Category Archives: Lemme Explain

Change is good for you: the perpetual beta of social media

imminent-ned-facebook1Every time Facebook rolls out an update, (some) people will complain. Every time your company intranet rolls out an update , (some) people will complain. The difference? Facebook updates every other month (sometimes more often). Your intranet probably hasn’t been updated in years. Either way, people – some people – will always dislike change. Even for the better.

Are you one of those people made to use ancient software for your company intranet or other internal “enterprise” software? Software that looks and works like it was made in the 1990s? Software that looks awfully outdated next to Facebook, iOS7 or New York Times?  Many people still do. Why do they still exist? Well, there are many reasons. But I will say that the chief reason is a resistance to change. Inertia. An unwillingness or even lack of courage to lead the change, however painful.

Facebook changes a lot, and if you ask me I’ll tell you that that’s a good thing. Because at least Facebook is trying to improve. Sometimes for its own benefit, and sometimes for ours.  (OK, to be honest, I am very annoyed by Facebook’s recent algorithm changes which have reduced the overall organic reach of Pages, but apparently it is in the name of individuals’ news feed relevance).

Regardless of whether your company’s internal software tools are upgraded for IT’s benefits or yours, the point is that it occurs too rarely. The problem with a lot of modern enterprise IT “solutions” is that they are built for today using yesterday’s technology and are unable to change tomorrow. They lack nimbleness and flexibility. They are also “governed” by rules that add to the picture of ponderousness. Some people may argue this is necessary, that at enterprise level, care and security are of utmost concern. I won’t disagree – but at the expense of updatedness? At the cost of relevance? Has anyone ever calculated the cost-benefit ratio of security at the expense of updatedness vs the fall in productivity and competitiveness due to obsolescence?comfort-zoneMany software systems slide into obsolescence in the name of governance. Is it worth the productivity of employees to be always using obsolete or near obsolete software and computing paradigms? What is the true cost of using software that is a year out of date? 2 years? 5 years? Computing evolves too fast today to tolerate such a cost. I reckon this is one of the key reasons that in recent years, the disconnect between IT departments and business users have grown – including the disconnect between IT departments and social media users, such as marketing and customer engagement, and even customers themselves. When was the last time you were a potential customer of website and left without buying because the website didn’t work smoothly as you wished?

Exacerbating this is the natural bias of management to side with the secure, the governed and the predictable; and to resist the risks and unpredictability of change. Many managers want upgrades but do not want change. They forget that the two come hand-in-hand. Such managers often take the “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it” stance, praising the merits of “stability” – but two or five years down the road, the software has only become a ponderous deadweight of “stable” obsolescence. Perhaps that software has had a few patches, maybe even a mid-life upgrade. But in the world of enterprise software, issues of maintenance contracts, budget and even the nature of internal “expertise” often limit just how far the upgrade(s) go. In the end, a Symbian phone with upgraded Symbian OS is still a Symbian phone. (Don’t get me wrong, I have great respect for Symbian/Nokia – they gave many many years of great mobile experiences!).

The term “perpetual beta” came about around 2009 when Tim O’Reilly was talking about Web 2.0. Not surprisingly, it is closely associated with the social (media) movement.  In a way, it translates as the software or service being likely to have on-the-fly updates without being fully “tested” (which might simply mean not fully ‘project-manage’d or ‘governanc’ed). While it is a means of seeking users’ understanding that certain things might not work properly or may even break down, it also allows developers to observe actual use and take real user feedback from the software.

Gmail is one of the most well-known examples of a perpetual beta – it was in “beta” for some five years from 2004 to 2009. Do you remember the days of asking for a gmail invite? Point is, some of the world’s most popular and modern, up-to-date computing tools today are those that are constantly changing, such as Google apps and social media tools like Facebook.  O’Reilly describes some of the characteristics of perpetual betas as having:

  • Services, not packaged software, with cost-effective scalability
  • Control over unique, hard-to-recreate data sources that get richer as more people use them.
  • Trusting users as co-developers.
  • Harnessing collective intelligence.

While these may not apply to all kinds of enterprise tools, I dare say these are qualities often cited as valuable to companies, in the area of IT, enterprise architecture, business management, human resources and the marks of an effective modern business. These are precisely the qualities afforded by social, by social media, including socially empowered internal enterprise tools. The reason many of these qualities are still missing in companies is because the paradigm of a perpetual beta is still anathema to many corporate mindsets. Unfortunately, this means the perceived costs of nurturing social is inherently not welcome, even though its advantages are highly sought after.  The intranet needs social to survive. Unfortunately, inertia needs little to survive. Think about this next time you are forced to use an antiquated version of Internet Explorer to use your intranet, the next time you are shown the cost of making a small change to your website functionality or the next time you have to log in twice in a Single-Sign-On system. JD houston change

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Appreciate it, understand? The conundrum of implementing online collaboration

I recently gave a talk about the issue of getting social media to work in a company, using weight management as a parallel. The whole idea really was to show that, not only is it an endeavour that requires many moving parts to coordinate and be driven together, but that to get it to work on the external community, the internal community cannot not participate either.

While the topic is not at all new, I actually only had two weeks to prepare my presentation. To be brutally honest, I incubate my content for a very long time before I deem it worthy to be seen by public eye, so two weeks is not a lot of time.  Because my three fellow speakers were going into fairly intense topics (strategy, business, FB contests and content), I decided that, as the opening speaker, I’ll go easy on the audience and present something fairly high-level but easy to understand.

No, they didn’t want that. They wanted practical advice, stuff you can actually put into “doing”. Good on them, I say! It’s good that they want practical, implementable advice! It’s good that people are no longer satisfied with yet another philosophical speech on why Social Media Is Good For You. Because: We Know Already Lah. Instead, they want “Yes, yes, but how do I get it to work, dammit?”

So anyway, I made my point: it’s high time to take social media from its fashionable outward-facing marketing role, and bring it back into the organization. Because it’s high time we used social media internally, as an organization tool for knowledge sharing and collaboration. That’s the bit that’s missing in Singapore that keeps us from catching up with the mature social media markets out there, overseas.

But it’s not that easy
But the problem with implementation is at least two-fold. First, there’s the usual stuff about identifying the right software, forming the project team, doing up the ITQ/tender (argh), tech specs, etc. Frankly, all the annoying, boring stuff (except maybe the first one). …. And the fact is, many people have already done this. I’ve done it before. And it didn’t work most of the time. Internal collaboration didn’t happen even when all this stuff was “implemented”. Why?

There are many reasons why. Chief of them is, why, people are still stuck with their emails of course, and unproductive habits of mailing each other Word docs to co-edit. Gosh, it’s 2013 and we’re still doing it! So much for progress! Ridonkulous! We nod at each other with chagrin, wondering why our colleagues still don’t get it. Six months later, nothing changes.

The root of the problem is a certain lack of internal practice. Two things are missing: an appreciation of the social, and the practice of social. Both are related. It’s like: it’s impossible to explain the beauty of Twitter to someone who simply refuses to use it. Even if you somehow get an approving nod at one strategic meeting where you did succeed(?) in explaining Twitter, by the next meeting, the heads that nodded have forgotten. Why? Cos they don’t use it.

It’s exactly like, oh everyone knows sugar is bad for you and you have to exercise. But how many practise that? Not many.

Now the thing is, failure to enable collaboration is not for lack of intellectual understanding. We know precisely, in descriptive terms (you know, like words in the grand Strategic Plan White Whatever Paper), Why Social Is “Good”/”The Future”/”What Your Business Needs”. But knowing the “why” does not translate into appreciation. Social needs to be appreciated. This is the missing bit. This is why 100% of everybody agrees that “collaboration” is holy and good, but only 10%* actually use it, cos that’s the percentage that appreciates it, because they actually use the damn tools.

So, what I’m telling you is that – we’re not getting anywhere in online collaboration, because we just talk, nod our heads in meetings and write papers about it. Stop that. Just do it already. Take a leap of faith – you say you know it’s good right? So just go ahead and implement it. And then you jolly well use it, bosses, managers, people and all.  I’ll have you know that I spoke to a consultant on successful implementation of online collaborative software and she and I had the same conclusion – it’s the support and leadership of management that makes the difference. We sighed in mutual understanding.

*Possibly less.

Online Community Management – Art or Science?

Art-Science-773522

One day a month ago, an acquaintance from NUS’s Centre for Development of Teaching and Learning (CDTL) asked me if I would be interested in doing a presentation at a conference on teaching. I said, as someone teaching social media engagement, I wasn’t exactly sure if I could contribute. I said that my approach isn’t as “academic” or pedagogical as a conference of educators might expect. Although, the fact is I’ve been trying to address the issue of teaching something inherently unteachable. I.e. community engagement.

That sounds interesting, he said. So I continued. The problem with trying to teach human engagement is that it is full of “soft”, indefinable things like creating trust through sustained exchange and engaging a person’s interest through content. I’ve tried to define them in terms of frameworks, but that in itself is always tinged with futility.  My acquaintance nodded knowingly, and said that that’s precisely what needs to be done – “framing” something that resists definition. Even in the business of education, the same problem applies – how do you scientifically define the process of “teaching”? In doing so, do you lose its essence?

The simple answer is that online community management is an art and a science. An art because it has to deal with human behaviour – particularly the irrational kind. Even employees can be (positively) irrational. Because it has to deal with nuances of language, emotion and atmosphere; because it takes leaps of faith and educated guesses – stuff that a pure scientist would either balk at or become confused with.

But we cannot ignore the science part, because at the end of the day, online community management makes use of technology. This means two things:

1) It, as well as social media in general, is a product of computing – specifically social computing. Meaning, if computing (and computers) didn’t exist, social media wouldn’t exist either. We do not know of a better tool that powers online virality or ambient awareness or asynchronous communication.

2) It is measurable, because it is computerized – it is a creature of numbers. It is also becoming increasingly sophisticated. While it can still be argued that web technology measures the quantitative better than it measures the qualitative, the fact is there are many computer scientists out there who are trying to create better ways to measure social media – be it in terms of sentiment analysis or social engagement.

Coming back to online community management, it may be some time (if ever) before one can truly measure such qualities as trust and negative comments. When it comes to defining and teaching the subject, the need to portray both “art” and “science” aspects of the field is immediate. For example, the topic of developing a community from start to sustainability needs a framework to help define it in a “step-by-step” manner.

As my acquaintance puts it: it may be a difficult and perhaps futile thing to do, but someone’s gotta do it. I can only say I will try.

Online Community Management – the Unobvious Job

What’s the difference between “Social Media Management” and “Online Community Management”? Is it the same thing?

The term “online community management” is still relatively new in Singapore. And that’s one reason why I’m writing this.

Though perhaps the concept isn’t new – isn’t it basically social media management? Yes and no. Social media management is, simplistically, the running of social media channels, everything from setting up Pages and accounts, tweeting, curating and posting content to reporting   metrics. Its activities are centred around the channel – in a sense, it is channel-centric.

It is implicit in “social media management” that managing the fans, followers and members is involved. That’s where online community management has its focus. It’s in the people in your community, people whom you want to engage, people for whom you want to get a sustained positive response.  So, in a sense, online community management is a part of social media management, inasmuch as social media marketing is part of digital marketing.

I believe the main reason the term “online community manager” is only just beginning to take root in Singapore is that until recently, the focus of most organizations has really been exactly about social media as (marketing) channels, with community management as a secondary concern.

The Obvious vs the Un-Obvious Job

It is inevitable that as companies gain a better grasp of social media channels, they run into issues that are specifically more about online community management. Like the “webmaster” of the past, it will gain importance as the jack-of-all-trades character who is not just doing the obvious thing (“running the Facebook page”) but also the less obvious thing (“managing fans and driving engagement”)

Source: http://www.freshnetworks.com/blog/2011/01/community-manager-appreciation-day-pros-and-cons-of-community-management/
The Online Community Manager is sometimes called a “one-man team” or “crazy madness”. Source: http://www.freshnetworks.com/blog/2011/01/community-manager-appreciation-day-pros-and-cons-of-community-management/

We might argue that not every online community is on social media. For example, the discussion community around a popular blog might not be considered social media (especially since these existed before “social media” did).

Regardless, it’s fair to say that social media management and online community management have many things in common. But here are some ways to differentiate them.

Note: These are not exclusive differences. Social Media Management has some aspects of Online Community Management, and vice versa. The points below are an attempt to differentiate their foci, not to divide the two disciplines. They really do share a lot in common.

* * * * *

If you would like to learn more about my thoughts on
Online Community Management, do check out my OCM course
at the Institute of Systems Science, NUS. </end self-promo>

* * * * *

Focus

  • Social Media Management focuses on the channel. “We want to grow our Facebook fanbase.”
  • Online Community Management (OCM) focuses on the people. “We want to make our Facebook fans happy and engaged.”

Consider: it’s possible to have a social media channel with tens of thousands of fans/followers, but little engagement.

Channel

  • Social Media Management is often channel-specific. “We engage fans on Facebook and Twitter.”
  • OCM is in principle channel-agnostic. “We engage fans. Wherever they are.”

Consider: Many companies start off by saying they want to “get on Facebook” (or the like), not “We must engage fans”.

Target Segment

  • Social Media Management uses marketing to gain new fans. The objective is to bring new fans in.
  • OCM “uses” its community to market to itself. It focuses on keeping fans within.

Consider: social media campaigns often use marketing tactics, such as marketing lingo and giveaways, to attract new fans, while the professionals involved (they could even be the same ones) are tasked to focus on content and engagement to keep existing fans engaged.

KPIs

  • Social Media Management ultimately is often designed to drive a hard business objective. E.g. sales
  • OCM wants to drive participation, interaction, discussion and other means of engagement. Typically these are considered a means to an end (the end being a business objective)

Consider: management often grills social media teams as to what is their ROI, and how do they benefit sales. When a crisis occurs online, management asks how the team will handle it – the latter is a matter of OCM since it involves pacifying a community; whereas the former is about marketing/bottom line.

…. and so on.

All points are entirely arguable. This is no attempt to define the two terms definitively. It’s just food for thought for those of us trying, perhaps, to make an un-obvious job a little more obvious, a little better appreciated.

* * * * *

Thanks for reading to the end! Once again, allow me to introduce my
Online Community Management 2-day course starting from July,
at the Institute of Systems Science, National University of Singapore. Care to join up? 

Online Community Management for Social Media Short Course at the Institute of Systems Science, NUS

10 Reasons Why Social Media Community Managers Are Like Common Sense

obviously-common-senseOne of the most frustrating things about being a social media or online community manager is trying to define what is the set of rules, framework, or principles by which you work with. You can do two things: you can attempt to “legislate” all that encompasses community management in some sort of rule library or bible; or you can just put it down as common sense.

“Common sense”? “That’s not acceptable – it’s too short an answer!” comes the retort, sometimes from yourself. If you can’t define it, you can’t possibly have it….. yes?

So that’s the trouble. Online community management is made up of a lot of healthy ingredients. 25% Trust, 20% Credibility, 12% Leaps of Faith, 15% Just Do It and 24% (at least) Common Sense, with 5% trace elements.

Wait, isn’t that more than 100%?  Yeah, because it feels that way most of the time.

So here they are:

10 reasons why social media community managers are like common sense.

  1. Like common sense, social media community managers are actually (you guessed it) uncommon.
  2. The more you try to wrap rules around them, the more they break down.
  3. You can count on common sense, but you can’t count it.
  4. Often when you try to count it, it makes no sense.
  5. Best learned through making mistakes. (That’s common sense).
  6. When you meet someone else who gets it, it feels surreal, like realizing you aren’t actually the last of your species.
  7. Everyone believes they are an expert in common sense. But the moment you call yourself a guru, you lose it.
  8.  When you attend a talk on it, you find that it’s all – common sense.
  9. You get it, and then you have to deal with people who don’t get it.
  10. When a social media community manager dies, there is no funeral, because everyone knew common sense died long ago.

(Hey but we’re still here, right? :)

Nuclear power is just like social media

nuclearI was munching on my lunch while reading this io9.com article – “Nuclear power will kill fewer people than natural gas“. Basically, NASA scientists Pushker A. Kharecha and James E. Hansen say that nuclear energy leads to fewer pollution-related deaths and greenhouse gas emissions compared with fossil-fuel sources.

The argument is simple: the ongoing pollution caused by burning fossil fuels is much more dangerous than the problems caused by nuclear power, objectively speaking.  Using nuclear power prevents more fossil fuel-related deaths than fossil fuel pollution causes.

Here’s another good article about this: Fossil fuels: Deadlier than nuclear radiation. Look at the death figures for the coal industry.

WAIT! This article is not about whether this is true.

This article is about how nuclear power is like social media. Both hold great promises for their proponents and users. Both promise to generate tremendous results. Fossil fuels are like traditional marketing – you can generate results too and you can’t live without them, but the cost is high and there’s a lot of wastage.

Nuclear power has its inherent risks – that core meltdown that one hopes never happens. Social media crises are often also described with the same term, a meltdown. It seems the promise of quick wins also holds the risk of a major crisis.

In theory, if handled properly, such a meltdown is very rare. The benefits of social media are worth it in the long term. Nuclear power advocates say the same thing. The argument in the above article is that fossil fuel pollution is far worse – in part because the damage is guaranteed and sustained.

Societies use fossil fuels because it is an old habit. Same with traditional marketing. Nuclear power is used by those who are maybe considered more risk-averse, forward-thinking, or plain desperate for energy – but viewed by others as risky. Social media? Same – companies that use social media are often considered more forward-thinking, more willing to experiment, or they simply must have the attention.

You can stick with fossil fuels, but the long-term future is catastrophic for the environment. Traditional marketing too – you can continue to use it, and it will still be helpful to your bottom line, but it is arguably less competitive compared to social media marketing.

So which makes more sense? A powerful modern solution with a rare chance of disaster, or a costly solution that is tried-and-tested but cost-inefficient?

The Inexplicable Like: is there a minimum population for an online community?

Around 2003-2004 (i.e. a few years before social media took off), I helped start and run a forum for hobbies and entertainment in Singapore – Katoots. By 2007, it reached 5000 registered members and was one of the largest and most active of its kind in Singapore. It is now defunct, but the experience taught me quite a few things. One of the observations I made was that it takes about 20 active users for an online community to truly come and feel alive. Regardless of the number of registered members you have in your online community, the important number is this active user number.

If I recall correctly, we had something like 200 registered members, of which the key, or core, 20 active users are part of. This means that 10% of the membership was active. Interestingly, this conforms to the rather old 1:9:90 rule – that is, 10% of the total community are the ones that actively create and contribute. More recently, there are also observations that the post-2010 ratio should be 10:20:70 now that people are generally more active online.

90-10-1-rule-online-community-participation
Diagram from “Is the 90-9-1 Rule for Online Community Engagement Dead?”
Posted by Paul Schneider (click image for link to his article).

It could be said that in the end, it’s still the 10% that matters, in either case.

Below 20 active users, your site may not display enough activity to pique the interest of new visitors, i.e. potential new members. It will probably display  No Reply Syndrome.  Below 20 active users, the site may not feel alive, and in this way does not encourage revisits.

You will notice that based on the old 1:9:90 rule, you should theoretically need 100 registered members to get your 1st active creator user. Let me tell you that that’s not really enough. You see, that active creator user is likely to be none other than you. :)

Working backwards, to achieve 20 active users, you would need to get at least 200 registered members. At least. Your mileage will vary according to the nature of your community, especially its topic and focus.

The Active Threshold
Anyway, in the above example, the 200 figure is what I call Active Threshold. It is the minimum number of registered (in whatever form) members needed for the community to come alive. Once you achieve this number, you have to observe if your Active User Group has manifested, i.e. 20 active users. If it doesn’t seem like it has appeared, your Active Threshold may be bigger.

In modern, i.e Facebook, times, I have learned, consulted about, and observed the Active Threshold for Facebook Pages on a handful of occasions. PR/Marketing agency Conversion Hub once observed to me that the figure to aim for is 10,000 fans.

This sounds like it should not just generate 20 active users, but 1000 (10%). But you know of course that Facebook pages don’t work that way. There are theories and reports that Facebook’s Edgerank “hides” fanpage posts from the majority of your fans, either in the name of filtering newsfeeds for relevance….. or because they want brands to pay for eyeballs. There are also more considered suggestions that despite the lower quantitative reach, the qualitative reach (or real engagement) is preserved or higher.

That aside, the point is that Facebook Pages have their own form of Active Threshold, a much higher number than forums. In a recent conversation I had with Damien Cummings, Regional Marketing Director, Digital & Social Media at Samsung Asia – he cited a range of 5000 to 10,000 fans as the active threshold. It’s a range that I nodded in agreement with.

But it still depends on the nature of your community’s topic or interest. For example, a page that I worked with which had no product, but sold an ideology, did not come alive at 10,000 fans. I observed that its active threshold was closer to 16,000. The less apparent your product offering or value to the fan, the more fans you need to gain traction.

The Inexplicable Like
What was it that I observed actually? I mean, how do you determine when you’ve reached the active threshold? My answer would be: when everything that you post on the page gets a response without prompting. Sometimes within minutes. Say, when posting even a somewhat bland status post on the page, on a lazy Monday afternoon, gets an inexplicable like (yes the sort that makes you wonder why a fan liked the post, even though you’re grateful for it).

skittles camel post
The ultimate in Inexplicable Likes. Don’t try this at hom… I mean, unless you have the clout of the Skittles Facebook Page.

This means you have a target
What all this means is that you now have a target, if you’re still in the journey of building an online community. You have a target to tell/show/commit/over-promise (haha) to your management, which is really a good thing. You shouldn’t be growing a community without a target, even a quantitative one like this is helpful as a reference milestone.

Would anyone like to share what your active threshold experiences are/were?

Bo(b)ssession

/bəsˈseSHən/

Noun
  1. The state of your boss when obsessed with some new idea.
  2. An idea or thought that continually preoccupies the boss and intrudes on the work you have to do.
  3. The state of you when your boss keeps asking you for some statistic or thing that is probably not as great as he thinks.
  4. The thing your boss keeps asking you for that takes forever to compile and 2 minutes for your boss to dismiss.
Synonyms and Somethinglikeitnyms
mania, crazy, last minute requests, meaningless statistics, just want to see numbers, new toy syndrome,

A Seat by the Stars

A seat by the stars represents a position I’d like to be, and expect to be – sometime in the future. One day, we shall fly into space, and the window seat will not look out into sky and sunset, but a star-studded velvet black. One day, giant robots will be reality, and there will be reasons why mankind will not just build spaceships, but also giant space suits.

We will live in a world where the terms “robot”, “machine” and “computer” are likely to be as passe as terms like ‘”typewriter”, “disk drive” and “folders”.

Science fiction has already started to become reality – as witnessed in technologies like computer tablets and the Siri Voice Assistant. I hope for a day that even the term “science” becomes question, for it shall resemble magic.

Wireless electricity, foldable screens and paper batteries already exist. We are not far from the likes of teleportation, space elevators and hopefully, a cure for cancer.

We live in a time of ever quickening science and technology. It moves so fast that it may seem like magic to those who aren’t aware.  This blog shall document my own thoughts about this, and I hope one day, I will be able to have a seat by the stars.