Corporate website trend: From providing information to providing a service

Summary: Moving ‘from providing information to providing a service’ is the seventh corporate website trend we identified. This post is part of a series of blog posts in which we look at trends for corporate websites.

Most corporate websites provide large amounts of information. This used to be enough, but no longer. If you want to be useful and build trust that way you need to offer additional value through other services. Especially on a corporate site people are usually on a mission to accomplish a task. They rarely visit a corporate site to simply browse and enjoy some nice imagery.

Sometimes providing a service as an added value can seem counter-intuitive, as it initially may not support the organization’s objectives. However, one of the maxims in a connected world states: Provide more value than you can capture. The idea is that people will thank you for your services and talk about them / you in favorable ways, which again, in a connected world is critical.

I found a very interesting take on this trend implemented by BP. On their corporate website they provide an Energy Usage and Carbon Emission Calculator.

BP Energy usage and carbon emission calculator

BP Energy usage and carbon emission calculator

It’s a nifty tool that allows you to measure your energy consumption. It also uses some lightweight game mechanics, since you can compare your consumption against the average consumer. BP also offers you to send a reminder in the future to use the calculator again and track and compare your energy consumption. It’s a very easy way to stay in touch and on the minds of consumers. Last but not least, the BP Energy Lab provides tips for greener more sustainable living. Even though it is all tucked away in the Sustainability section of BP’s website, you have to applaud the company on thinking beyond providing information to now also providing a service. I think there are lots of opportunities for companies, even traditional B2B companies, that have not been explored yet.

Whilst not a corporate website per se, one highly interesting example I came across was a mobile app developed by a law firm specialized in car accidents.

My Lawyer Mobile App

My Lawyer Mobile App

Similar to other law firms, the company could have simply created a mobile app providing information and news about the firm. But they must have known that few people will actually download the app, as its use is very limited! Instead the firm thought beyond providing information to providing a service. The app helps people involved in an accident. It provides a checklist of what to do, provides the functionality to record conversations with police and the other party, draw a sketch of how the accident happened, record GPS location and many other things. All through this process, there is no value for the law firm. However, when the person involved in the accident has gathered all the information using the app, he can simply send it to the law firm. That is where the loop closes.

But there are other examples of how companies are moving from providing information to providing a service, which can also go beyond the corporate website. In the end, it’s not the channel that counts, but the wider mindshift that is involved and effects all parts of the business. Below are just two examples of companies that are also riding this trend.

BASF has a number of mobile apps. Below is a screenshot of an app that helps arable farmers and agronomists identifying diseases in cereals.

BASF - Mobile app helps to identify diseases

BASF – Mobile app helps to identify diseases

Unilever created a mobile app targeting students and recent graduates. The Unilever Career Sprinter app obviously provides career information about Unilever but also general job tips that could be useful for their target audience.

Unilever - Helping students and graduates with their career path

Unilever – Helping students and graduates with their career path

The app was last updated in November 2012, so I am not sure how successful it really was in the end. It might well be that it will get pulled from the App Store soon.

These are all first steps in moving towards providing services. In the future we might see new scenarios and functionality. Imagine a journalist looking for different views on a company story. Of course, the journalist can use all the different search engines and channels, but what if he could go to the corporate website and see the corporate communication and the non-corporate communication about the topic? Would it be helpful in that it would save him time and that it would provide the journalist with valuable context? It probably would. The same is true for investors that are looking at a company. Why not aggregate and provide information in an effective way about how the company is faring against the wider market or even competitors? The investor will find that information anyway, so why not help him accomplish his task faster?

Companies may not see an immediate ROI and thus refrain from this kind of strategy. But they should remember that we live in a networked world and things have changed. Business as usual is not an option anymore.


This blog post is part of a series of posts in which we delve into the trends for corporate website that we have identified. The series:

  1. From static to real-time information
  2. From text to active content
  3. From channel to canvas
  4. From desktop to mobile
  5. From single source of truth to the provider of different opinions
  6. From destination to platform
  7. From providing information to providing a service
  8. From company centric design to user centric design
  9. From single launch to continuous improvement

© Picture Credit: Wayne MacPhail

Corporate website trend: From single source of truth to the provider of different opinions

Summary: Moving ‘from single source of truth to provider of different opinions’ is the fifth corporate website trend we identified. This post is part of a series of blog posts in which we look at trends for corporate websites.

One of the biggest problems with corporate websites is that they are seen as yet another company’s broadcasting channel. No matter the information it will always have the company’s positive spin on it. It was a comfortable position for companies back when corporate websites were the main destination to find information. But these days your audience can get information about your company from a variety of (online) sources. You say you are the best employer in the world? Well, people on Glassdoor say the opposite. You say your CSR campaign is an incredible hit? Well, people in forums and communities beg to differ. No matter what, people will probably trust your content on your website less than other sources. And these days it’s easy to find these sources, so it’s not advisable to bury your head in the sand.

To earn the trust of your audience the corporate website will need to move from single source of truth to the provider of different opinions. Corporate websites are starting to provide corporate and non-corporate content, i.e. 3rd party or user-generated content. This is a tall order for most companies, as it can potentially mean losing control of your message if done wrong. Thus, we probably won’t see radical shifts in this trend but slow developments, starting on social media channels, microsites, then brand sites and ultimately corporate websites.

One of the simpler and most cost-effective way of providing different opinions is content curation. Thus, the corporate website team curates relevant, external content that was not produced by them but 3rd parties. The adidas Group have started doing this with their recent relaunch of their corporate website.

In 2013 Siemens teamed up with Zooppa to crowdsource videos through a contest. Participants were asked to create original footage about  inventions that can help us lead a sustainable life in the cities. 

Siemens - Crowdsourcing video messages

Siemens – Crowdsourcing video messages

The requirements of the contest stipulated explicitly that the video must not be Siemens branded. Some of these videos can now be found on the Siemens homepage. They are part of the /answers campaign, which uses storytelling to build an emotional connection between the audience and the company.  Siemens understood quite well, that if the content is good, it will speak for itself and spread across the social web. Nice touch, that Siemens could indirectly be associated with the innovation initiative.

One interesting way of providing opinions and views from different people is using employees’ tweets. In the end, people connect to people, not companies. Below you see a screenshot from the General Electric homepage from 2012. It displays tweets from GE employees as well as their picture. 

GE employee tweets on the corporate homepage

GE employee tweets on the corporate homepage

Now, I assume that GE has some tools in place to pick the right tweets and to avoid any embarrassing tweets showing up.

For writing this blog post I revisited the GE website. GE have now moved employee and non-GE-employee tweets to the Story section. In a sense that is a shame, as those tweets are not front and center anymore. On the other hand, tweets are now embedded into the right context (Link to a GE Story).

GE employee tweets are displayed at the end of GE Stories

GE employee tweets are displayed at the end of GE Stories

What is important to understand in a networked world is that we are not dealing with B2B or B2C anymore. It’s all P2P – People to People. People trust people, at least more than they trust companies. Thus, in a sense you don’t want your audience to connect to your company but to the people who run your company including any employee. But organisations can also think beyond their own employees. They could include tweets or other content from analysts, journalists, CSR professionals, partners, sports stars (if for example the brand is in the sports business) etc.

A more elaborate and time and cost intensive way of providing different opinions is corporate blogging. Corporate blogs offer an opportunity to provide more informal insights into the company and conversational content if done right. Ideally, employees and managers of the company write interesting blog posts about their work, opinions, insights. If done right, corporate blogs can definitely support marketing and recruitment efforts in an informal and indirect manner. However, companies should consider their audience and effort it takes to make it work! Personally, I like the adidas Group Corporate Blog. It is written by employees and touches on a large variety of topics that are interesting and relevant to me.

adidas Group blog

adidas Group blog

 

Opening up the corporate website to non corporate and third-party content is a huge change. But there are a few simple steps that can be taken towards it.


This blog post is part of a series of posts in which we delve into the trends for corporate website that we have identified. The series:

  1. From static to real-time information
  2. From text to active content
  3. From channel to canvas
  4. From desktop to mobile
  5. From single source of truth to the provider of different opinions
  6. From destination to platform
  7. From providing information to providing a service
  8. From company centric design to user centric design
  9. From single launch to continuous improvement

© Picture Credit: Paul Gallo

How to become a better manager by building trust?

One of the key success factors for implementing an enterprise social network, collaboration platform or social intranet is the support from the executive management.  Whilst you might have found a (financial) sponsor for your project, it does not always translate into actual use of the platform by the sponsor. However, if they don’t walk the talk, you face a long and painful uphill struggle culturally implementing the platform and ideas for new ways of working.

I hear too often from executives that the new enterprise network or social Intranet is for employees but not for them. Employees should use the platform to connect, communicate and collaborate for the better of the firm. The apparent ignorance stems from the fact that executives do not properly understand how they can make use of the tools themselves, even though these tools offer tremendous value to executives, too!

As for anyone, it comes down to the question: Why should I use it? By using an enterprise social network and working out loud employees can build their own brand and take control of their career path. Managers*, including executive managers, can use such tools to become a better manager. There are few people who will admit that they are not interested in their own career or to be a good manager. In both cases we are talking about intrinsic motivation, which is more powerful and sustainable than extrinsic motivation. Thus, in your communication you should stress the point about becoming a better manager. To drive home the point about the importance of being a good manager, you may remind them that employees usually don’t leave companies. They leave their leaders / managers. Besides, employee engagement is at its lowest point, poor managers being one of the root-causes. Edelman, a leading digital agency, called 2013 the Crisis of Leadership. I believe it’s far from over. In Edelamn’s latest Trust Barometer report CEOs are still one of the least trusted people.

What does it mean to be a good manager? If you want people to follow you, they need to trust you. The number one thing employees want from leaders is not a strategy but honesty. Much can be gained already by being more transparent and communicating directly (and not through the latest corporate newsletter or town-hall event once a year) with a true, pure and humble voice. If you want people to make more sales, be more productive or whatever, they need to trust you. No matter whether you are an employee or a middle/senior/executive manager, here are five elements that can help you build trust and strengthen your corporate network:

    1. Visible: It used to be the case that managers were able to walk the (factory) floor and talk to employees directly. These interactions and relationships built trust. Nowadays, a distributed workforce makes this a huge challenge for any executive. The higher up the hierarchy the less visible and accessible managers become. Using an enterprise social network allows managers and leaders to be visible to employees again due to the transparency and scalability these technical platforms offer. Executives can get an unfiltered (by middle managers) view on what is going on within the company. Being visible on the enterprise network usually doesn’t take more than 15 to 20 min a day.
    2. Authentic: It’s important that executives speak with his own voice. They must not let their assistants or Internal Communication managers do the talking on the platform. Otherwise, it is just another comms exercise. In that case, they executives might as well send a pre-written and approved email to employees.
    3. Human: People trust people, especially if they know each other. The higher up a manager sits though, the less he knows his employees on the ground. Managers need to be approachable even by lower ranked employees that don’t have constant contact with higher level managers. Sometimes sharing something personal, makes us human and thus approachable and likeable.
    4. Valuable: It’s important to provide value to people who might follow the executive’s updates on the enterprise social network or social intranet. Similar to Twitter, just sharing what you had for lunch and that you are going to the loo is probably less interesting to people. Be interesting!
    5. Compassionate: Showing that you care, makes you more human and again approachable and likeable. Besides being interesting, you should in first instance be interested! Listening to what employees are saying is crucial. Joining the conversation with short comments or ‘like’ or ‘thank you’ clicks is quick and easy to show interest and appreciation and will go a very long way.

A fellow Change Agent, Simon Terry, arrived at a very similar list of traits that managers need to adopt in a networked company.

In this post I discussed the WHY and HOW executive management could and should make use of the company’s enterprise social network or social intranet. In a follow-up post I will discuss WHAT the executives can do to get started.


*For simplicity’s sake I am using ‘manager’ and ‘leader’ synonymously in this blog post, as the content discussed here applies to them in almost equal weight. However, it is understood that there is a difference between the concepts of ‘manager’ and ‘leader’.

clock

Corporate website trend: From static to real-time information

Summary: Moving ‘from static to real-time information’ is the first corporate website trend we identified. This post is part of a series of blog posts in which we look at trends for corporate websites.

Whilst static content will probably always be the biggest share of content on a corporate website, companies should think about what kind of information and data they could make available in real-time. One example is broadcasting the Annual General Meetings of a company.  There are already a number of companies that do this, for example ThyssenKrupp, Metro and Lloyds Banking Group (see screenshot below).

Lloyds - Real-time information: AGM

Lloyds Banking Group – Link to livecast of AGM

 

But there are more exciting examples of offering real-time data. General Electric (GE) has one of the most progressive corporate websites. One of the little features is seen in the screenshot below:

GE - Providing real-time information: HR data

General Electric – Highlighting career opportunities on the homepage

At the bottom of GE’s homepage they display the current vacancies in the country from which you are currently visiting the website. It is a nice integration into their HR systems, probably some recruitment / job database. It is personalised and helps to raise awareness of other areas that certain stakeholders like journalists, investors, analysts etc. might not usually go to. However, we should not forget that these stakeholders have potentially a large network and can thus also become a qualified multiplier for job referrals.

Although not real-time another interesting idea from GE is the use of figures. See screenshot below:

General Electric: Using figures to ease complexity

General Electric – Using figures to draw attention and highlight important information

Figures are used to capture attention. They are easier to digest than lengthy text. Of course, it would be even more useful to have figures in real-time. Imagine your company has set out on an important CSR initiative. Rather than simply creating beautiful reports on an (in)frequent basis or, worse, long after the campaign has ended, key figures (KPIs) should be immediately available in real-time. Of course, this requires technical prowess, suitable systems to capture and exchange data and also the confidence to publish such information in real-time.  But if companies don’t even trust themselves, why should consumers?

The appetite and need for real-time data is real. Companies should review their content, but also business objectives and audience to identify suitable opportunities to move from static to real-time information.


This blog post is part of a series of posts in which we delve into the trends for corporate website that we have identified. The series:

  1. From static to real-time information
  2. From text to active content
  3. From channel to canvas
  4. From desktop to mobile
  5. From single source of truth to the provider of different opinions
  6. From destination to platform
  7. From providing information to providing a service
  8. From company centric design to user centric design
  9. From single launch to continuous improvement

© Picture Credit: Khairil Zhafri

What to consider for a relaunch of your corporate website

There comes a time when every company needs to think about its corporate website. ‘STOP’, I hear you say. ‘Isn’t this 2014 we live in? Corporate websites are so 90s!’ I agree. Looking at corporate websites of many large companies you could easily get the feeling that we are still living in the 90s. They are brochure-like, static pages providing content with an authoritative but not authentic voice. Of course, many pages have changed in design and added new functionalities over time. But in many cases that is not enough to address the sea of change that we have seen through the advent of social media.

And thus, there were always rumours about the death of the corporate website in the past, but Coca-Cola made it official last year:

Like any winning campaign, we let the data guide us and inform our content decisions. Replacing a transactional corporate website with a digital magazine upended how we work. With KPIs focused on engagement, the new newsroom meant publishing content based on what readers want to read. […]

[…] Today’s anniversary and home page re-launch marks a final break with the corporate website. You read it here first: for consumers, the corporate website is dead and “press release PR” is on its way out.

Ashley Brown is Group Director of Digital Communications and Social Media at The Coca-Cola Company

Thing is though, Coca-Cola is not your average company. It is a marketing machine. It can and needs to employ an armada of internal and external copy writers to make its content marketing strategy successful.  But for many other large organisations this digital magazine style approach is not an option, because it either doesn’t fit the budget, the purpose, the audience or all of the above. Arik Hanson has also some good points on why the Coca-Cola strategy should be critically questioned.

In the last year thinknext helped a successful, DAX listed company with over 40.000 employees completely rethink its corporate website strategy. At the beginning of the project we conducted an extensive analysis including internal/external user research, desk research and technical research. As part of our desk research we looked at a large number of existing corporate websites and also delved into a variety of reports to understand trends in corporate websites. None of them were satisfying, as identified trends were more closely related to web design, usability and information architecture. Many also suggested to combine social media channels with the corporate website. This is all good and well, but we couldn’t find a comprehensive answer to our most daring question: WHY?

From traditional to social

WHY do companies need a corporate website? The most important reason is certainly that publicly listed companies need to publish results and other relevant information. But why should a company spend tens of thousands of EUR on a website just to publish results? Of course, the corporate website is usually also used to provide information about the company. But what good is it if readers don’t trust it? Today people get their information from other sources including social media. And so it happens that once loosely connected people can all of a sudden turn against a company – the so-called social media shitstorm. At that point it doesn’t even matter whether the company is right or wrong or what it publishes on its corporate website. People simply trust each other more than the company!

This begs the following question: If once loosely connected people can turn against a company, could these people also become advocates of the company?  Thus, in our project we expanded the traditional purpose of the corporate website to also help building a network of advocates.

HOW do you build such network without paying people? It all starts with trust. Trust is the ultimate currency in the networked world we live in today. Relationships are built on trust. The below diagram details the elements of trust.

Enablers of Trust

These elements helped us articulate the trends that we think are crucial and should be considered by every company when thinking about relaunching its corporate website. As we are moving from a traditional to a social (networked) business world, corporate websites are moving:

  1. From static to real-time information
  2. From text to active content
  3. From channel to canvas
  4. From desktop to mobile
  5. From single source of truth to the provider of different opinions
  6. From destination to platform
  7. From providing information to providing a service
  8. From company centric design to user centric design
  9. From single launch to continuous improvement

After we had addressed the WHY and HOW, we were able to think about the WHAT. Functionality should always come at the very end. It is important to note that each trend depicts a continuum. Few companies will move from one extreme to the other within a short timeframe. As we brainstormed functionality together with the client and implementing agency we were able to come up with a concept and functionality to address some of the trends, but also plot a path towards the more progressive end of the continuum.

I firmly believe that the corporate website is not obsolete in a networked world. But its purpose and therefore content and functionality needs to change according to the trends outlined above.

In future blog posts I will expand on each trend and highlight some of the best practice from other companies that I have found during the research. 


© Picture Credit: Christoph Schmaltz

The evolution of business

[ I originally published this post on the Dachis Group blog in 2012. ]

The social business movement appears to be in full swing. Over the past weeks, I have read time and time again that 2012 will be the year of social business (Business Computing WorldSXSWWe are social). In terms of awareness, I totally agree; in terms of achieving our goals, perhaps that is too ambitious in such a short time period.

I believe that the notion of 2012 being the year of social business is rooted in a misunderstanding of what social business actually means. I do not intend to go down the slippery road of trying to create a definition.. Instead, some time ago I presented four concepts that highlighted the differences between traditional businesses using social media and social businesses. Judging by the comments it received it did a decent job at explaining what a social business is. Now, almost a year later though, I realise that it failed to show the evolutionary process required to move from a traditional business into a social business.

Graph-0.3

Picture credit goes to my colleague Giulio Martinelli

In my view, pure disconnected and social businesses represent the extremes of a continuum. To date they only exist in theory. In between you can plot any business on this planet. As the continuum suggests there is no such thing as ‘THE’ social business. It is not black and white but offers shades of grey. As time goes by we will see more organisations moving closer towards adopting characteristics of a social business and thus changing the way business is done in a connected world.

Traditional businesses with a traditional business mindset

In the past years organisations started to experiment with social tools inside and/or outside their firewall. Many of them created corporate presences on social networks adding these channels to their more traditional communication channels without changing their business attitude. Success? None! The failure was / is devastating and a true shock to the system. Nonetheless, most organisations can still be found in this category – traditional businesses with a traditional business mindset. No matter which channels and tools these organisations use, let them be social or not, these companies haven’t freed themselves from 20th century thinking yet.

Traditional businesses with a social business mindset

Forward-thinking and agile organisations have learned that in a connected world, business-as-usual is no more. They understand they need to listen to, engage and connect with the marketplace. That is why we now see HR departments connecting with potential talent on Facebook, Customer Service departments helping clients on Twitter or Business Development departments putting out thought-leadership pieces on the company blog. I call these organisations traditional businesses with a social business mindset. These are not social businesses.

I assume and would hope that this comes as surprise to many. Let there be no doubt: arriving at this level is for most organisations a huge challenge and already an amazing achievement. The way to here is long and thorny, but the rewards are plenty. However, compared to what could be these rewards might be rather small. The main problem is that at this level corporate functions still own the connections. This simply does not scale.

social_spectrum_4Picture credit goes to my colleague James Bray

Social Business

A social business is a truly connected business. It connects its employees with each other and them with the marketplace. Corporate functions are now part of the networks rather than owning and controlling the relationships. In my view, a social business creates intimacy at scale by democratising roles and responsibilities and encouraging employees to build their own brand (no, this is not a definition).

Intimacy at scale
How many connections can a HR department have with graduates, experienced hires or alumni? Do you think the HR department can ever have as many or more close relationships with their network than employees have with theirs? How well do social business efforts of a HR department scale compared to the company’s employees?

What can be said for the HR department is also true for other corporate functions like Marketing or Business Development and even R&D. Using your employees’ networks rather than relying on just your corporate functions will have a much greater impact on your business. This has fundamental impact on organisations’ social business strategy and programme!

Democratising role & responsibilities
To achieve intimacy at scale, corporate functions need to forego some of their control. (Did someone say ‘trust is cheaper than control’?) It is inevitable. We have already seen it in some pockets of organisations. For example, some companies have implemented new collaboration and communication tools. Users do not have to go through IT anymore to set up a group or community: they simply create a group and invite others. Open innovation approaches have been adopted by some companies saving the central R&D department considerable amounts of money. Some managers have adopted an open leadership style openly discussing decisions and gathering feedback from employees. Experience shows that this does not end in anarchy. IT, R&D, Management and so on provide the boundaries within employees and others can engage. However, corporate functions that have traditionally been outward-facing have shied away from the idea of democratising their role and responsibilities. In a social business, this will change.

Encouraging employees to build their own brand
This may be true only for certain industries such as professional services. In this industry especially, people are the most significant asset: the industry is about people, their knowledge and relationships. If you want your employees to participate in social media, do not make it about the company, make it about them. People are selfish. Help them understand how they can use social media to build their own brand under the company’s umbrella. If they have the means to build their own networks and enjoy working for you, they will help to show the human face of your company, will be willing to amplify corporate messages and even give it a relevant spin for their connections and networks. After all, your employees should be your greatest advocates. As companies evolve, we are beginning to see organisations not only encouraging their employees to engage on social networks, but expecting them to do so. (see Grant Thornton UK Social Media Policy Video [Disclaimer: Grant Thornton UK is a Dachis Group client. The video was created by Grant Thornton UK, not Dachis Group]).

When we look at the characteristics of a social business, we will need to answer new questions. Do companies need to incentivise or even reward employees for engaging in social channels? If every employee is expected to become a customer service agent, how do companies organise for this scenario? Do job descriptions for roles in a social business need to be altered? Can employees with large networks ask for a higher salary? Do employees indeed identify with their company and are they true brand advocates? These and many other questions will need to be answered, as organisations move to become true social businesses.

Starting to adopt a social business mindset and engaging with the marketplace is a first step in the right direction. However, it’s not the end of the journey! As businesses evolve, we will see true transformation supported by organisational design, change management and process reengineering expertise. If you are heading up a company or corporate function and are seeking to create (social) business strategies, ask yourself or your consultancy, whether they scale. If they don’t, you may be missing a trick.


© Picture Credit: Christoph Schmaltz

From traditional business to social business

When businesses ask for a social media strategy, what they are often really asking for is: Get me a presence on Facebook, Twitter and the like. The mantra of cultural and organisational change that is required in the social web seems to ring hollow. To be fair, it is not their fault. With a traditional business mindset it is hard to see why a presence on Twitter or Facebook is different from the corporate website. After all, these tools can seem to be just another communication channel.

When I talk to clients about the social web and its impact on businesses, I often use four key concepts. These concepts seem to help to explain the broader implications of social tools and why a mere presence on the social web will have a very limited business impact.

From Transaction to Interaction

Traditional Business - TransactionIn the good old days traditional businesses produced a product or service and the customer bought it. End of transaction. Over the years, they have distanced themselves from their customers. Traditional businesses live in their ivory tower from which they look down on their customers. They introduced call centres to shield themselves from customer complaints. Every so often, they introduce a new product and market it heavily using print and digital channels. Nowadays, they can also be found on Facebook and Twitter talking about their new product. They produce it, the customer buys it. End of transaction.

Social Business - InteractionA social business however, is all about interaction. It sees itself on an equal footing with their customers. Of course, it still wants their money. After all it is a business and not a charity. But a social business listens to what its customers have to say. It is eager to get feedback, both positive and negative. Negative feedback is acknowledged and addressed in an honest and transparent way. It sees it as an opportunity to co-create new products with the help of its customers. A social business operates in public and not from the heights of an ivory tower. A social business does not simply sell products, it sells customer experience.

Example
A customer of Zappos once tweeted that she had ordered shoes for her birthday. A customer representative got in touch with her asking about her order number just to make sure that the shoes would arrive on time for her birthday. You think that is difficult? Not for a social business. It is where its customers are and listens to what they have to say. It is all about interaction and customer experience.

From B2B / B2C to P2P

Traditional Business - B2B:B2CA traditional business has successfully created a wall between its customers and itself. Only particular departments are allowed to interact with the outside world, for example Marketing, HR, Customer Service. The rest of the business is shielded away from any external distraction to ensure employees are productive. Humans work in a traditional business. They have a face, but they can only show the company’s face. Sorry, company policy. Nowadays, traditional businesses have developed their own recruiting platforms. They also have a presence on Facebook, where HR advertise for new vacancies and post recruiting tips. They are really proud of this achievement. The traditional business can connect with potential recruits on Facebook. But actually, when they join they will see that Facebook is blocked. Sorry, company policy.

Social Business - P2PA social business understands that people want to connect with people and not with businesses. If customers are looking for help, they want to talk to a real person, not a company. A social business acknowledges and is proud to employ many smart people not just in HR, Marketing or Customer Service. It employs them, because it trusts them. It wants the world to know about them and enables them to connect to the outside world. That is why social networks are open for everyone and people are still productive. A social business manages by objectives, not by presence.

Example
Mary from the HR department posts new tips on Facebook, and not the HR department. A small but subtle difference. A highly talented engineering graduate asks on Facebook what life is like on an oil rig in the North Sea. Mary has never been on an oil rig, but she knows engineers who have. One engineer answers the question on Facebook, visible for everyone. It is John, not the company. People connect with people, not with companies.

From Gatekeeper to Platform Provider

Traditional Business - GatekeeperA traditional business clenches on to its old powers. It believes it still owns all the connections between customers and partners. If a partner would like to talk to another partner, he needs to go through the company. It manages in order to survive. According to a traditional business, shared knowledge is only worth half as much. Better to control the gates.

Social Business - Platform

A social businessunderstands that today’s technology enables anyone to connect with anyone, whether the business likes it or not. The gates are open. A social business knows if it simply keeps managing connections, it will survive, but if it facilitates connections it will thrive. Hence, it provides a platform for customers and / or partners. It is comfortable letting people discuss the business, its products or completely different matters. It facilitates and does not manage.

Example
Dell, a computer manufacturer runs a Facebook Page about Social Media for Business. Yes, Dell is not in the business of providing social media services. But it uses the group as a platform to stay connected with existing customers and potential customers. Dell provides more value than it can capture (in the beginning). That way, Dell stays in people’s minds. Dell may not always be the best choice, but I bet, the next time a member of the FB page is asked for computer advice by a friend, he will also mention Dell.

From Hierarchy to Network

Traditional Business - HierarchyA traditional business has a rigid top-down communication structure. News from the top is passed down through the ranks of the organisation. The middle management is powerful as it acts as gatekeeper (see above). Open and transparent dialogue between the top and the bottom of the traditional business is difficult if not non-existent. Furthermore, technology provision in traditional businesses have manifested in department silos. Few employees know what other departments or teams are working on. Cross-departmental connections are made in the cafeteria, at the water-cooler or in the smoker’s corner.

Social Business - NetworkContrary to popular belief hierarchy still exists in a social businessbut it is heavily supported by an underlying network. Communication flows are bi-directional and cross-departmental. The middle management has lost its power as gatekeeper and is now functioning as platform provider. It provides a platform for the management and employees to communicate and connect. Employees can see what other teams and departments are working on. Increased visibility leads to better decision-making, improved customer service, superior products and ultimately higher sales. At the same time a social business also acknowledges that people connect with people not just because of work but also interests. Therefore, it encourages employees to form communities of interest or purely social groups. This creates stronger bonds between employees which leads to lower turn-over rates. If an employee does leave, they are more likely to stay in touch with colleagues, not the business. Remember, people connect with people, not with companies. (see P2P concept).

Example
By now, many organisations have or are in the process of implementing a social business platform which enables employees to communicate with the senior management and also across teams and departments. Some of the most advanced and innovative organisations that have adopted this approach can be found in the Social Business Council.

No doubt, more concepts exists. However, I believe many of them are part of the ones I have outlined above, i.e. From Control to Trust (B2B/B2C to P2P; From Transaction to Interaction), From Management to Open Leadership (From B2B/B2C to P2P; From Gatekeeper to Platform), From Employee to Brand Ambassador (From B2B/B2C to P2P; From Transaction to Interaction).

If your social media strategy is all about setting up a social media presence, jump right in. It only takes a couple of minutes to set up accounts. There are gazillions of tips out there telling you how to increase your follower or “Like” counts. However, if your social media strategy is about business impact, you need to go back to basics. Understanding the key concepts and the broad impact of social tools on businesses, will help to deliver value. In the end, that is what business is all about, delivering value!


© Picture Credit: Christoph Schmaltz

How an organization turned its internal communications upside-down

I originally published this post on the Headshift blog in 2009. ]

Recently I had the opportunity to present one of our case studies at the Social Media for Business Meetup Group in NYC. It was the inaugural meetup, which I am co-organizing together with Daniel Leslie from Reflexions Data. At the heart of the group is, besides networking, the idea to talk about concrete business needs and showcase how organizations have addressed those using social tools. At our first session we looked at internal communications and employee engagement. Presentation below:

The way organizations perceive their ‘human capital’ has apparently changed as well. Most organizations state that they value their employees and welcome active participation. All too often this is in stark contrast to reality. To understand an organization’s true corporate culture it is sometimes best to simply look at the office layouts and technology provided to employees. How can you honestly believe in employee engagement and participation if you lock people into cubicle farms and give them tools that severely restrict them from communicating and connecting freely with each other?

The cafeteria, hallway or watercooler are the only true social spaces in most organizations. That’s where people meet, discuss, learn. If the early KM era has taught us anything at all, then it’s that knowledge can’t be extracted, stored and archived. It was a flawed and in the end a very costly belief. Knowledge is inherently attached to people. Thus, instead of connecting people with documents, we need to connect people with people. And that’s why chatter in cafeterias, hallways and at watercoolers are so important. Check out Gil Yehuda’s observation why smokers seem to know everything and everyone.

Obviously, these offline social spaces don’t scale very well. Social tools reflect better than traditional IT systems how humans really communicate and connect. With those kind of tools organizations do have the possibility to create the digital watercooler and thus take advantage of its benefits enterprise-wide.

Installing social tools is not a challenge. The challenge are people and their perceived risks associated with the usage of those kind of tools. One of those risks for example is gossiping. Well, gossiping is actually an important social activity. It separates the insiders from the outsiders and by that creates a stronger social bond between insiders (thus all employees + management). But apart from that, will people gossip in front of the CEO? No? So, why would they gossip in an open space, where every word is attributable? People might gossip in the hallway, where they can have private conversations, but not on the company’s forum, blog, wiki or what have you. Another perceived risk is that the free flow of communication can be used for creating movements among employees against unfavorable decisions taken by the management.

What a lot of people don’t understand is that internal systems are not the World Wild Web. It’s a controlled environment, and as such comes already with underlying norms and principles. Still, organizations seem to highly distrust their employees and prefer locking them into cubicles and systems willingly accepting the deficiencies of this approach. But the growing discrepancy between the open communication people enjoy on the Internet and the highly restrictive environment people are faced with at work is becoming a major headache for organization.

In my presentation I talked about the case of the law firm Heller Ehrman. The firm got into very rough waters last year and subsequently dissolved. The dissolution did not happen over night. It was a long and painstaking process full of anxiety, fears but also glimmers of hope. Naturally, employees wanted to connect with each other, but most importantly ask for and provide help and support. But the firm did not provide a platform to address these needs. Consequently, one employee set up a WordPress blog on the Internet, which soon became a refuge for his co-workers and probably a nightmare for the firm. If you have time you should read the blog’s Dos and Don’ts – they show in a very plain and honest way that employees are not evil but passionate and caring individuals. If people really want to bad-mouth and spread rumor they will do so using highly visible websites and blogs like ‘Above the Law‘.

Learning from this and other negative examples, progressive organizations are starting to embrace social tools to give people a true platform for engagement, communication and support. I presented the work that we did for the Barnet Council in London. The Council went through a major change management program to meet new needs and challenges. Rather than pushing it down from top to bottom, the Council felt that anyone in the organization should have the possibility to become a change agent and turned the communication upside-down. We installed a system which allows the Council to publish news, but at the same time have an open conversation about new developments. A forum provided the employees with a tool to drive their own agenda and points of interest. Interestingly, the system did allow for anonymity, but that functionality was very rarely used. Included in the platform was the ability to create ad-hoc project spaces to allow the collaboration on specific programs, issues etc.

The technology aspect of the project was not a big challenge, but it did require a bold step by the Barnet Council, trust in its employees and understanding the changing tides in internal communications.