In an era of crisis & revolution, is your company the next target?

We are living in interesting times indeed. Geo-political revolutions, financial crises, economic uncertainty. Try as we might to ignore them, the fact is that the very fabric of capitalism is being re-evaluated, and perhaps even rewoven.

What we have assumed and known for at least 150 years is at the very least being questioned. Institutions that have spanned generations are now vulnerable.

Banks are still closing down weekly. The situation in Europe is increasingly fragile as previous whispers of dramatic austerity and potential collapse of the Euro become potentially viable outcomes.

In the United States, President Obama’s approval rating is at an all time low. Congress approval rating is at 14% – FOURTEEN PERCENT! – also an all time low.

Civil unrest has spread from oppressive dictatorial regimes in the Middle East and Africa to the developed world (see London riots).

Corporate America is obviously feeling the effects of many of these issues as they affect all of us, directly or indirectly.

You are likely familiar with the recent collapse of these famed organizations:

  • Lehman Brothers
  • Merrill Lynch
  • Blockbuster Video
  • Borders Bookstores

Power to the People

Friends, we are living in a unique era. While world leaders collectively wrestle with the greatest economic challenges in the last 70 years, many corporations find themselves doing the same. Customers are voicing their opinions about companies they do business with, as constituents voice their displeasure about the poor job their leaders are doing on their behalf.

The following incidents caught executives by surprise as specific cries against corporate actions rallied the hearts, minds, and activity of thousands in revolt against insensitive corporate interests.

  • Dell Hell
  • United Breaks Guitars
  • Kevin Smith’s Southwest Airlines Incident
  • Greenpeace and Nestle

Jeremiah Owyang chronicles a more complete list of corporate social media crisis here

What’s perhaps most interesting is that these recent revolutions and crises, whether political or corporate, are being fueled and enabled by the reach and connectedness of internet based social networks.

While Jeremiah and the team at The Altimeter Group once again published a quality open research report titled “Social Readiness: How Advanced Companies Prepare” , it is possible to miss some of the larger, more important underlying issues.

The Seeds of Revolution

Surely, rapid uprisings and revolutions don’t just happen because someone tweets about it, or posts a YouTube video. It’s not the medium that really matters. It’s the ability for the message to spread, and for people to self-organize quickly – to out-think, out-flank, and out-number their oppressors or aggressors.

Revolution happens because a latent frustration finds an outlet. It happens because enough people unite and take action around an idea of change. Connected by a common interest or frustration, the network effect takes place as people unite in a flash mob around a common goal. It happens because the thought of things staying the same becomes more fearful and oppressive than the uncertainty and risk associated with standing up and going a different direction.

According to BJ Fogg’s behavioral model (Hat tip to Dr. Graham Hill and Dr. Michael Wu for pointing me his way), there are three primary factors that lead to behaviors:

  • Motivation
  • Ability
  • Trigger

You see, I believe that there are tons of latent motivations out there that never turn into anything because the other two factors don’t exist. Social Networks and ubiquitous connectivity are providing the ability to actually do something once a trigger occurs. With latent motivations and now the ability to do something now in place, a trigger event becomes a spark that can quickly flame into a roaring fire.

In a world that is increasingly connected, increasingly digital, and access to anything and anyone is available in real time, corporate leaders should be considering the following questions.

The fabric of global society is transforming from a collection of lots of small, geographically connected groups to groups that are connected in a new geography that transcends previous space and time limitations.

Much of the new global infrastructure has been laid and it will continue to become more pervasive and more powerful.

People can now aggregate across boundaries, and organize beyond the constraints and management comforting silos. Al Quaeda and WikiLeaks quickly come to mind. In the same way, business units are self-organizing around the constraints of their IT departments.

Guess what? Our prospects and customers now have the ability to do the same.

The question every executive should be asking right now

So then the next question is, will your organization lead the next revolution in your marketplace, empowering and giving voice to the latent motivations of your customers, or will it become a victim of a more agile, more united group of customers who will self organize around their collective needs and jobs, leaving your outdated organization in their wake?

Let’s continue the discussion

If you are in Southern California or Arizona, please join me on September 21 and 22 as I lead discussions centered around this topic in a series of Executive Breakfasts sponsored by NICE.

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Empowering Human Movements: 7 Observations about the State of Social Business

This week, I’ve had the privilege to participate in the Sales 2.0 and Enterprise 2.0 conferences in Boston, MA.

It’s been good to see old friends, meet new ones, and/or insert a handshake or hug into a previously only virtual relationship. The conference(s) also provided a great chance to check on the pulse of the industry, hear new stories, and generally get a broader and better sense for what’s going on the in the marketplace. 

Like a room full of toddlers, the industry is learning to walk. There have been starts, stops, over compensations, disparity amongst players in general understanding and development, and in some cases, the harsh realization that we’re just not quite ready to do what we want to do.

1. Society, and therefore, the workplace is (still) evolving
This statement could have been (and was) written 5 years ago, but we’re early enough in the evolution that it’s still worth noting. The growth of a new wave of human communication, empowerment, and progress continues to move on. The pervasiveness of mobile and social technologies continues to expand geographically, and also more deeply penetrate individuals work lives in a continually blurred kaleidoscope of contexts.

2. Visions are still being cast, and re-cast

From my vantage point, the key tenets of social business benefits have been flushed out. While collectively most of us understand that a more efficient, more collaborative, more distributed way of living is coming, organizations and vendors alike continue to wrestle with what exactly that vision looks like in a tangible way. Tactical plans, and even organizational vision seems to be in a stage of frequent recalibration as more information emerges from the marketplace.

This, in and of itself, is one of the benefits of the realized benefits of a more collaborative culture. The shorter the feedback loop, the more opportunity for recalibration and alignment with stakeholder needs.

A major challenge facing operators on both the vendor and practitioner sides, respectively, is what feedback to take into consideration, and how to weight it appropriately. A similar dilemma faces stock traders; what is a meaningful movement versus what are short term fluctuations and what meanings and importance should be applied to myriad of elements flowing through the industry and customer firehose.

3. What’s the value?

Like any change initiative, WIIFMs are required. This is not different than any other technology powered advancement. While the broad based benefits of sentiment analysis, knowledge sharing, real time collaboration, and big data analytics are understood, the tangible benefit of social technologies will vary significanly for each organization, and quite frankly, each individual that interacts within its ecosystem.

Identifying the organizational goals, and coupling that with the perceived benefits of a wide audience of stakeholders is key to setting strategy, and establishing the corresponding tactical approach.

Questions like:

What’s the problem?
Who’s the customer (can be internal or external)?
What are they trying to accomplish, collectively and individually?
How do they do it now?
How can we make it better?
…and a host of other questions associated with the value creation process

…all still carry the same weight. I see the same high risk potential with the implementation and/or deployment of social technologies that we’ve seen with the introduction of ERP, CRM, Knowledge Management, E-Commerce, etc.

Business cases and value propositions are still necessary. ROI analysis may or may not be.

4. The customer is rising in importance and focus

One key thing that is encouraging is that conversations about the customer are gaining more prominence. Enterprise 2.0 had an entire track dedicated to sales and marketing that had good attendance. Kudos to Sameer Patel for putting the track together.

5. Enough thought leadership. It’s time to get to work.

Very few new ideas have emerged. New spins, new takes, new anecdotes are being spun, but very few epiphany inspiring ideas are being spread. As noted earlier, the key tenets of the next half decade have already been flushed out.Pioneers in the space are now beginning to have lessons learned stories to tell. Case studies warn of pitfalls and show how and where success has been realized.

In general, there is a growing sentiment of “there’s nothing left to say”.

6. Sales as a litmus test.

Sales has been the laggard in the adoption of social tools. In the front office, the two other musketeers, marketing and customer service, have more often capitalized on the use of social media, social networking, social crm, and social blah, blah, blah.  While some may point to the sales guys and being technically less competent than some of the other workers in the organization, I point to another possible reason why the uptake has been slower to catch on.

No one else in the organization is as tightly tied to “pay for performance” than the sales team. Their butt is on the line daily. No one will be more resistant to employ useless strategies, tactics, and technologies than the ones whose compensation is as tightly aligned to their quarterly performance. If something is not helping them sell more, they are not using it. Their time is too valuable to work on non value-added toys. The end of the month is always just a few days away.

That said, more and more stories are emerging about global sales teams collaborating through Enterprise 2.0 tools, and/or individuals and teams from companies of all sizes using products like InsideView or OneSource to quickly access sales intelligence, partially leveraging data from the social web for this.

7. Empowering Human Movements
Whether we’re talking about political revolution, crowds self-aggregating for discounts, community members helping each other solve problems, or crowd sourced innovation, the common thread is that social technologies help to empower human movements. Social provides a platform where information and people can be searched for, identified, and harnessed for a specific purpose faster than any other time in history.

I expressed my views of social in “Circles”, and a more simplified version in “Social Business: May I try and simplify this?”

Social technologies help to empower human movements to achieve jobs of varying degrees; as small as responding to a question asked on LinkedIn, or as large as creating a hyper growth startup or overthrowing a government.  

Summary
The mesh of Social CRM and Enterprise 2.0 philosophies, process and technology innovations continue to gain momentum, and are becoming more tightly entwined as the journey towards the pervasive emergence of the “social business”.  At varying points of the journey, however, organizations with a strong established trajectory are realizing that success is elusive for those that do not have the fundamentals in place (collaborative culture, functional systems of record, solid change management practices). 

Exploring the future of computing: The Hybrid Model

The migration to the cloud is well under way. Like little water drops evaporating, data and applications are heading from the vast ocean of On Premise Servers and databases to the great cumulonimbus in the sky.

With guys like Marc Benioff as the flamboyant ringleader, there’s no wonder why there is so much hype. Slowly and steadily over the past several years, salesforce.com, one of the earliest pioneers in cloud computing, has been evolving from its CRM SaaS (Software as a Service) roots into a more complete cloud computing platform, casting a vision that extends their Software as a Service platform beyond CRM, but also provides Data as a Service, and Database.com, which is aimed at being an agnostic cross technology/cross operating system data platform.

Hyperbole aside, there are indeed proven and valuable benefits that cloud computing has ushered in. Some of these include:

– Quick deployment
– No (or limited) CapEx investment
– Rapid scalability
– Lower maintenance costs

Microsoft with its Azure platform, and the Amazon Web Services EC2 cloud, among countless other providers illustrate the current demand and mass movement towards cloud computing, and increasingly validate the trend as being viable for a growing number of business scenarios.

But as much of the the marketplace rushes to the cloud, others are moving back to On Premise deployments. Concerns about data security have largely been answered, but data governance and management are still at the top of CIOs minds. In some scenarios, cost, system speed, or integration requirements with other legacy systems become a challenge. And I wouldn’t be surprised if sometime in the near future, one of the large cloud players gets hacked, sparking a backlash against the cloud computing model.

As someone put it yesterday on Twitter (let me know if you said it and I’ll give attribution), bank robbers go where the greatest amount of money is, hackers go where the greatest amount of data is.

According to an article on Biztech2.com, Stephen Mann, an analyst with Ovum recently stated:

“There is currently a buzz around SaaS, but CIOs need to ensure their decision to introduce it is based on a strong business case, rather than on the back of industry hype. SaaS is now becoming a mainstream part of the corporate IT mix but using it for the right reasons, in the right places and in the right way within an organisation is crucial. CIOs need to establish this before embarking on an implementation project.”

I agree with his assessment. In the CRM space, some companies have abandoned or avoided salesforce.com in favor of options like Microsoft CRM or Sage SalesLogix because of their flexibility to move and manage data and portions of the application stack between the Cloud, On Premise, or a combination of both.

Recognizing the trend, Enterprise 2.0 vendor SocialText today announced a migration service for those unsatisfied with Clould provider Yammer. They contend that the new offering has the potential to bring IT personnel greater control, more predictable costs, and better security. In a recent conversation, SocialText Co-Founder, Chairman, and President Ross Mayfield shared stories with me about how several organizations have come to SocialText, frustrated with having to pay money to use basic services such as managing users, segmenting data, or to simply get their data out. Mayfield contends that Yammer has a model that “VC’s love, users like, and IT personnel don’t like”.

The future of computing isn’t cloud, nor On Premise exclusively – it’s a hybrid of both where applications, data, and devices interact to help users find, analyze, consume, and contribute information across a myriad of interfaces, data sets, and physical locations. A blend of Cloud, On Premise, and Web Services all play a part in designing the information management systems of the future.

Piecing all of that together and creating the right mix is a challenge that CIOs, with the assistance of practitioners will continue to sort out over the next several years.

Circles: The Real Driver behind Social Business

We were all born into a circle. At one time in human history, our circle never extended beyond our family. The circles then extended to our tribe, and then our village. Circles then extended outward. They were drawn around common languages, common religious beliefs, and then nation states. Advances in technology have helped enable the extension of these circles. Our circles now have the capability to nearly encompass the whole earth.

It’s too much.

So, we begin to draw narrower circles that are more manageable. We apply filters that help us to find those people and things that are most interesting to us, those that will help us accomplish our need. We have the ability to include other people in the circles we have created or joined.

This process is innate. We did it in school growing up. We do it in our neighborhoods. We do it professionally.

We join or create a circle called an organization. Within that circle are many other circles. The one around your physical location. The one around your department. The one around those that you call work friends.

Advances in technology enable us to draw more circles, more often. Circles that transcend traditional boundaries. The ability to draw more creative circles has evolved with the mass adoption of phone, email, and the internet.

Social technologies have allowed us unmatched freedom to create these circles. The biggest circle now encompasses the whole planet. We know increasingly more about existing circles (communities, groups, customers, organizations, and the individuals within those circles).

It is becoming easier to build a circle around a single purpose.

There has been increasing debate and discussion about Social Business, Social CRM, Enterprise 2.0 and the definitions of each.

The truth is that the change happening around us is simply about rapidly creating circles around a need.

There is someone out there right now that is trying to do something. They need your help. Social technologies have afforded us the ability to find, listen, and engage with them. You have the ability to quickly create a circle of folks who can work together to help them solve their problem. If that person with a need is “outside of your organization”, and your circle can provide something of value in exchange for currency, we call them a customer.

If you are able to do this over and over, circles containing multiple customers are created. They can, in turn, create their own circle or circles. They can tell stories about your circle to other circles they belong to. Some might label this process Social CRM.

If the same scenario happens behind the veil of corporate walls, we label this collaboration. We call it Enterprise 2.0. The ultimate value exchange might look a little different as currency might not be exchanged. But we’ve done the same thing. We’ve created a circle of collaboration to solve a problem – a purpose. The only difference is that the focus of goal was to solve a need within our existing circle.

The dynamics of these circles aren’t new. Humans have organized in this fashion for eons.

Here’s what is new, and is rapidly changing the fabric of society and business:

  • We can now create circles with unlimited amounts of people in them
  • We know increasingly more about these circles because of the data we are collecting, and the analytical capabilities we have
  • Any conversation within one circle can be shared with an unlimited number of circles
  • Circles are increasingly dynamic – they can be drawn, erased, and/or reconfigured almost instantaneously

Could all the complexity of this world really be wrapped up in… Circles?