Why Do Executives Blog?

August 28, 2009 at 2:48 pm | Posted in Blogs | Leave a comment

Interesting article in the 7/20/09 WSJ about an online suggestion box set up for the CEO of GM. I guess you spend enough taxpayer dollars on a bailout and you get some social media out of it! 

DETROIT — General Motors Co. Chief Executive Frederick “Fritz” Henderson is launching a public-relations salvo this week, activating an online suggestion box called Tell Fritz.

The initiative, part of a wider assault the auto maker is waging to repair its tattered image, is designed to enable the 50-year-old executive to further distance himself from what has become known as the Old GM, or the auto maker that existed before Mr. Henderson steered the company through bankruptcy court in about 40 days.

Mr. Henderson created the effort in the week leading to the auto maker’s July 10 emergence from bankruptcy protection, after having discussions with expert bloggers about how to rebuild trust with the public.

My $0.02: The article doesn’t address the issue of whether this is true engagement, designed to alter strategy based on what they learn from customer, versus just a place for customers to vent and executives to preach.  I checked a few of the blog entries by Fritz and while there were 100+ comments on some of them he never once commented back. This is not a conversation and not the best way to use this channel to rebuild trust.

The article mentions that his predecessor “Wagoner employed a “deeds not words” strategy when it came to communication” so he didn’t want to blog or communicate in that way.  While that phrase may sound at first like a statement of integrity, it subtly builds in the implication that deeds are not influenced by words from the public; that conversations will not precede and will not affect the deeds.

I believe that words are not “just words” – conversation has to mean something if it’s an activity worth doing for an executive. This resonates with me since I wrote a suggestion box app at a credit card company in 1996.  It turns out there’s a suggestion box rule that says if you (management) know you’re never going to change what you do anyways, it’s better not to even ask for the suggestions. The same thing goes for HR and those employee satisfaction surveys.  People get annoyed when they see that their words (on a suggestion form in this case) never translate into a change in actions.  In the web 2.0 era, that same rule applies to conversations between companies and their customers, partners, and community as well.

A test for the intentions of whether a suggestion box or blog is meant to facilitate conversation versus being a venting/preaching platform is to see who owns it.  If PR has near-exclusive ownership and controls consumption and contribution of material on the site, it’s PR.  If marketing (product development) and customer service are heavily involved in reading, responding to, and internally talking about applicability of community postings, then it’s a conversation.  That conversation can act as a hearty supplement to the marketing guidance already obtained from focus groups and by analyzing sales statistics. 

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A Technology vs. Culture Rorschach Test

August 6, 2009 at 3:04 pm | Posted in Blogs, social software | 1 Comment

Here’s a quick test to see if you are technology focused or business focused.  Read the following paragraph and then select a multiple choice interpretation.

      —————————————

A blogging study published by Brockmann and Company in April, 2009 found that companies with blogs had a higher customer satisfaction than those without (32% vs 25%). They also had much higher employee satisfaction (26% for large companies with blogs, 12% without). 

Question: What does this study show?

A. Installing a blog can raise a company’s customer satisfaction rate and its employee satisfaction rate. 

B. Companies that have higher customer and employee satisfaction rates are more likely to install blogs. 

      —————————————

The point of the exercise is that from my conversations with IT folks (and others enamored with Web 2.0), too many would jump to interpretation A in this case and in the more subtle cases they encounter in their daily work lives. However, the field research we conducted on social networking showed companies with closed cultures that discourage connecting to peers to cross-pollinate ideas (the kind of companies that I don’t think engender high customer or employee satisfaction rates) are indeed less likely to implement social software.

Correlation statistics don’t indicate causation, so there’s no way to tell for sure which answer is correct.  But my instinct says it’s B.  This answer is further indicated by another question on the same survey that found companies with blogs were more green as well (20% for companies with blogs, 9% without).  It seems unlikely installing software makes a company more environmentally aware, so the other direction is the one that makes more sense.

What Microsoft Office 14 Needs: A New, Separate SKU

March 15, 2009 at 12:11 pm | Posted in Blogs, Content Management, Microsoft, Microsoft SharePoint, Office, Web 2.0 | Leave a comment

Recently I posted some guesses as to what features Microsoft will put into Office 14’s content creation tools (the productivity suite consisting of Word, Excel, PowerPoint, OneNote).  But those were guesses about what Microsoft would do, not what they could do or should do. 

There’s a lot of interest in O14 since professional pundits (and swivel-chair pundits in fuzzy cubicles everywhere) want to speculate about whether the 800 pound gorilla known as Microsoft Office can be brought down by plucky upstarts like Google or Zoho, or free options like OpenOffice or IBM Symphony. But this speculation is misplaced.  I start the NextGen authoring section of my content creation seminar with a prediction:

If Microsoft is ever dethroned in the content creation market, it will not be because they were beat on features or marketing … it will be because of a fundamental shift in the content creation market for which they failed to adapt.

In other words, it is not Vendor X that will beat them by being cheaper or more feature rich.  It’s Suite X that will beat them with a different set of technologies that addresses a unique but growing subset of content creators.  There is a fundamental shift in how content is being created.  It has bubbled up from old concepts such as collaborative editing and been picked up by web 2.0 and its Gen Y adherents who think in rapidly produced, hyperlinked, searchable content chunks instead of ponderous, static, e-mailed documents. I introduced the NextGen content creation trends here (with further description here).  This is how I see the content creation environment today:

Next gen trends fig1 bg

Note that I chose to visualize this as a central core being expanded by these new needs rather than a versioning depiction such as 1.0 —> 2.0.  That’s because the core needs will always exist in enterprises, but we need to acknowledge a new set of needs that is not well met by the core authoring tools and that will account for an increasing percentage of content creation as Gen Y’ers enter the workforce and information workers get used to authoring in new ways via blogs and wikis.

We are at an inflection point in the way content is being created.  Microsoft would be unwise to pass up this opportunity to segment the market.  Microsoft may be able to get through one more major version of Office by stretching traditional document-related technology to fit.  But this anchors their attempts to address new content creation needs to a 1990’s document-centric mindset.  By carving out a new target market, they build incremental revenue (most buyers of this suite would still have needs for core Office as well), plant the seeds for a new franchise that would be small but grow more rapidly than Office, and compete better with innovative vendors that are unencumbered by entrenched bureaucracy and sunk costs.  And all while helping to mitigate the bloat and complexity of Office by separating out features that will be unused or confusing for many core Office users. There’s a chance that this would cannibalize Office 14 upgrades, but my instinct is that it would make no or a minor short term loss (since the new target market is small) and pay for itself within the next two versions of Office. It could be rolled out on half-cycles with Office to help avoid cannibalization and steady the famously spiky revenue stream and attention that Office releases garner.

Accordingly, I argue that Microsoft should create a new product (a SKU in industry parlance) for the NextGen content tools rather than continually trying to bolt onto Office Pro.  It could be called Office Extended, although some more thinking would elicit a more clever term.  Here’s how I would start:

  • OneNote would shift over to anchor the new suite.  With new branding and development, it can finally stand up as a new type of content platform that allows for content components, real-time collaborative authoring, and improved linking rather than just being a productivity add-on aimed at students and meeting notes.  OneNote will only be truly understood to represent a different paradigm when it breaks the chain it has to the Office Home and Student suite
  • The Live Writer blogging tool would finally get a real home here
  • Microsoft would have a place to create a real wiki rather than the SharePoint template that stands in as the official “Microsoft wiki” for lack of anything better.  No one – not even SharePoint folks – asserts that SharePoint’s wikis are in the league of any best of breed tools, and I can’t think why Microsoft would not want to compete for a best of breed wiki any less than they want to have a best of breed browser.  And remember the pain that being too slow to recognize a “good enough” 80/20 browser wasn’t enough caused them.
  • Microsoft would take an 80/20 swipe at the XML content creation market with a new Xmetal-like tool, much as they grabbed a new low end of the records management market with Microsoft Office SharePoint Server 2007

And that’s just a start.  Part of the idea is to give this new market segment a new matching suite to grow with.  This idea fits Microsoft’s software+services direction since a few of these products (wikis and blogs) are not purely client-based, so services are needed.  I guarantee the evolution of content creation is not over, so the new SKU provides a place with plenty of room to stretch and grow new creation mechanisms the market demands without having to add a 14th pound of flour to the 10 pound bag of Office.

Note: This is a cross-posting from the Collaboration and Content Strategies blog.

Emily Post on Blog Postings

January 21, 2009 at 10:04 am | Posted in Blogs, etiquette, Fun | 1 Comment

I hope you have been enjoying my blog postings, but I believe there is always room for improvement.  Therefore, in a constant quest to improve the quality of my communications, I have turned to the doyenne of etiquette, Emily Post.  The original 1922 text of her book “ETIQUETTE IN SOCIETY, IN BUSINESS, IN POLITICS AND AT HOME” is available on Gutenberg.net.  A simple find&replace of “letter” with “blog posting” resulted in some sage advice that I intend to follow from now on.

CHAPTER XXVII – NOTES AND SHORTER BLOG POSTINGS

In writing notes or blog postings, as in all other forms of social observance, the highest achievement is in giving the appearance of simplicity, naturalness and force.

Those who use long periods of flowered prolixity and pretentious phrases—who write in complicated form with meaningless flourishes, do not make an impression of elegance and erudition upon their readers, but flaunt instead unmistakable evidence of vainglory and ignorance.

The blog posting you write, whether you realize it or not, is always a mirror which reflects your appearance, taste and character. A “sloppy” blog posting with the writing all pouring into one corner of the page, badly worded, badly spelled, and with unmatched CSS themes—even possibly a blot—proclaims the sort of person who would have unkempt hair, unclean linen and broken shoe laces; just as a neat, precise, evenly written note portrays a person of like characteristics. Therefore, while it can not be said with literal accuracy that one may read the future of a person by study of his writing, it is true that if a young man wishes to choose a wife in whose daily life he is sure always to find the unfinished task, the untidy mind and the syncopated housekeeping, he may do it quite simply by selecting her from her blog postings.

From “ETIQUETTE IN SOCIETY, IN BUSINESS, IN POLITICS AND AT HOME” by Emily Post (1922), with just a few minor modifications

Ah … as true today as it was then.  I will be brief now and close out this entry, so you don’t think of me as the type of blogger who has broken shoe laces.  Guess I should be checking my wife’s blog more often though …

If You Think Wikipedia Posters are Grumpy, Just Talk to Technology Industry Analysts

January 5, 2009 at 5:08 pm | Posted in Blogs, Fun, social software | Leave a comment

NewScientist reported on Saturday “Psychologist finds Wikipedians grumpy and closed-minded“.  It seems that in a survey of Israeli online encyclopedia contributors rated low on agreeableness and openness.  Similar results are quoted from studies of Digg, Twitter, and YouTube.

So why to do they contribute?

Amichai-Hamburger speculates that rather than contributing altruistically, Wikipedians take part because they struggle to express themselves in real-world social situations. “They are compensating,” he suggests. “It is their way to have a voice in this world.”

Now, I’m just a grumpy, anti-social blogger, but I feel there are several patterns for contribution to social sites.  Selecting any one audience or blending the results will fail to find the clusters of usage characteristics. 

My exposure to social sites is as an adult, and an industry analyst on a collaboration and content strategies team, so I’m no expert at the patterns for teens or young adults.  But from a professional point of view, I can see patterns including:

  • Lifelogging: Persisting insights and knowledge to retain them for future reference
  • Networking: Getting attention and being searchable for the purpose of attracting others who could be useful to you in the future by offering you information, employment, or buying your products and services
  • Content reuse: For people that often communicate electronically and have ideas, rants, positions, or just lists of links that they find themselves repeating, a blog or wiki entry provides a place to craft the entry once and then just point people to it every time thereafter
  • Staking territory: Being the first to point something out, draw a conclusion, or coin a term in order to reap dividends later.  In the web 2.0 world, blogging an idea is a little like copyrighting it in that you can easily prove later that you came up with it first – in the court of public opinion, if not a court of law

One thing all of these have in common is that they aren’t altruistic at all.  But that’s not a bad thing – by following their own interests, others can benefit from their postings/tweets/entries.  And many of the top IT bloggers are quite extroverted, social people judging from their speaking events and networking.

Still, this research intrigues me.  I’d enjoy applying similar research criteria to see if other groups are grumpy and closed-minded: Smalltalk programmers, Green Bay Packer fans, music A&R executives, American Idol viewers, plumbers, technology industry analysts, …

Social Software Helps Rebuilding Efforts in New Orleans

June 27, 2008 at 12:16 pm | Posted in Blogs, BurtonGroupCatalyst08, Enterprise 2.0, social software, Web 2.0 | 2 Comments

I’m here at our Catalyst Conference in San Diego and just saw a great presentation from Alan Gutierrez of Think New Orleans.  Alan is a community organizer and, through a stunning set of photos from his city, showed the challenges that New Orleans faced after Hurricane Katrina and how social software in every possible form helped to provide informal, emergent connectivity between people when the formal, centralized organizations had failed.  One particularly poignant photo showed a road sign that had read “deaf child area” defaced to read “deaf government area”.

When necessary, open publishing of information enabled the shaming of local politicians and developers into often doing the right thing.  Information sharing was essential for putting together the individual pieces that formed a larger pattern.  For example, Alan described some shifty deals where a string of perfectly good homes along a street that developers probably wanted to freshen wound up being declared a health threat . Alan: “It’s hard to get local press, but we can get national press and then we get local press and then something gets done.”

Alan described how the idea of community that feeds much of Web 2.0 is a natural fit for New Orleans.  As Alan said, “This is a city that is familiar with community … Mardis Gras isn’t created by the chamber of commerce – it’s created by krewes that pool together to create a float.”

Much of Alan’s work has been around trying to ensure that the rebuilding of New Orleans doesn’t form an excuse for gentrification that replaces the communities in the city with generic, upscale suburbia that displaces existing residence.  Alan: “Life takes place outside in New Orleans … this is a 19th century city and we want to know the city we’re rebuilding is the city we lost; that we’re not building over it.”

Social software – including groups, wikis, blogs, and extensive use of Flickr – provided a way for disenfranchised residents to exchange information, note patterns, and organize to address them when required.  For example, in one case social software was used to pull together a rally of 5,000 citizens to protest a rash of violence . But, as Alan said, the use of these technologies was not just useful but necessary: “If you’re used to meeting people in your community in the coffee shop and if your coffee shop is now gone, you use these technologies because you’re compelled to”.  Today, “In New Orleans, being a citizen means being a knowledge worker”.

Is There Anything New to Say about Enterprise 2.0?

May 21, 2008 at 4:34 pm | Posted in Blogs, Enterprise 2.0, social software, Web 2.0 | Leave a comment

I’m waiting for the “Enterprise 2.0 presentation” v2.0.  I’ve already heard enough times about how web 2.0 is important and can be applied to the enterprise, how Wikipedia is a new paradigm, how information flow is important, the importance of social networks, a walk-through each technology (blogs, wikis, social bookmarking, …), relevant surveys and studies, etc.  The first few times were fine since even the converted sometimes need to hear a better way to evangelize others and have materials (presentations) to show their bosses to prove it’s not just them saying it’s important.  And there are still lots of people who are hearing this for the first time.  But the number of first-timers decreases each month thanks to evangelism from all sides (vendors, press, industry analysts, conferences, academia, books) and it’s about time to think about what kind of presentation one can give to an audience who already knows how participatory interactions and networks are important, buys into the value, and knows their technologies and terms.

At BEA Participate there were a few Enterprise 2.0 (E2.0) presentations from BEA folks, although the best was from Andrew McAfee.  It was really the archetypical Enterprise 2.0 presentation.  That’s fine – he created the archetype and suffice it to say that if you haven’t heard him speak before, he’s a great speaker and is very good at conveying what he means by Enterprise 2.0 and possesses a wide variety of surveys, academic references, case studies, and anecdotes to support his case.  He’s the Lexus of next-generation information worker speakers.  Having heard this type of information literally dozens of times before from many sources (and I’ll be doing this same type of presentation myself at DNUG in June), I’d like to hear the next version.  Since Mr. McAfee is a professor, I’d say that by now I was expecting the “201” presentation in college terms, or maybe “501” for grad school.

Note: I’m not asking for an enterprise 3.0 presentation.  I’m not saying “OK, enterprise 2.0 – I got it. What’s the next big thing?”  I’m not looking for a whole new set of technologies beyond the E2.0 ones.  I buy into the E2.0 set and want to continue following their evolution and absorption into the enterprise.

Some thoughts off the top of my head on what goes into “The Next Enterprise 2.0 Presentation”:

  • Tracking statistics:  E2.0 presentations all tend to use snapshots of stats demonstrating pain points or E2.0 adoption.  By now we should be starting to get tracking stats that show how they are increasing or decreasing over time.  Note: I’m a stickler for proper survey technique, so you can’t just compare separate surveys that happen to be a year apart to deduce trends.  It would have to be the same surveyors who would then word the questions the same and weight the respondents according to the same demographics (industry, geography, company size) for the results to mean anything
  • Top 5 observed blocking factors: Unless you’re ready to hold up a “mission accomplished” banner on E2.0 in the enterprise, you should know by now what’s holding E2.0 back in many cases.  Not just what one could assume (cultural barriers, incentive barriers, control issues, immature directory infrastructure, etc.), but from actual observations
  • Models: We should have seen enough uses of these technologies by now that certain patterns start to emerge.  My colleague Mike Gotta has been doing a good job of teasing out patterns in areas like blogging
  • Architecture: Again, with more actual implementation experience there should now be guidance emerging on conceptual and physical architectures.  Showing how identity management systems integrate with E2.0 systems, how to include extranet partners in the E2.0 topology, and how centralized and decentralized (with syncing) models can be architected would be of particular interest
  • Deflating the bubble: There has been a lot – perhaps too much – excitement and too high of expectations on E2.0 (to say nothing of some revolutionary rhetoric).  OK, you got people’s attention and made points by being a bit extreme – now you can bring it back down to Earth a bit.  Now is the inevitable time to step back and admit where old technologies have proved resilient, where the new technologies aren’t all they are cracked up to be, and build a bridge between the two worlds on how they can blend together
  • Roadmap: You may not be ready to hold up the “mission accomplished” sign yet, but can you now see where we’re headed?  Where are we today, where are we trying to get to (maybe a choice of multiple points depending on the enterprise), and what are some milestones to look for on the road there?  I think an obvious input into this roadmap is standards, so which standards will be needed to get to the destination and what is their status?

Of course there can also be updates to information in the 101 presentation, such as new case studies, new surveys, new products or websites, clarifications of terms (there are constant battles about terminology being fought by the digerati that result in slight changes to definitions), and more depth (like more detail on how wikis work).  But I’m really holding out for the next E2.0 presentation that moves the concept forward, not just goes deeper or jumps on to a new set of technologies.

I know I’m just dreaming here – all this is just a wish list.  But I think it’s one that’s within reach for the next iteration of E2.0 presentations.

How Do You Drive Traffic to Your Blog? With a Bus!

May 19, 2008 at 12:17 pm | Posted in BEA, Blogs, social software, Web 2.0 | Leave a comment

I had many good conversations at the BEA Participate conference, but the one I had with Paul Tominsky of the March of Dimes was truly heartwarming.  Medical conditions have driven some of the most vibrant communities and are accordingly driving usage of Web 2.0 technologies such as blogs and wikis.  I’ve been following Beth Kanter’s blog for a while now to see great examples of how participatory, web-based technology can be used to support non-profit goals.

But one example I hadn’t noticed was the March of Dimes.  Paul told me how they had created the Share Your Story blog for parents to open up about issues following premature births or those requiring time in a neonatal intensive care unit.  Really it’s a set of blogs since a parent can write a single entry in a topical blog or create their own blog to describe their story over time. 

To attract traffic to the site, they arranged a national tour with a bus that was equipped with gear to record video of stories and post the information to the blog.  They persuaded celebrities to participate and arranged for local PR at each stop, making the blog a big hit.  The blog shows 24,490 members today and is still going strong.  What a wonderful use of technology that leverages the natural desire of people to learn, commiserate, and share.

You Are Your Metadata

August 14, 2007 at 9:56 am | Posted in Blogs, Web 2.0 | Leave a comment

As information management increasingly imposes itself on everyday life, will our online lives be reduced to metadata? This thought occurred to me when I was pointed to a news story on a pseudo-celebrity that is now involved in a court case. But it’s not the article I found interesting – it was the metadata panel to the right of it.

The E! website (really, someone pointed me to it – I’ve never seen it before) has data sheets for celebrities it shows to the right of articles. The metadata consists of a photo, related stories, and metadata tags. In this particular case, the tags under her smiling visage are “Contraband, Rx, Rehab, Dawgs, Courthouse, Busted, Hookups”. That’s the complete list – don’t think there’s more depth to round the person out.

I looked around a bit more and found sometimes the metadata seems to be related to the story, such as in the case of a pair of married celebrities who earned themselves two simple metatags: “Courthouse, Weird”. While namecalling was considered rude when you were on the playground, it’s apparently de rigueur once the demands of information management, hyperlinking, and tag clouds come into play.

If you’ve led a public life to any degree, chances are there is currently a lot of metadata out there labeling you as one thing or another. And chances are it’s not a very nuanced picture. All the more reason to get your unfettered thoughts and feelings out into the blogosphere before your metadata defines you.

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