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How valuable is your engagement?

by Shadi Afshar 21 Oct 2011 Blog Post

Is the metric of engagement used so frequently in social media that its meaning has become blurred?

Engagement has essentially become the holy grail of social metrics with various definitions of measurement. In fact, when brand executives are asked what their goals are for a Facebook page during interviews, many, if not most, state that they want to build engagement with their consumers. But do brands even know what they want their customer to engage ON or is it just the right thing to say?

Countless online articles, like this, offer steps on how to improve engagement with fans or rank brands in order of “Most Engaged.”  Engagement, today, is mostly measured by the number of Likes, Shares and Comments posted to a brand’s Newsfeed Update. Brands such as Coca-Cola will score extremely high on this metric just by saying something very simple to millions of fans.

This is definitely a form of engagement, but is there a smarter way to talk to your customers and gain more useful insights?

Brands should establish a more distinct and focused purpose for their pages, such as exclusive deals, customer service, or product awareness, in order to deliver smarter content strategies that are valuable to both the brand, as well as the customer. For example, retail companies, especially in the apparel industry, have a great opportunity that may have never existed before – they can get customer input before buying their inventory.

Bergdorf Goodman recently posted the Burberry runway show on their Facebook page and offered fans a chance to be a buyer for a day, something every fashionista would love to be a part of. Based on the number of Likes on a picture, that item would be included in their online catalogue.

Bergdorf not only made their fans feel like they were a part of the buying experience, but the luxury retail company also gained extremely valuable insights for their next buying process. Imagine the potential impact on inventory, data and even sales, if more buyers leveraged their social networks in creative and “engaging” manners.

Brands invest hefty time and money in order to increase the number of comments to a post and measure higher in engagement. While they may gain some level of engagement by asking their fans about their weekend plans, there is a smarter and better way to develop a more valuable relationship with the consumer. Brands should FIRST define their goals and THEN create a content strategy that supports those goals.

Social Business Moves to Workflow, Manufacturing, and Money

by Dion Hinchcliffe 27 Sep 2011 Blog Post

I receive e-mail frequently from PR people promoting the latest IT tools and new Web applications. These days a common thread I see is the addition of social features to software to make it easier for users to share information and collaborate with others. Personally, I believe it’s largely beneficial to 1) find ways to take advantage of the social graphs that users have been building in recent years, and 2) add the techniques and channels of the social world to make traditional software more effective and usable in general.

However, in reality these relatively minor tweaks are just the proverbial paving of the cowpath through the addition of limited social features such as collaborative sharing, persistent chat, and perhaps some deeper integration with activity streams. Unfortunately, these actions easily fail the imagination test, which is essentially this:

If you could completely rethink your work in a social business world, what would it look like? How would it be better?

To me, this is the fundamental question that organizations must be asking themselves today. Yet, I also think they should do this while going about the aforementioned incremental improvements such as adding basic social layers to their IT landscape. One reason is that this will happen inevitably as more and more enterprise applications and platforms add social computing features and companies proceed along that vendor’s upgrade path. So, while social impinging around the edges of enterprise applications is worth dealing with from a strategic perspective, it’s going to happen largely whether organizations plan for it or not. As such, it’s not likely to make a huge competitive or qualitative difference in the way most businesses perform. That is, unless they start the process of deliberate and strategic social business transformation, such as what IBM and a few other large organizations have begun.

This process of social business transformation will require both advances in social technology — such as the innovations below — as well as changes to the way we do business. Fortunately, one of the great attributes of the larger social business community is that it generally focuses as much on the business and cultural changes as it does the enabling technology. Some of the best discussions I’ve seen on the people aspect of the transition to the social enterprise are from folks like Luis Suarez, Sameer Patel, Stowe Boyd, and JP Rangaswami, who are just part of a much larger conversation about how we remake our organizations for the 21st century.

The Value Dimensions of Social Capital

So, while there are certainly some companies not tracking the sea changes in the world right now in terms of the way we are globally transforming the way we live and work, we’re also continuing to see fascinating next-generation innovations in social business. Let’s take a look at some of them.

Rethinking Workflow, Manufacturing, and Money in Social Business Terms

In just the last week I’ve encountered several fascinating offshoots of the mainstream social business thread. Social business frequently focuses either on social engagement externally or internally on collaboration and social interaction between workers. This is a limiting view, but it’s also where most of the activity and uptake is today. However, as more and more business leaders and entrepreneurs become digital natives, I’ve theorized that the power laws and principles of social business will encourage them to rethink their traditional modes of business. At the same time, Web startups and large software vendors often put themselves out 2-3 years ahead of the market by predicting where their customers will arrive once current trends reach a mainstream tipping point. Then they adjust their product roadmaps to align with this schedule. The combination of these two trends is starting to give us some interesting new possibilities.

I say possibilities, because unlike social collaboration or Social CRM, the outlook and growth potential for these innovation is still unknown. However, it does give us a sense of what’s coming next in social business.

Social BPM

Last week while I was speaking at Sibos, I had the pleasure of speaking on the phone with Sandra Moran from OpenText Metastorm, a leading workflow/BPM product that recently announced the addition of social computing features to its capabilities. Metastorm now enables workers to engage in real collaborative process design, takes advantage of social profiles to locate needed expertise to plug workers into processes in essentially real-time, and has matching dashboards to provide BPM and social analytics. OpenText had this to say about the new social capabilities, which Sandra told me is now available to over a thousand major customers as a standard part of the Metastorm suite:

These new product enhancements help organizations successfully implement business process improvement initiatives by empowering users to become more engaged and productive. Metastorm’s social collaboration tools provide businesses with a highly personalized workspace and unparalleled access to top contributors, enabling them to drive innovation and increase collaboration and improve efficiency among employees. These tools help employees find other people within their organization with specific skill sets required to help them complete their work. Companies can also route work to the most appropriate employee based on individual skills and workload – ensuring the most cost-effective strategy for work allocation.

I think this is significant for a few reasons. For one, I find that there’s often not enough focus in social tools in collapsing the walls between business processes and social conversations. They often run in parallel, side-by-side, even when they are being used simultaneously for the same piece of work. Putting social in the flow of work in highly process-intensive environments should lead to some interesting outcomes. I pressed Sandra on if there was leverage in Metastorm of existing social graphs and networks, and she indicated there was. What remains to be seen is how easy it will be to integrate the resulting BPM environment with an enterprise’s other social business efforts.

I’ll be exploring the social features of Metastorm in more detail soon on ZDNet, but I think the combination of social computing and BPM has genuine potential. This isn’t the first time social and workflow have been connected but I think it’ll be impactful given their large customer base and how central and useful the features are to the product. I’m hoping to revisit how their customers are faring in a year or so to see what the result has been. I currently believe social BPM technology, combined with the right business and cultural changes, will help companies attain a higher than average level of social business transformation.

Social On The Shop Floor

Earlier this month Derek Singleton over at the Software Advice blog wrote about social manufacturing, what you could call a new subfield of social business that’s focused on improving how companies turn raw materials into finished goods. Discussing Kenandy’s new announcement for improving the efficiency and productivity of supply chain manufacturing, Derek wrote:

Creating accessible and actionable inter-shop floor communication can only work if an entire supply chain and other manufacturers are members of, and logged into, Chatter. In short, it requires organizational change for effective use. While manufacturers using Kenandy wait for that changeover, Chatter can be a useful tool for project management.

For instance, the engineer of an aerospace job shop could notify shop labor that they’ve just finished designing the wing component of an aircraft. The job shop could then begin building the wing while the engineer finishes designing the other components they’ve been contracted to build. This has great implications for just-in-time (JIT) manufacturing – as it frees up labor to work on more value-added activities rather than waiting for the completion of another phase of the production.

In my workshops at Enterprise 2.0 Conference in years past, I’ve had manufacturers and assembly line managers come up to me to say that social tools have been moving into their area of the business, but it’s mostly been horizontal tools or very focused niche solutions. We’re now seeing broader and more strategic use of social tools with the arrival of solutions such as the Kenandy social manufacturing platform, which has garnered attention in the New York Times. I’ll be exploring this further in coming months to see whether social manufacturing leads to tactical or substantive social business transformation.

The Rise of Social Currency

An Example of Social Currency: The Reputone From InnotribeFinally, at Sibos itself last week, I participated in Innotribe, a social media event inside the main financial services conference that explored various aspects of social media in financial services. For a more in-depth look, I wrote up a detailed exploration of the event on ZDNet on Friday. One of the more interesting and visionary topics at the conference was the subject of social currency, the transformation of the very concept of money in social world where reputation, trust, and openness are prized much more than information control, the latter which is how the financial industry is mostly structured to leverage for gain today.

As an experiment, a social currency called Reputone was actually in use at Innotribe, see picture right. In fact, peer-to-peer monetary systems such as Bitcoin were a hot topic at Innotribe and for good reason, it represents a major shift of control in how banking, money transfer, and investment will work in the future. If Paypal was the first generation of digital money, then Bitcoin is the Web 2.0 version. From their Web site:

Bitcoin is a new digital currency that enables instant payments to anyone, anywhere in the world. Bitcoin uses peer-to-peer technology to operate with no central authority: managing transactions and issuing money are carried out collectively by the network.

Mark Shead recently provided a good overview to Bitcoin concepts and is worth taking a look at. In the final analysis, Bitcoin falls a bit short of being a true social currency, in that it doesn’t have an explicit capital mechanism based on social graphs or other means that leverages the intrinsic worth of social status and reputation. That doesn’t mean it should be watched closely as money and social reputation appear ready to get deeply intertwined and Bitcoin is at the leading edge of digital currency at the moment. This is a subject that warrants a lot more exploration as companies such as Facebook look at making their global platforms far more relevant from an economic perspective. For additional insight, David Armano posted some useful insights on social currency recently on his Harvard Business blog.

I’ll be exploring all of these concepts in more detail in coming months as social business continues to evolve. I would love your questions and feedback on this emerging social business topics below.

Note: This blog entry was cross-posted from On Web Strategy.

Looking to the Frontiers of Social Business

by Dion Hinchcliffe 08 Aug 2011 Blog Post

Recently I’ve been taking a close look at what is coming next in social business. While social media has grown to become standard in just about every company’s business portfolio, it’s just as clear that things are not standing still. The business blogs and customer forums of a half decade ago are still here (and still important), but the larger strategic discussion has moved well beyond them to more transformative thinking, with approaches to match.

This week I’ve spent a lot of time looking at one of the next frontiers of social business, the intersection of application software and social networks. As I examined on ebizQ, the next app you use is increasingly likely to be inside a consumer social network such as Facebook or LinkedIn (no solid word yet on how Google+ apps will work.) This trend is also moving into the enterprise as social apps have started becoming available in Enterprise 2.0 platforms, as I recently looked at in detail with Jive Software’s Apps Market for their popular social business platform.

Social applications are increasingly proving to be an effective way to direct community-based activity into useful directions and social networks are a natural home for them. By providing application experiences within the users current social context, applications can lightly structure or orchestrate collaborative behavior at useful outcomes. Driving outcomes like this have proven effective across virtually all the departments and functions of the modern organization.

Social Business Capabiity and Maturity Ladder

However, as ripe with potential to reap meaningful ROI from social networking, social apps are just one intriguing examples of the overall evolution of social business. The big picture has been growing clearer in the recent years, even as the landscape keeps moving, as companies have learned to update their digital strategies with social business and begin to genuinely apply what we now understand as the truly transformative power of social media to how they run their businesses.

A Four Step View of Social Business Maturity

The social business ladder, when dealing with the connection of an organization to the broader external marketplace, can be said to have four major steps. Organizations typically start by trying to drive the world to their online presence, a clear extension of their Web sites and typically consists of the addition of blogs, customer discussion forums, and other basic social features. This is effective and useful, to a point, but it’s limited to basic information discovery, high-level awareness, brand messaging, and communication. It is also typically the purview of just one part of an organization, usually corporate communications and/or marketing.

However, companies typically realize there is much more to the social business story than basic social media. They then reach for the second rung of the ladder: Going to the world. This was made easier by large global social networks like Facebook and Twitter — as well as regional social networks in countries where these two market leaders have stiff competition. Driving the market to a social media presence on a corporate Web site is hard work, expensive, and limited in effectiveness compared to just going directly to where the world already is. The second rung is about building reach, establishing network effects, and connecting within the social channels that almost everyone already uses. This is a much more scalable and effective approach and is exemplified by Facebook pages, Twitter accounts, and decentralized badges and Like buttons that connect an organization’s content and experiences that are elsewhere on the Web back into the world’s main social ecosystems.

Going to the world is powerful expansion in the way of thinking about and applying social business, but it’s just halfway there. More mature organizations have figured out how to more deeply engage the world via social business by greatly “turning the knob to the right” in how they listen, analyze, and engage. Scale is the name of the game when companies progress to the third rung of social business maturity. Listening to and understanding where all the important conversations are, tapping into them in a timely fashion, systematically understanding their implications to the organization, and ensure that appropriate responses, from simple information returns to complex marketplace collaboration, take place. All of this drives better decisions and results across all lines of business. The list of areas that benefit from engaging with the world including sales, marketing, innovation, hiring, support, operations, supply chain, and more.

Most companies are on the first two rungs and some companies are now on the third rung of this social business ladder. A few companies however, are progressing to what appears to be the next and most advanced level. This stage of social business is the most transformative of all and the natural outcome of the relentless blur that I hear about from more and more C-level executives as they witness the boundaries of their organization changing under the relentless pressure of the new, often highly social, ways that workers and customers use technology to connect with each other. The broad changes that businesses are experiencing are extensive yet they are also looking to be one of the most rewarding ways that we have to enlist the creative and productive output of the global population in rebuilding and growing our businesses. Businesses are asking “What will power next-generation enterprises?” A large part of the answer lies with mature social business approaches on the right side of the chart above. I’ll be looking at some of the more significant implications in the fourth rung in upcoming posts.

How Do Organizations Get There?

To get there, the enterprises of the very near future will have to be more visionary in an on-the-ground and effective way than they are today. As IBM’s Sandy Carter pointed out recently, based on her many conversations, there’s still work to do to communicate that social business involves far more than just PR or marketing. It requires engagement by the entire organization. McKinsey also recently underscored the inverse point, that “we’re all marketers now“, just further proving the point that we’re all much more involved in everything now as business activities become far more connected. In the end, the companies that can manage risk well while enabling their own disruption by climbing the social business maturity curve will be best situated to take advantage of the very significant and measurable benefits.

Where are you on the frontier of social business and why?

Moving Beyond Systems of Record to Systems of Engagement

by Dion Hinchcliffe 08 Jun 2011 Blog Post

When we look back at the first decade of the 21st century, it will be obvious that a few momentous changes in the business and computing landscape occurred. Of these, one of the most profound has been a decreasing emphasis on systems of record and the move towards what are called systems of engagement. Over the last 30 years, information technology has transformed the business landscape by capturing, structuring, and automated a growing percentage of the information that our businesses require to operate. This has offered a multitude of benefits to the organizations that have heavily invested in IT, not the least that information technology has been the one area where world class companies typically invest more than average performers. This is in contrast to finance, HR, or procurement, where the best companies usually spend far less than middle-of-the-road companies.

However, in the last decade, a few industry observers have noted seemingly diminishing returns on the strategic value of technology to drive additional business value. In fact, towards the turn of the millennium, debates raged on whether IT had become just another commodity (or not) while the the gap continued to grow between companies applying IT well in terms of business performance and those who weren’t. As I pointed out in a recent post on organizing for social business, that the productivity gap looms ever larger. In a closely related trend, my colleague, well known business thinker Dave Gray, has been exploring how companies, becoming ever more global and conglomerated, experience dramatic productivity drops as they grow. This paints a discouraging picture for companies that have either not become digital natives or are dealing with the intense communication and collaboration overhead of today’s massive organizations: Better business performance is increasingly harder to come by as the easiest opportunities are seized.

How The Social Web and Internet Are Changing Business

How The Social Web and Internet Are Changing Business: Systems of Record to Systems of Engagement

The reality is, however, that the vast majority of large organizations have been direct beneficiaries of decades of IT investment. To date, the bulk of that investment has been in a category of IT sometimes known as systems of record. These are the well-known bread-and-butter applications (and their databases) that run our firms and contain the business records, electronic documents, and countless other information artifacts that we use to conduct the routine minutia of daily business. It’s safe to say that most firms would go out of business without the data within and automated capabilities of their systems of record. But systems of record are increasingly 1) becoming commoditized by SaaS and the cloud and 2) most organizations have reached the carrying capacity of the approach: There’s very little left to store and automate that isn’t already. So where are new business gains to be had?

Systems of record have matured to the point where there’s only a little strategic advantage to having your own unique capability. Instead, the discussion on strategic technology has shifted to the other 40% of what businesses in industrialized nations do: Knowledge work. These are highly variable, dynamic, and increasingly fast-moving processes that focus on the higher order activities of a business. Knowledge work involves high levels of communication and collaboration amongst the most valuable workers a company possesses. They are also represented in the most strategic activities taking place within an organization.

Thus, using technology to enable knowledge work as a strategic capability has sparked a growing interest in improving what are increasingly known as systems of engagement. As a key part of this, the rise of social media in the middle of the last decade has done a lot to change the global focus on how we look at communication and collaboration between knowledge workers. A corresponding change came when technology innovation and rate of change in the marketplace began to outpace what most organizations could adapt to. This has led to the aforementioned generational shifts in focus, and in certain early instances industry disruption, in the way we apply technology to business problems. Witness what open source has done to commercial software or what the Internet has done to traditional media (music, TV, movies, newspapers, electronic gaming, etc.) to get a sense of what is now also happening to the information technology and communication industries today.

The Shift from Systems of Record to Systems of Engagement

For enterprises, ground zero for the transition to systems of engagement in many companies often centers around any pending update of the corporate intranet. Even today in most organizations, the intranet is much more of a system of record than it is a system of engagement. This is beginning to change and we can clearly see it in discussions that members have in the Social Business Council and in the initiatives that they are taking, which I’ll explore in coming months.

What’s also clear about the changes taking place in businesses today is that systems of record are not going away. They’re a critical element of our business infrastructure and have their rightful place. Instead, we’ve discovered how we’ve often overestimated them and their ability to provide us with the tools to empower the most valuable and highest leverage aspects of our organizations. Watching what’s been possible on the Web, we’ve learned that we’ve correspondingly under-emphasized the ability to enable and transform the most important element of business today: How we as humans can best work together to create value and achieve objectives. In last year’s survey of the social business landscape, I explored in detail the many emerging ways this is changing in the large and how enterprises are generally behind the times as the consumer world creates and proves out powerful new ways of tapping into and unleashing human potential. Enterprise 2.0, in the form of internal social networks and other models, are just the beginning here.

New systems of engagement are now receiving considerable attention in the forms of online communities, crowdsourcing, Social CRM, open APIs, and many other means as a way to connect customers and business partners together to achieve useful outcomes with the most cost-effectiveness and largest result. From just one recent example of many of this trend, this week Gartner reported thatwithin five years we expect that community peer-to-peer support projects will supplement or replace Tier 1 contact center support in more than 40 percent of top 1,000 companies with a contact center.” Social systems of engagement have already become the primary way that we communicate in our personal lives and this is also happening for businesses.

In recent conversations around how IT is changing, it’s been clear that this is part of a larger trend, part of it the move from push to pull systems, part of the move from the center to the edge, but all of it shows how networks and simple, freeform, emergent tools can enable much bigger results than the transactional systems of old. If you are investing in strategic new technologies today to drive your business forward, I believe this is one of the most important investments you can make at this time. Make no mistake, however, that this is very much an unfolding story and we’re all learning from watching the leaders. But as I’ve covered here and many times in the past, it’s a change that very few organizations will be able to skip and survive.

I’ll be exploring systems of engagement in more detail as part of my Why Social Business Is Different series. Stay tuned.

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Engaging with Social Commerce

by Janet Wenzel 31 Mar 2011 Blog Post

It seems like you can find a new Facebook storefront popping up every day as brands try to crack the code on how to drive revenue on social channels. However, I think we are missing out on a big opportunity. You can create stronger communities and drive better social monetization by encouraging more evolved forms of engagement than what we see today.

Ultimately, there are three forms of engagement: you reaching out to your customers, customers interacting with you and customers communicating with each other.

When I was at Dell, I helped create the Tag Team Facebook application. While the application has not realized its full potential to date (looking out for phase II soon), this is a good example of customer-to-customer engagement– one of these three types of engagement rarely seen online.

The Tag Team application brings in ratings and reviews from (via Bazaarvoice), which allows the app user to get product recommendations from other customers based on how they will use the products.  Thus, enabling customers, not Dell, to advise the community. By leveraging the influence of word-of-mouth, it authentically fosters product interest, which leads to site traffic and ultimately conversion.  While not all brands may be able to leverage these types of capabilities, they can still help facilitate customer-to-customer engagement in its simplest form, by posing open-ended questions to create conversations within the community.

A healthy community leads to brand loyalty, brand loyalty leads to brand advocacy, and brand advocacy drives sales. Encouraging communities to interact with each other in creative ways can drive interest in your products, strengthen your community and can ultimately lead to conversion. Brands that can figure out how to drive social commerce by effectively engaging their community with each other will put themselves at a competitive advantage.