Cut outs #1

While business is coming to grips with a new age of disruption (Digital Tonto) , IBM is busy disrupting itself  with internal crowdfunding programmes (Harvard Business Review) and Amazon is creating the “centalized repository for commerce” (Techcrunch).

A key to success for businesses striving to negotiate this changing landscape is big data and the resources and controls put in place to manage it, according to McKinsey (McKinsey Insights).

Meanwhile, Twitter is applying its network and data management resources to a real-time challenge via the launch of Twitter Alerts, an emergency and natural disaster communication service  (Design Taxi).

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Managing Intellectual Property in an Open Business

I went along to a great debate yesterday as part of Social Media Week London on “Open Business”.

Adroitly led by David Cushman, the panel explored a range of issues surrounding the technological, economic, cultural and organisational changes that are encouraging businesses to become more open  – and the risks and rewards thereof. The session was also captured on video.

I believe organisations form to solve problems. The problem might be commercial (a new product or service to improve people’s lives), or it might be social (a campaign for public good). Some of the most successful organisations combine both. Paul Polman, CEO of Unilever* has publicly stated that for the company he leads purpose drive profit; as a maker of foods and health & beauty products, a clear social purpose is fundamental to Unilever’s business.

For me, Unilever’s vision captures a characteristic all successful organisations share. They attract a natural community of people around them as workers, customers and partners willing to share a common set of beliefs and values. This means organisations should be inherently open because they are inherently communities. Should be.

The difficulty is, the very act of creating an organisation presents a challenge to openness: for the organisation to achieve its aims and persuade everyone to work towards a common goal it must necessarily place some parameters around the actions of the individual members.

The tension this creates can certainly inspire great creativity – and we see this every day in the great ideas created against the tightest of briefs or strictest of budgets. For businesses working to become more open and wanting to harness all the opportunities that can afford – from accelerated innovation to larger markets and greater trust – there are still some prominent issues that need to be resolved though.

In my view, one of the most immediate and pressing is Intellectual Property and specifically how it’s defined, created and managed in an open environment. It’s here that businesses embracing the principles of openness face a challenge.

In a truly open environment, where transparency, access to data and collaboration are fundamental, the ownership of the products or ideas the organisation exists to create is much harder to define. This applies to people who are participating both inside and outside the organisation, as employees, customers or other third parties.

The solution, I believe, lies in a more deft handling of IP: in the careful definition of its constituent elements and a commitment to transparency from all parties on the basis for their claim to ownership of each one.

Organisations used to collaborating with partners to develop new products will be familiar with this scenario, but in an open environment their challenge lies in scaling a partnership model to cope with a much larger and potentially less structured community.

Ultimately, I think the organisations with the clearest sense of business purpose, a firm grasp of the social environment in which they operate (as with Unilever) and an understanding of the goals they want to achieve through an open, collaborative approach stand to gain and contribute the most. With these three principles in place it becomes more possible to define the aspects of IP most valuable to them in order to take on the problems they’ve set out to solve.

*Unilever is an Edelman client.

Social Depth: bridging Owned and Social Media

“What is a brand?” I’ve heard lots of excellent answers to that question, but the one I remember the most is: “something that you have an opinion about.”

It’s plain, simple and succinct. And for me, it also captures an essential challenge many brands face when exploring how to engage with audiences online. Opinion provokes expression; expression creates content and content generates conversation. From Facebook status updates and Tweets to forum discussions and blog posts – social media offer the perfect venue for that self-expression and conversation to take place.

The challenge lies in how the brand can harness that conversation, give value back to the audience and encourage a sustainable relationship. Whether that means the sale of products, a change in behaviour, greater customer insight to guide product development, an increase in trust, or all of the above.

Most often, meeting this challenge means exploring ways of encouraging people to make the journey from a social media platform to the brand’s own website where that initial engagement can be transformed into that deeper, more sustainable relationship. But encouraging people to take that step can be difficult.

I think the answer lies in a combination of creativity and technology. First, a creative idea and content compelling enough to inspire people to engage. And second, a technology platform that can recreate the immersive experience of the social environment they’ve just left behind, in order to keep them engaged and participating on the website they’ve just arrived at.

A number of vendors are offering platforms to address the second part of the answer, like Livefyre, Lithium and Acquia. Forrester defines the area as Social Depth and has recently published a Social Depth Wave report on the platforms currently available.

As to the creative part of the solution – that’s a bit like finding the definition of brand, there are lots of excellent examples out there, but each one unique. I’ll explore this further in another post.