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.

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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.

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.

Cut outs #8

Lots of data and research today.

According to eMarketer it’s the simple things that matter for Smartphone buyers in the UK.

Meanwhile, in the US mobile video continues to rise, particularly amongst younger audiences.

Looking beyond mobile, a study by Leader Networks suggests there is confusion between social media marketing and social business. I don’t know the basis of the study, but I can believe this is the case.

And finally, I always find a great way to develop an idea or to encourage myself to think more creatively about a problem I’m trying to solve is to visualise it.

Grant Snider at Incidental Comics has written a comic about where ideas come from.

I think it has a simple, inventive, visual style that gives it great impact.

And most of all, makes it memorable.