Learnings So Far.

The first thing I need to say is SCROLL!

Sorry to shout, but this is the end (sort of) of this blogs officially graded part of the journey through 157.240 Social Media Networks for Business first 6 weeks of study. I will try to attempt to keep updating each week with what I learn and continue the conversation with you all.

To read through what it has all been about you need to scroll all the way back to the first question I looked to understand, explain and answer way down here.

I’ll assume you’ve done the above and have found your way back to here, Thanks! Thanks for taking the time to have a look at what I have learned and perhaps even feeding back some of your own thoughts.

To say that social media and therefore social media networks for businesses is an evolving field is probably the understatement of the century. To attempt to cover everything within this subject and maintain its relevance, with up to date terms and technologies is almost impossible. It just moves forward far to fast for any one piece of research or study to remain truly on point. What is not impossible to understand however, is social media and it’s networks profound effect on world. The way we interact personally at home and the way we interact professionally at work. The world we live in has moved beyond chatting with your neighbour across the fence, party lines for the rural community and fax machines. We now have the capability to be a truly globally connected planet.

From what I have learned so far the majority of businesses are looking to embrace and leverage these new abilities, with varying levels of success. As will all new technologies it has its risks and we have already seen one boom and bust in regards to the first internet bubble of web 1.0. However this is not going to stop businesses wanting to be social and companies forming to either facilitate or educate them with this. Whole industries are emerging based solely in the realm of social. For me there are parallels to be drawn with other technological breakthrough that changed the way businesses could operate. TV and radio changed advertising completely, but not every company you interacted with had a TV ad, the barriers to entry were just to high for some. Perhaps this is the greatest change that the social media explosion has brought forth so far. It has removed the barrier. Customers can be connected to you company and brand instantaneously through platforms that have zero financial coast to enter. Once there the reach and influence if done rightly can be huge!

So the conversation has begun and businesses all around the world are talking, listening and taking part.

So Your Business is Getting Social. Or…They Grow Up So Fast!

The only reason for time is so that everything doesn’t happen at once.

– Albert Einstein

A quote from Einstein may seem like a strange way to start talking about the idea of understanding the maturity of your business when it comes to jumping into the world of social networks for business. But unlike a child starting school or a teenager being old enough to get a driver’s license, businesses very seldom have a set of dates and times that indicate just where in the life of an organisation they are. With this in mind Einsteins quote starts to make more sense. No business does everything at once, organisations grow and change over time. Setting aside the obvious points of when a business is incorporated, yearly financial returns etc… we want to look at specifically how can an organisation access its maturity in its endeavours to be a social business?

The Industrial Revolution vs The Internet Revolution.

The Industrial Revolution vs The Internet Revolution.

As you can see above the internet has changed the game when it comes to customers and businesses. Let’s assume that as you have been following this journey of mine in learning and understanding about social networks for Business you have decided that you want to either make your business a social one, or you want to understand further just exactly how social your business already is. One of the major challenges in doing this is just what is it we are measuring and how to we measure? A 100 meter sprinters improvement along with success is measured in milliseconds, and it is the same for all. Where as each and every business is different and is trying to achieve it’s own individual goals in its own unique way. It’s obvious that assessing this is not going to be a simple number that can be applied to all. It’s require an organisation to apply critical thinking involving the mechanisms it is utilising to achieve its social business goals.

Unlike manufacturing process a company uses being ISO 9000 certified, currently there is no industry accepted standard on how a business is supposed to benchmark itself in regards to social networks or social media. It is an assessment that must be done under the guidance of a framework that the organisation agrees provides the best information possible and allows them act on it.   Looking at two different frameworks, one produced by Texavi and the other by Altimeter gives us examples of how these are defined. Although some terminology differs the ideas are very similar. There is however a growing body of opinion and research that points towards certain concepts as being necessary for a business to call itself social, these can be applied to understand where in the process a business is.

Texavi’s model sets itself 5 maturity levels that focus on both the internal and external aspects of a social business. Internally it looks business focus, process, delivery platforms and the social media activities that the business may already employ. Externally it looks at people (customers), content, business focus and messaging.

Texavi's 5 Stages of Social Business Maturity

Texavi’s 5 Stages of Social Business Maturity

Altimeter has a similar stage perspective in how it breaks down its framework. These being, planning , presence, engagement, formalised, strategic, converged. As with the previous framework these stages are set to look at processes both internal and external. A business using either one of these approaches would certainly end up with a much better understanding of where it was in achieving its ambition to be a social business.

Alitmeters 6 Stages of Social Business Maturity

Alitmeters 6 Stages of Social Business Maturity

Lets look at the commonalities across both these frameworks to help understand how a business can assess itself. I call it the ABC’s of social business.

  • Audit – Both of these frameworks and others all point towards the first step of any business being to listen and understand just where it is at the moment. Before attempting to launch into transforming its. This may seem to be obvious to some but so often organisations rush ahead to ‘reinvent the wheel’ when what the had may have been a perfectly appropriate starting point. Whether in this case it is Texavi’s “informed” stage or Alitmeter’s “planning,” knowing what you have and don’t have is crucial.
  • Build – This is by far the largest and riskiest part of the process. Businesses may find themselves in these stages for long periods of time and perhaps the end may seem like it will never be in sight. However, it is important to understand that there is no one size fits all solution for business in this area. As shown with the two frameworks given it involves the creation or adaptions of social channels and the establishing of base metrics on which to measure growth. Right through to the expanding of engagement through the business with social and the allocation of specific resources to begin to move from tactical to strategy decisions.
  • Complete – This final part takes all of the various components already implemented by a business and combines them into a company wide synergy of social networks and tools, facing both internal and external. It will have transformed the way employees interact with each other and how knowledge is share thorough networks. It will have also radically changed the way the business and customers connect. Collaboration, Cooperation and conversations and standard and open across and channels. It does not however stop here. A smart business will now return back to ‘A’ and audit where they are now against where they want to be in the future, starting the process again.
Just One example of what a Social Mature Business Could Look Like.

Just One example of what a Social Mature Business Could Look Like.

As you can see, there is never going to be a single track that each organisation can take to assure that they achieve the goal of being a social business. As technology changes and organisation evolves different plans will be needed. What is becoming more and more evident is that businesses that aren’t open to the idea of being social, run the risk of losing market share to those that do. Along with giving the appearance of an ostrich with its head in the sand while those around it enjoy the conversation.

The Four C’s of Social Networks…Or Know Your Snake Oil.

Hopefully by now if you have stayed with me on the journey of Social Media Networks for Businesses, you will have seen that the for a company to be involved it is so much more than just grabbing a twitter account and slapping together a Facebook page. The world of social media has become so much more involved than the first days of Web 1.0 and is always changing.

Social Media Networks are not just an outward facing phenomenon. Businesses are more than ever using various social media tools and technologies to add values to their operations. This is having a profound effect on how people work and businesses of knowledge management. However it’s very easy to become quickly overwhelmed with technical information and jingoistic hype when it
comes to established or emergent social networks. P2P streaming, API’s, Vines, Loops, Emojis
the list of terms and characteristics referring to each goes on and on.

One of the ways businesses can start to approach this problem strategically is to attempt to move away from this framework of jargon and hyperbole. A more measured approach is to evaluate options based on the pure functionality required to achieve the results you need. To put it another way. A tractor and a Lamborghini both have four wheels and can be described in equally positive terms. But you would only choose the tractor to work your fields if you wanted to get the job done right!

In recent times the concept of the Fours C’s, a concept create by Niall Cook, has been generally been regarded as an excellent guide to establishing the functionally of a social network. Cook defines his Four C’s as.

  • Communication
  • Cooperation
  • Collaboration
  • Connection

On first scan of these, it may seem that there is a reasonable amount of overlap in some of the areas each “C” looks at. I think in fairness this is a valid point. But there is also enough separation between each one, allowing a business to establish its strategy with either internal or external Social Media Networks. Looking  at each one in turn will help to explain this further.

Communication – Does the software allow people to communicate with each other and if so, how? Is it synchronously or asynchronously. What method does it use, text, pictures, video or perhaps only audio? A business may decide from this that a text-based instant messaging service might be something they want as an organisation.

Cooperation – This does have similarities with collaboration below. But there are key differences. For the platforms business will be looking into, cooperation is seen as informal (more on this later) and short-term. It is the tools and systems that allow sharing of content and the division of labour. Knowledge is shared and gained but perhaps not a common goal.

Collaboration – As above there are similarities, Collaboration however is far more formal and structures. It also tends to be long-term. The knowledge gained and shared is towards a common goal and in fact the point of the exercise is often the information gained by the process.

Connection – Probably the easiest to define. Connection will be the tools of platforms that allow social networking to occur. Be it people, content or both.

Running a companies goals through this series of Four C’s helps businesses understand whether or not the software or approach they are taking is right for them. However there is another part to this that was alluded to above. That is the idea of formal and informal, along with levels of interaction. Every one of the Four’ C’s above sits somewhere either high or low within these concepts of a strongly formal or informal approach and high levels of interactivity required
versus low. The easiest way to represent this is with the matrix diagram below.

The 4 C's Matrix

The 4 C’s Matrix

This classification of each individual networks functionality, strengths and weaknesses can help a business to understand where it’s culture and objective sits against the tools and platforms it maybe looking to deploy. The figure below further helps to define some of the technologies and software available and where the sit in relations to the Four C’s

4csapproachfiguresocialsoftware

Just Some Options for Businesses Charted Against the Matrix

It is crucial to remember though, that this is just one concept of how businesses can look to addresses understanding their needs. Their are of course differing opinions, Sean Nelson puts forward his own idea of the For C’s as he sees them. Also something to consider is, is it really possible to have collaborative tools that span huge global companies? There can be such huge cultural differences when it comes to implementation that the one tool that works for one country does not for  another. Business is operation more often though in multiple markets across multiple countries so this is an issue that will only become more relevant as outsourcing and global trade deals increase. Costs, culture, appropriateness, implementation are just some of the challenges that firms face, but obviously the benefits that these platforms and networks offer can be huge!

The challenges that truly global collaboration produces may not have a current solution. Perhaps whoever solves this problem is the next Steve Jobs!

Social Media Vs. Social Networks. Or…Everything is Social, Right?

Human beings are social animals, so it is probably no surprise that at the moment wherever you turn there seems to be social ‘this’ and social ‘that’ but what does it all really mean? The terms you probably hear the most are Social Media and Social Networks. Although they sound very similar it is important to know that the two terms are not interchangeable. They do have some shared characteristics but they are not the same thing.

Social Media is the content that we choose to share to those around us. In the times before the internet this may have been sharing a Polaroid of a holiday beach snap with your coworker. Now with the power of the internet and personal computing, coupled with devices such as laptops, mobile phones and digital camera’s. A person can post a pic, upload a song, change a status and write a blog. All of which is part of the concept of social media and the share of it with our friends and family and perhaps even strangers. Put simply social media  is communication + publishing. The internet has combined all of these aspects with networking platforms to give us a new way of engaging, with what we now referred to as ‘Social Media Networks.’

How Social Media Has Bridged The Gap Between P2P and Mass Communication

How Social Media Has Bridged The Gap Between P2P and Mass Communication

Social networks have been around for a long time in fact perhaps as far back as humanity itself. The internet did not invent the concept of social networks. Once humans began to group and those groups began to hold certain characteristics, hierarchies and exclusivity the idea of networking between or inside them came to the fore. Churches, sporting teams, business seminars can all be seen as an example of social networks well before the first PC ever rolled out. It is however the explosion of the internet that created the idea of an online social network and networking. But as people’s ability to move beyond just communicating with one another accelerated, pushing into publishing and media. These new networks have become the platforms for which social media has found its widest audience. So much so that we rarely now refer to them as such, generally we view everything user-generated online as social media regardless of where it came from.

Our Use of Each Term Has Changed Over Time (courtesy of Google Trends)

Our Use of Each Term Has Changed Over Time (courtesy of Google Trends)

Looking at the proliferation of social media it’s easy to see that our abilities to interact are changing rapidly as technologies improve. However even at this stage there are a certain type of social media and the social networks that it is shared though that can be sorted into categories. For social media probably the most common are:

  1. Blogging – Just like this site you are reading, where a user can post information, thoughts or opinions and others can read or comment e.g WordPress, Blogger
  2. Microblogging – Much like the above but the information is restricted as in 140 characters for twitter. e.g Twitter, Path
  3. Social bookmarking – This is where users can bookmark tag information on the web and share rank and collabroate.e.g. Digg, Reddit
  4. Media Sharing – Users can upload video for others to view and share e.g. Youtube, Hulu, Vimeo
  5. Broad Content Sharing – Used for the posting of a more wide source of content like presentation decks, graphics and journals e.g. Scribd, Slideshare
  6. Forums – Allow for groups to use a hive mind concept to offer solutions and advice e.g. Yahoo Answers, metafilter
  7. Social News – Services that allow people to post news items or links and then allows them to be ranked and voted on. e.g. Digg, Reddit.

As you can see already each of these types of social media already have several social networks to provide a platform for this interaction. They generally can be classified as Personal networks, which predominately lean towards interaction with friends and family. Content sharing networks which tend to move fluidly between the spaces of private and public, personal and professional. And finally shared interest communities, again both personal and professional but they tend to be tightly focussed on a particular niche interest that all participants will share. Just looking at the types of social media available and then the networks that it can be linked up with shows how vast this area has already become. Looking at the diagram below gives a snapshot of the every changing universe of social media networks.

The Multitude of Social Media and Their Networks.

The Multitude of Social Media and Their Networks.

All of these services, apps and sites hold varying amounts of people with very diverse characteristics. All of which will hold some value to a business or businesses somewhere. This is the appeal to companies not only launching and controlling these social media networks but also to those just wanting to benefit from the social media interactions that these groups of individuals and networks provide. The key for any user of business to understand is the distinction between the two. Social networks have and will also exist so long as people gravitate towards each other and the relationships this brings. The content we create as part of these links has found a new avenue to be shares not only with friends and family but with people all over the world, powered through the internet and Social Media Networks that continue to evolve, rise and fall. Just like the Radio, moved us forward, from print and Tv forward from radio. Social media networks and the internet will bring new opportunities for people to collaborate, businesses to reach customers and boundaries to be expanded. Understanding each’s subtle differences opens up each platforms unique audience.