Cut outs #7: Time for a social network shake-up?

New social tools pop up all the time, and long may that continue.

A few stories I’ve spotted recently though suggest a bit of shake-up is happening amongst the popular social platforms.

Emarketer has noted a declining trend in the use of Facebook by teenagers in the UK and US.

And the Wall Street Journal recently reported that Myspace is still alive and well, carving out a tidy nice for itself as a community for music lovers.

No doubt Facebook will be working hard on innovation to stay fresh and relevant to new generations who want something different to the people who arrived on the network 10 years ago.

But with developments in technology making it easier and cheaper to launch new networks, and more sophisticated data collection and analysis enabling better customer segmentation and marketing, the potential for more platforms and tools to emerge and establish business models that will enable them to flourish seems to be growing.

The business sector too is showing some real movement. At IBM 65% of CIOs tell us that collaboration is their major investment priority (IBM CXO survey). While today, Slack’s CEO said today that interest in the business message app is growing off the scale.

Everybody likes to find their own space to play.

Cut outs #6: New business models

In August last year Ello burst on to the scene, promising an ad-free social networking experience and later establishing itself as a “public benefit corporation“, as a way to seal that promise.

Meanwhile in the music industry, platforms like weeSPIN are applying Big Data technologies to solve the artist royalties and industry revenues conundrum by enabling brands to partner with artists in a form of content marketing.

Now 8 has appeared: a new video-sharing platform promising greater content ownership for producers and control over advertising revenues.

 

 

My prediction for 2015

Source: visitlondon.com

Source: visitlondon.com

This is less of a prediction and more of a hope.

And for brevity’s sake I’m restricting myself to one because after all; there are enough lists of 2015 predictions out there already without me adding to the stack.

2014 has seen some fantastic examples of social media marketing, but despite the wealth of creativity and increasingly keen measurement on display, brands and organisations are still only scratching the surface of what’s possible in social.

The decline (or demise) of organic reach in Facebook and the potential for the same thing to happen on other platforms has been a big topic of conversation this year.

It’s certainly a significant development and it should prompt much more creativity in content strategy and I hope more considered customer segmentation too, but in 2015 I’d like to see organisations think beyond content marketing and brand promotion, and get a grasp of what social means for other business functions like customer service; innovation; customer relationship management and partner collaboration.

I’m being a bit harsh here (maybe it’s the Christmas fatigue setting in) – there are some great examples out there of organisations approaching social in a truly strategic way, but they are still the exception rather than the rule and in 2015 I’d love to see more organisations taking determined steps forward.

And that’s not just to keep me in a job…I genuinely want to see something new!

I talk to plenty of people in organisations of all sizes who recognise the potential social has to offer, but struggle to make a change due to the lack of internal will or direction in the places where they work.

This year I’d like to see more leaders recognise the opportunity to gain some competitive advantage and deliver more value to customers by thinking strategically about how they can harness the social character of their organisations.

I’d also like to see more people at lower levels in organisations applying their initiative to make positive, constructive changes.

After all, that’s often where the best ideas come from.

This obviously takes a bit of gumption from workers, but also the culture change, systems and technology to support them.

Top-down change and more creative impetus from the grassroots could make for an exciting combination.

The technology and cultural potential is there, I hope more organisations have the will to harness it.

Thinking Lean? Think Social Business

Lean production at Toyota. Source: www.toyota-forklifts.ch

Lean production at Toyota. Source: http://www.toyota-forklifts.ch

For my money, Lean Thinking is one of, if not the most influential management philosophy of the last sixty years.

Ever since the 1950s, businesses large and small, from manufacturers to service providers, have been investing in the tools and techniques that have become known as “Lean” to boost profits and efficiency.

Toyota is the most famous exponent and the company where much of the practice began, but there are plenty of other examples of organisations that have benefitted across the public and private sectors.

To a greater or lesser extent, Lean has probably influenced every organisation active today.

Social Business, by comparison, is still in its infancy.

Many businesses still assume it means a Facebook or Twitter strategy and are dubious about how  “social” can be of benefit to them, beyond a channel for marketing promotion.

But I would argue that any team of managers applying Lean Thinking today needs to consider Social Business as an essential part of their strategy if they’re to get the maximum value from their investments and truly gain competitive advantage.

How are the two related?

Let’s look first at how they’re defined:

Lean: “The creation of more value for customers with fewer resources. The ultimate goal is to provide perfect value to the customer through a perfect value creation process that has zero waste.” (taken from http://www.lean.org)

Social Business: “The culture and systems that encourage networks of people to create business value.” (IBM)

Culture, people and value: there’s some clear correlation.

As Social Business is often mistakenly defined by social media platforms, so Lean is also often misunderstood as a set of tools and processes.

In fact it’s a philosophy designed to focus organisations on how they can deliver more value to customers by meeting demand instantaneously with ‘perfect’ quality and zero waste.

To do this means creating a culture of continuous improvement involving everyone at every level – as well as partners and suppliers too.

Foundational to Lean is a focus on the customer and an understanding of their needs so that customer demand can “pull” products and services through the production process.

Based on this definition it’s clear that one ingredient is essential for successful Lean transformation – good communication.

Managers need to be active and involved in the change process and visible and accessible to the wider workforce, which in turn must be well connected to ensure that the organisation can respond swiftly and smoothly to customer demand.

It’s here that Social Business transformation has a vital role to play.

By encouraging the culture and establishing the processes and technologies to enable more networked and flexible communication and collaboration, organisations can equip themselves with the means to successfully practice Lean.

In effect, organisations can apply Social Business methodologies to empower their workforces – another essential aspect of Lean.

It’s only by empowering people to take decisions and make changes that the proactive, incremental improvements can be achieved which Lean identifies to create better organisations.

In practice this means giving people the means to make their voices heard: to express ideas, make recommendations, share their achievements and gain feedback and recognition.

Again, the application of Social Business practices makes this possible.

A great example is the recent work by IBM (my employer) with Tesco, where by putting in place an internal collaboration platform and new working practices, colleagues across the organisation can communicate in a much more fluid way and be freer to focus on the customer than on navigating the structures of the organisation to get their ideas heard:

The business landscape has changed tremendously since Lean first came on the scene, but today I believe it’s more valuable than ever.

Business has become more networked, sophisticated and complex, driven to a large extent by technology.

This creates more potential for waste – whether in people’s time or materials – and that’s bad for the organisation and for its customers.

I’ve argued before that every business is a Social Business because the act of business itself is inherently social; an “Unsocial” business would have a hard time recruiting employees and forming partnerships with suppliers and distributors …let alone attracting any customers!

The difference is that now we have the technology, processes and expertise to enrich that innate sociability, encourage it and enable it to deliver benefits to the organisation and the people it serves.

So adopting Social Business shouldn’t necessarily be considered as the radical change it’s often portrayed.

Rather, it’s a natural extension of the practices they’re already applying today.

Innovation in partnerships

 

"The emergency exits are here, here and here." Airbnb and KLM

“The emergency exits are here, here and here.” Airbnb partners with KLM at Schipol Airport

When we think about innovation it tends to be in the context of devising new products and services.

Innovation can take lots of different forms though, and one of the most effective ways a company can innovate is through partnerships.

Recently, IBM (my employer) announced a partnership with Twitter that will enable both companies to offer more insight and analytics services to enterprises.

With over a century of history, IBM is one of the most established firms in the technology industry.

Twitter is a new player by comparison, with very different origins and heritage, but the contrasts between the two firms make for an exciting and fresh combination and promise something new for businesses.

The day before the IBM – Twitter announcement, PwC announced a partnership with Google.

For Google, the intention appears to be to build the credibility of its Apps for Work platform amongst enterprises, while PwC will benefit from the opportunity to provide implementation consultancy services.

In combination the two companies can enhance their existing propositions and take them to new markets in new ways.

In a different industry – retail this time – GE has partnered with Quirky to develop a range of devices for the “connected home”.

The partnership makes sense for GE given its portfolio of domestic products and brands, and strategic drive to build its digital proposition.

Quirky meanwhile can benefit from the resources and opportunities to develop product that integrate with existing home devices that a relationship with GE can offer.

Probably the most eye-catching example of an innovative partnership I’ve spotted over the past fortnight is KLM Royal Dutch Airlines’ partnership with Airbnb to convert an airplane into a temporary hotel.

OK, this one feels a bit more like a promotional stunt than a strategic partnership, but nevertheless, it illustrates the creative possibilities that can emerge when two brands work together.

And if I ever find myself with a stopover at Schipol Airport, you never know, I might consider checking-in.

Redistributed future: the IBM and Twitter partnership

IBM-twitter

“The future is already here. It’s just not evenly distributed yet”

I get reminded of this quote from William Gibson all the time.

Almost everyday I’ll spot a situation where applying a technology that’s already available could make a difference, but the practicalities of cost, expertise or the logistics of making it happen mean the problem and the solution aren’t able to connect yet.

In business, the partnership announcement by IBM and Twitter yesterday brought those two things closer together.

Twitter is an invaluable source of insight for businesses of all shapes and sizes into market trends; what their customers think of them today – and are likely to think tomorrow – and a valuable early warning system to spot potential issues on the horizon.

Most businesses I encounter have some form of Twitter listening system in place; it helps them tailor their products to better suit customers, deliver greater value and be more successful as a result.

But they also use lots of sources of data to aid decision-making and a major challenge is integrating them – from market research material held in a structured database, to the unstructured conversation content that can be harvested from Twitter and other social platforms.

Twitter’s relationship with IBM means the two can be integrated, which is good news for businesses and I believe good news for customers too.

For business, it means better insight which can lead to new business models; attract and retain customers; transform processes and improve risk management.

And for consumers it means value, because if the businesses isn’t firmly focused on understanding its customers and the market environment to deliver value, then it will have a rocky ride indeed – no matter how good its data and analytics platforms might be.

Earlier this year Twitter acquired Gnip and now it’s partnering with IBM. I predict there’ll be more partnerships and alliances like this to come across the technology sector.

And bit by bit, the future gets redistributed.

Update (1 November 2014): I’ve just discovered that Google and PwC has announced a partnership, offering clients a combination of Google technologies and PwC consulting services. It will be exciting to see how these relationships play out in practice.

Service, motivation and collaboration

The other day my wife was out shopping with our three year-old daughter and popped into our local high street  branch of a large national grocer retailer.

When she came to pay, she noticed that alongside the usual array of sweets and chocolate bars by the checkouts, was quite an extensive range of painkillers and other medicines.

All over-the-counter products, but all on display at the perfect height for a three year-old to mess with.

Now, anyone who’s been shopping with a young child knows what it’s like: the moment you take your eyes off them they’ve either disappeared off down the aisles or they’ve levered open a jar of something-or-other for quick snack.

And when the time comes to pay and you’re distracted trying to find your loyalty card, dig out the right cash, or key in your pin number, that’s the perfect time for them to get up to mischief.

All this considered my wife thought stocking medicines so low down in a part of the story where young children could get their hands on them was a dubious idea.

So she decided to raise it with one of the store staff.

The response she got was a blank face, a shrug and “it comes down from Head Office.”

She mentioned it to a couple of her friends with children the same age and they’d noticed the same thing.

So when she next visited the store she asked to speak to the manager.

The response she got this time was pretty much the same as before: a shrug and “well, yeah, it comes down from Head Office, so that’s where we have to display them.”

I’m paraphrasing, but you get the idea.

To be clear, my wife wasn’t expecting the store to remove the products from sale or change its stock lay out there and then.

All she wanted was to know that her comment was being taken seriously and would be followed-up with some kind of response.

I’ve not named the shop in this case because I think it would be unfair to and, call me cynical, but I suspect that you could walk into one of a number of large store chains and have a similar experience.

Some of the most successful and truly innovative grocery retailers in the world are borne out of the UK, leading the way in everything from supply and logistics to customer insight and intelligence.

But as they’ve grown – as with any business – the lines of communication within the organisation have been stretched and the ability of the people at the front line of customer service to deliver on the promise of the brand, weakened.

They feel distant from the heart of the organisation and somewhat disconnected from the brand.

I suspect some of this was at play in my wife’s experience.

I could say that the answer is technology, and to some extent it is – collaboration platforms can allow workers to connect with the wider business, be recognised and rewarded, and appreciate that their actions and contributions make a difference.

But arguably more important is the cultural and structural change that encourage workers to adopt new behaviours and recognise the possibilities in doing so.

In their management classic, “In Search of Excellence”, Tom Peters and Robert Waterman note that change happens when “one or more persons engage with others in such a way that leaders and followers raise one another to higher levels of motivation and morality”.

The reciprocal benefits of collaboration. People at all levels brought closer together and distances reduced.

The retail environment is increasingly competitive and customer service is a key differentiator for brands wanting to build competitive advantage.

From internal collaboration to external customer engagement – and systems that bridge the two – there’s some truly exciting work taking place across all kinds of businesses.

I look forward to seeing more of it coming to fruition in store – for my benefit and for the guys on the shop floor.