Why I think enterprise microblogging is a good idea

Sadly, I haven’t come across a company that uses enterprise microblogging?  I really think this is a technology that hasn’t quite found its feet yet has some great benefits and is worth a second look.

Microblogging (as in services like twitter) is a technology that has been getting increasingly mainstream and conservative press recently (if it’s getting mentions in the companydirectors magazine then I’d say it’s mainstream).  However most of what I’ve been seeing is about the social side of microblogging, connecting to communities on the internet to build engagement, improve responsiveness etc.  While a lot of the social, outward facing benefits of this technology have been overstated in my opinion (I am in the wrong market sector admittedly), I think that the internal benefits have not gotten anywhere near the attention they deserve.

There are a few providers in this market (yammer, and socialcast for more pure microblogging apps) and I think that organisations should pay them a little more attention – in particular if they want to build their internal social structures, or have an interesting, ubiquitous way of building an organisational knowledge base (more details below):

  • Building Social Structures – Social structures in an organisation traditionally will travel 2 or 3 steps away from someone at most.  You know everyone in your team, but you’ll only know a few people in other teams within your division, and nobody outside that.  What microblogs do is create opportunities to discover people in the organisation who they don’t know.  Sure some of this time might be wasted with social stuff “Hey who wants to go out to X for knock off drinks tonight!!!”, but a lot of the time, people will be asking questions, asking who knows about a certain industry, product or client.  This sort of information doesn’t freely propogate in an organisation, spending time creating digitally enhanced social structures is a good thing!
  • Developing Organisational Memory – Ever since Nonaka and Takeuchi published The Knowledge Creating Firm, managers have been looking for ways to take the tacit, difficult to communicate knowledge and put it into a format that organisations can build upon.  I think that microblogging’s mechanism of putting organisational conversations online, in a searchable, hashtaggable, asynchronous manner will provide an incredibly rich stream of data, experience and memory that other more formal social communication forms such as blogs or wikis cannot.  Where the difficulty arises is that organisations need to encourage people to move the behaviours that they normally restrict to email into the microblogging area (asking and answering questions in particular).  Organisations who can encourage the more social conversations rather than the one-on-one email based conversations.

The last new technology that I thought had a bunch of cool applications for enterprise was google wave, and admittedly, it worked out spectacularly badly (for google at least).  I would hope that organisations can see the potential, look beyond the marketing/social/community aspects, and see microblogging’s potential as a new knowledge and social platform.

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The importance of creative leadership

I was just reading Tim Kastelle’s post “Our Job is to Invent the Future” on his great blog which reminded me about the primary need for anyone who is in business to be leaders rather followers.

Tim’s post was seemingly in opposition to another book I was looking through this afternoon called “Making Strategy Work (Making Strategy Work (Amazon Link)), a compilation of essays containing a section on “testing before doing” by Robert Sutton of Stanford U, which stated the need for evidence before action.  Now as my previous post stated I’m a big believer in scientific method or “evidence based management” (EBM) where it is needed, but I really think that people need to understand where you can measure something, and where you need to make a logical jump that no matter how much market research you do, will never come up in a focus group.

Robert Sutton’s example is of the CEO of 7-Eleven, upon walking into one of his stores and  receiving bad attitude from the clerk spending millions of dollars on an outstanding service program, including awarding one of the 7-Eleven franchisees who had perfect service ratings $1 Million dollars and another bunch of initiatives, but after the fact realising that customers of 7-Eleven didn’t really care about the interaction with the employees, rather they just wanted to shop as quickly as possible.  In this case, a really simple bit of market research such as a COMB analysis would’ve pointed out the misdirection of effort towards something that, while important, wasn’t really the greatest concern of the organisation.

Although analytical approaches such EBM are completely the right way to go when performing analysis in domains that aren’t new to the world (like customer service), when you’re playing a completely new game, you need to take some leadership rather than following.  Last night I was watching Mad Men season 3 where the inimitable Don Draper is faced by focus group market research which opposed his idea for an ad campaign for cold cream but he went with it anyway, stating that if someone was to hold another focus group after his campaign ran for a year, it would back him up.  I really thought about the creative leadership that CEOs like Jobs with the iPad who created products, that on first view and market sentiment wouldn’t have passed traditional market research, but through focussed leadership were given the go, and found success (admittedly this paragraph is begging for a post on ethnography and its importance in new product development and research).

Breakout successes that construct or reinvent market segments like the iPad, or Netflix, or Zipcar will never come out of market research or focus groups.  These products require creative leadership, someone who sees a market need before anyone else does, even consumers.  Solely following market whims (for it is an incredibly useful skill) usually results in firms who won’t ever be outstanding innovators.  For companies to get really successful they need to understand when to be research and market driven, and when to let creativity rule.