Social media is reaching a tipping point inside corporate America. That is as much the product of the wider adoption by individuals who, whether you're in B2B or B2C, end up being your customers or prospective customers, as it is of the tireless work of a new breed of conversationalists. Marshall Kirkpatrick at ReadWriteWeb called them the New Robert Scobles.
It is easy to recognize among the the names listed, those who are doing their work very publicly. I am sure you recognize the names of Jeremiah Owyang from Forrester and Sam Lawrence of Jive Software. Owyang manages to be everywhere and Lawrence manages to be provocative and forceful. I was quite pleased to discover the names of less known evangelists who by all descriptions have earned the right to be called corporate social media evangelists.
Meet Daniela Barbosa - how could I not like someone with an Italian name? You know me too well to think that is the only reason why I would call her out. Having worked for many years in the financial services industry, I am intimately familiar with the conservative nature of that environment. Daniela works at at Synaptica, a division of Dow Jones Client Solutions, as Business Development Manager.
What does Synaptica do? We are all drawing in information and we're all stretched to the max with no time to figure out how that information and our collective knowledge can help us solve problems for our customers - that is especially true inside organizations. Synaptica (perhaps from synapses?) helps you manage all that so it makes sense and can be used intelligently. It looks like Daniela is working with her colleagues from marketing and product to make what the company does more transparent through social media and thus easier to understand.
Information delivery is important. I often say that inside organizations we do not have a communication problem, we have an information problem. Nice to meet you, Daniela.
At Sun Microsystems, Linda Skrocki manages the community venues, that means blogs, forums, media and RSS. External organizations with whom they've shared their experiences include the United Nations (in preparation for their Youth Summit), the DoD, and other tech companies. I am impressed by Sun because they are a large organization and I suspect that they face many of the issues and challenges of cultural scalability that large companies face.
A recent post on her blog about when to use a wiki caught my attention. She writes:
The thing I love about the online community space is you never really know how people are going to leverage the tools placed in front of them -- especially when the tool is as cross-functional as a wiki. Sure, there are the easy to predict use cases that come to fruition and the easy to predict grey use cases, but observing how contributers approach the grey areas, in addition to the unpredictable super clever user cases, is what interests me.
It was through this post that I discovered some very good advice by Stewart Mader on when using a wiki is appropriate. Many organizations are starting to use wikis as collaborative tools for employees. As a connector, I like the function of cross-pollinating ideas from Web sites and other tools with a collaboration layer. I'll be learning more from Linda, I'm sure.
Which Brings me to Blog Council
The announcement was received by many with mixed reviews. Duncan Reily at TechCrunch asked if it was a bad or inspired idea. Ryan Paul at ArsTechnica said that the new corporate Blog Council misses the point of blogging. Jeff Jarvis at BuzzMachine put his finger on it, the reaction was mostly caused by the name. It's not the blog, he wrote, it's the conversation.
Jarvis puts forth some excellent advice on naming. I've said it in many places here, words matter. It is about listening, it is about customers, and it is about seeing things from their perspective. What my colleague Lionel Menchaca from Dell says (as reported by Jarvis) bears repeating:
It’s also not about control. For me at least, that has been decided—companies don’t control the message, customers do. I hope that Dell (and other companies in the council that have made the leap into digital media) can work together to move companies past the false notion that we are still in control. I’ve talked to folks from other large companies and that reality scares the heck out of them. I think that’s the primary reason why less than 10% of Fortune 500 companies have a blog. That fear makes it a non-starter for many companies. . . .
Good corporate blogs force companies to look at things from a customer’s point of view. That’s why I want more large corporations to blog, and I want them to do it the right way. That means letting real people have real conversations just like individual blogs do. But it’s a bit different from a corporate perspective. Transparency is still key, but the reality for large corporations is that there are some things we can’t discuss. It’s a balancing act, and sometimes it’s a difficult one. But worth the risk? You bet it is.
I also read a very interesting post by Dave Taylor at Intuitive.com on how the business world yawns to Blog Council. I find myself nodding to the challenges - real and perceived - that large organizations face with this initiative and social media in general. I worked in highly hierarchical and regulated industries my whole career. That did not seem to take the passion for conversation out of me, did it?
I find some narrative fallacy in Taylor's post:
Indeed, as has been demonstrated time and again, it's Madison Avenue, specifically the small, nimble, edgy marketing and PR agencies that are really the only hope that large corporations have of getting involved in modern social media and the blogosphere in any meaningful -- and interesting -- manner. These agencies might stumble occasionally (as I have written about many times) but they're trying new things and they can afford to take risks in a way that larger corporations, publicly traded entities, simply cannot.
Should I mention some of my recent conversations with said award-winning agencies who were found wanting on execution and advice? Where is the list of bloggers and social media "experts" from those agencies?
On a more conciliatory side, Shel Holtz and Josh Hallet shared their perspectives on the council as well. What seems to have drawn the ire of social media pundits, in addition to the council's name, is the nature of the council's site. It's not a blog, they write, It's filled with marketing speak, It talks at us, etc.
If you take a look at the list of member companies, you may notice that the name of the company where I spend most of my time, SunGard, was added to the list recently. We were welcomed warmly by our colleagues at Dell, for starters.
An Insider's View
In the comments section of Taylor's post (that is where I tend to spend my time when I read posts, BTW), Jon writes something fabulous. Something that is a tonic, music to my ears. "Marketing needs to grow up," he says. Amen to that. He continues:
Consumers are maturing, and we don't respond well to the run-of-the-mill schlock our parents once did. I deal with executives in several reasonably large companies. I actually hear them say things like "We're in business to be in business." By which they mean, "We're in business to make money."
They are missing the point, and a chance at greater earnings. Soon they will be left behind by those companies who are in business to provide something useful to the customer.
I'm confused by the last statement, Jon. Help me out. Is Blog Council missing the point or are large corporations? Never mind, as you said in your latest post, that we connect at all is a miracle - your poetry is a gift, Jon, and it did not go unnoticed.
This past week I participated, as a listener, to the first show and tell and I was blown away by the candor and transparency of my colleagues in corporate America. Many of them have been using social media inside their organizations for years. That takes stamina, poise and the ability to risk your life - your professional life that is - many times a year, possibly a month or a week.
But this is not the point of this post. This post is about corporate social media evangelists. We need more of them, not less. We need the help of the community, all of you, to replenish our resolve and on some days validate that what we do is useful. By far the toughest job a corporate social media evangelist has is inside the organization.
There will be a time when social media is a natural part of the work marketing communications professionals do. Not today. Today they steal time away from the expectations of the many customers they serve - they include outside customers and customer service of course, sales groups, product teams, technical teams, the HR group, legal council, where applicable the regulatory group, the management team, and anyone else in between.
Why You Need to Keep an Open Mind
I need to do that, too. Sometimes it pays to be empathetic and to provide a giving hand. Last weekend at Blogger Social I had a conversation with Marilyn Pratt that was not connective. I was distracted and not feeling well. She was picking a moment that was not ideal for me to put forth the weighty issue of community responsibility and the question of how do you keep things separate? You can't, I should have answered simply, but sometimes you do it anyway.
Marilyn is Community Evangelist at SAP Labs, a Blog Council member. The irony of life had Andy (Sernovitz) introduce us by work email this past week as part of the council's services to help members meet each other. How is that for instant feedback loop or karma?
CK said it best, I don't care that you promote me, I care that you promote the right message. I'm an explorer, just like many of you. I have a day job I am passionate about. You may or may not see the results of my work there immediately. There is much to do and fewer resources to do it with. That does not dampen our resolve to do what's right. It may just take more time. You did not see behind - or should I say beyond? - the Blog Council site and terminology, will you see the individuals who are working on behalf of these companies' customers and communities?
Thank you for listening. My turn now.