, biased email in their inbox.

How many pitches does a reporter get each day?  How many does he actually follow through with?  What if he’s one of the readers of the blog that you’ve engaged?  Reaching out to an influential blogger is like knocking down that first domino.  By reaching someone like Chris Brogan, you’re also going to reach scores of other social media luminaries like Robert Scoble, Geoff Livingston, Jeremiah Owyang, each of whom has thousands of followers, including members of the traditional media.

So the next time you’re working on your media relations plan, make sure you’ve identified the people who are talking about your program, your agency, or your topic area and you have a plan for engaging with them (note I said engaging, not pitching to them – be a human being and just talk with people for once!).  Make sure that you’ve built relationships with these connectors, these social media dominos.

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What’s Going to be Your Social Media Legacy?

November 10, 2008

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Image courtesy of Flickr user Douglas Staas

Image courtesy of Flickr user Douglas Staas

As I sat down the other night to write another blog posting for my company’s internal social media platform, I thought to myself what would happen if I were to stop.  Stop blogging.  Stop Tweeting.  Stop evangelizing.  Stop everything related to social media.  What would happen if I took a job in another industry where social media wasn’t a key component of the job? What would happen to all of the blog posts that I’ve done?  What would happen to all of the people on my social media team at Booz Allen?  What would happen to the social media practice there?

What’s my legacy if I were to leave my company?  Specifically, what’s my social media legacy?  People tend to think that their value to their organization is directly proportional to the amount of destruction that would occur in their absence.  Not only is this not true, it’s the exact opposite of what you should want your legacy to be.  Indulge me with the following analogy – when Bill Cowher retired from the Pittsburgh Steelers after an 8-8 season in 2007, he was widely considered one of the best coaches in the league.  In Pittsburgh, his retirement was met with loads of “the sky is falling” criticism.  Cowher was one of the best coaches in the league – what would the Steelers do without him?  When Mike Tomlin took over as the new Steelers coach, he retained a majority of the coaching staff.  Without Cowher, the team didn’t fall apart, the team didn’t collapse.  In fact, the team got better – they went 10-6 in Tomlin’s first year.  Compare this to Lloyd Carr and who retired from the University of Michigan after going 9-4 in 2007.  Rich Rodriguez took over and in his first season, is 3-7 and on his way to leading the Wolverines to one of the worst records in their history.  Who would you say was the more valuable coach – the one who created an organization that could be successful even without him or the one who created an organization that fell apart without him?  Do you look at Bill Cowher as any less of a coach because the team didn’t implode without him?

This concept doesn’t just apply to sports teams though.  Applied to the government, this is akin to those leaders who create new initiatives in their last year of office because they want to leave a legacy.  How many of these efforts continue after they’re gone?  Have they created something that’s going to continue to benefit the organization even after they’re gone, or something that’s going to have a short-term benefit, but will ultimately fail without someone driving it?  Take a look at something like Intellipedia which was founded by Don Burke and Sean Dennehy more than two years ago.  They’ve fostered a environment in which dozens of collaboration leaders from across the Intelligence Community have emerged to not only sustain the Intellipedia vision, but also to build upon it.  What started out as just a wiki now includes social bookmarking, social networking, blogs, and most importantly, a culture of collaboration that will continue even if one or two pieces is taken away.

I am openly challenging myself as well as every other social media evangelist who is reading this post to be like Bill Cowher.  Have you helped develop other leaders who are capable of taking the reins if you’re gone?  Have you shared your skills and knowledge with others throughout your organization who will help ensure the success of your efforts after you leave?  Have you helped create a successful organization full of others like you?  What’s going to be your social media legacy?

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Learn to Walk Before You Run

November 2, 2008

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Image courtesy of Flickr user karen.j.ybanez

“Why aren’t people using it?”

That’s the question I was recently asked by a colleague working on a project where they had just deployed an internal wiki.  They identified a need to bring people people together in a collaborative environment.  They knew they didn’t have the capability in-house.  They researched the latest collaborative software.  They read an article on Intellipedia.  They said, “that’s what we want!”  They installed a wiki.  They created links to user guides.  They issued memos to their users telling them that this collaborative tool that they’ve all been clamoring for is now available.  Then they waited.  And they waited…

They soon discovered that their users weren’t actually, you know, using the wiki.  They were baffled – they had given their users the capability that they were asking for; they gave them directions for how to use it; they even had their leadership send out messages to the user telling them to use this tool.

“Why aren’t people using it?”

What they didn’t take into account was the fact that a majority of their users were of the Silent or Baby Boomer generation, they were academic researchers who were rewarded for individual published works, and they were very aware of copyright and intellectual property rights.  The problem wasn’t that the users didn’t know how to use the wiki; the problem was that the users didn’t know how to collaborate.  Everything in their nature told them that individual contribution was of the utmost importance.  Everything they’ve ever learned was about protecting and publishing their intellectual property.  Asking this group of users to go from this to using a wiki was a gigantic step that they weren’t ready to take.

Before rolling out ANY type of social media application, whether it’s blogs, or a wiki, or microblogging, make sure that you do an assessment of your user culture first.  Are they rewarded or punished for collaborating?  What collaborative tools, if any, do they already use?  Is risk-taking rewarded?  How do leaders react when their strategy is questioned?  How is the organization more hierarchical or flat?  These questions need to be asked before rolling out any type of social media application.  The answers to these types of questions will help inform what tools will help you achieve your goals.  You have to figure out what your end goal is and then determine the tools and processes will help you get there.  Not every user base is ready to just jump right in and use a wiki.  They need to first learn how to walk.

That’s why I love a tool like Yammer.  Yammer is a microblogging application similar to Twitter, only it’s focused on businesses.  Think of it like an IM platform where every IM you send is open to everyone else in the network.  Instant Messaging has become so ubiquitous that almost everybody is, at a minimum, familiar with the tool and how it’s used.  Moving this basic concept to an open platform is a much smaller step for most people than collaboratively editing a document on a wiki.  Sending a message using Yammer is a combination of sending IMs and sending questions to email distribution lists.  It’s a much more manageable concept, especially for organizations who aren’t prone to collaboration.  Whether your organization ends up using something like Yammer for the long term isn’t all that important at this point – the most important thing is that people are learning how and when to collaborate with others.

If your goal is to create a truly collaborative environment across your organization, remember that a community like Intellipedia just doesn’t grow overnight.  It takes years to move that many users down that road.  Start small and start with something that’s familiar to your user community.  Teach them to walk down the road of collaboration before you expect them to run.

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Putting Social Media Before Your Health?

October 25, 2008

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Image courtesy of Flickr user hiyori13

Image courtesy of Flickr user hiyori13

As I mentioned in my last post, one of the key success factors to deploying social media in an organization is that someone is “a champion.” Personally, I’m living this every single day at Booz Allen – people from across my company are constantly asking for a presentation on social media at their all-hands meetings, I get calls to go brief clients on the power of social media, I get hundreds of emails from people asking me for my advice on something to do with social media, I give dozens of briefings at external events, and answer any and all questions from my colleagues. Most of all, I get tired.  Very.  Tired.

This fact – working long hours and getting very tired is a staple of every single successful implementation of social media at a large organization. There’s always that core group of passionate social media enthusiasts who will go above and beyond to make social media successful – from spending their own money to create social media rewards to volunteering their time to function as an ad hoc help desk.  That group usually consists of anywhere between 1-10 people, depending on the size of the organization, and that core group HAS to be the most passionate users.  They are more than just change champions, they are the de facto social media help desk, the “gurus,” and the intellectual capital leaders – they ARE social media at their organization.  This passion creates a domino effect – people start following these leaders and the core group begins expanding and expanding until it slowly sweeps across the organization. I, like Andrea Baker explained in my last post, have been inspired by Gary V to keep pushing, to keep advocating in what I believe, and to remain completely and overwhelmingly passionate about it. This approach has proven to be incredibly beneficial to my organization’s social media efforts and to my career.

But at what cost?  I left work early today because my eyes, sinuses, and head were killing me. I realized that over the last few months, that’s happened to me a lot more often that it used to. I’m taking more sick days. I’m finding myself completely drained by Friday afternoon that I don’t even want to go out. I’m spending less and less time with my family and friends as more of my time is now taken up with building our firm’s social media capability.  I don’t have the time to spend just going out to lunch with my team because I’ve always got some sort of meeting.  I’m working 12-14 hours a day, and I know that it’s not healthy for me to sustain this, I don’t know if there’s anything that I can give up and still be confident that our social media capability will continue to grow.  Is this one reason why some social media implementations succeed and others fail – their core group of passionate users doesn’t expand resulting in the the core group burning themselves out or giving up?

I’m interested in hearing your thoughts – do you find yourselves in a similar situation?  Take this very short and very informal and unscientific survey and let me know what you think.  I’ll keep you updated with any interesting results that I find.

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