Tag Archives: management

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 Software that looks awfully outdated next to Facebook, iOS7 or New York Times?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 What is the true cost of using software that is a year out of date? 2 years? 5 years?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

3 Ways Social Media Still Can’t Win

Red Pill Blue Pill front web

In some ways, social media’s magic red pill still doesn’t work, it hasn’t been swallowed. Why are we still trying to justify its existence? Why are we still constantly arguing for its support and funding? On the other hand, do we question the need for traditional marketing? Do we question the need for a salesman in the company?

Lately, it looks as if the newest member of the “social” party to slip down into the Trough of Disillusionment is social business. “Social Business is Dead!” proclaims this article by Chris Heuer (CEO, Alynd – “SaaS for accountability in collaboration. Improves performance & productivity.”)  at the popular and influential blog of Brian Solis. The title is a little guilty of trolling for eyeballs – a little like my own –  and it works. But actually, the article isn’t saying that the practice of social business is dead – rather, it’s saying that the crusade to justify social business has been a failure. To be even more precise, the problem is that the “social” argument has not succeeded. Management didn’t buy it.

It’s not that the ideas are losing or that the goals are without merit, they are. The problem is that the deeper meaning and richer context is being lost on executives who still think the word “social” indicates a frivolous time-wasting pursuit. To them, it’s about what someone ate for lunch. Or it’s that thing their teenagers do to ignore them at the dinner table. Despite the Arab Spring, the customer revolution and an increasingly connected society which turns to Twitter with every earthquake or news event, the idea of being a Social Business has failed to break through the care barrier in most C-Suites.

– Chris Hueur

In fact, I’d argue that management doesn’t even like it. Management prefers the tried and tested corporate model of command and control. The idea that it should “socialize” its processes and in the process lose some of that control – argued for years as a benefit, has not been bought. Management still wants to manage.

Thus, the reason social business – as a term – has died, is because the key stakeholders won’t go social.

Social-Media-Fail

1. Easy ROI reporting still doesn’t exist
Social Media still resists easy ROI reporting. Yes yes, I know some of you will say there are existing tools and methods of measuring social media ROI, but how many are actually successfully reporting it? Did you convince your management of its value that easily? After all, latest studies show that social media ROI is still as elusive as ever. I’m not saying that ways to measure it don’t exist. I’m saying that it’s still too difficult for most companies to convincingly report it.

ROI absent

What’s needed, perhaps, is for social media to actually make a sale. We social media practitioners may argue that’s not the point – social media is about engagement, branding, community, etc.  But you let me know if your boss didn’t demand you show Facebook “conversions”.

2. Content is a king in a circus act.
In the beginning, we all said that content is the key to everything. I think this is still true. However, instead of being able to focus mainly on content relating directly to the product one sells, many businesses are forced to engage users/fans by posting, well, cheaper thrills. Humour, quotable quotes, “viral videos” of varying quality and taste – doesn’t matter, so long as you get likes, comments and shares. Our eyes widen at the sight of “27 shares” even though an hour ago, we were feeling sheepish posting yet another single-frame funny comic we found via Google Images. It works! And we hope somehow, this wisdom-spouting quotation inspires a dear fan to buy something from our website.

Is this the way we intended our social media to work? Maybe, but I suspect it’s also one reason why many senior managers still view social media with a mixture of disdain and indifference, like how an adult might view a bunch of rowdy kids.

3. Management still not into social
And that’s my next point. It is like the social business article mentioned above. For many senior management types, the problem of social media is not so much a matter of its business benefits, provable or not, but that it is social. While there certainly are exceptions, traditional corporate management culture has little reason to trust or adopt social. It’s simply too unpredictable and its benefits too elusive, when compared to the industrial-strength sales reports of traditional brick-and-mortar business operations, including marketing.

It’s not so painful that they need to make a massive investment to transform their organizations. They continue to make money and operate as they always have. That is the problem. The old model of organizational design and profit making is obsolete but it hasn’t yet completely or visibly failed for the people in charge.

– Chris Heuer

It may be that this is an illusion too – because some might say traditional marketing has even lower ROI than social media ROI, in terms of the cost-to-benefit ratio. Does it? Whether or not true, the fact is, many companies will still put traditional marketing first, simply because that’s what they’re used to, even in the face of statistics proclaiming of social media’s (supposed) superiority.

What if social media never existed?
You could say that social media is in this state precisely because it is attempting to solve the problems of or overturn the model of traditional business and communications. Consider: if social media never came about, never existed – would the world today want this level of “social”? Would customers remain satisfied with traditional advertizing, traditional paper mail and flyers, newspapers, telephones and the idea of a corporate business as a detached industrial entity whose sole mission is to sell “good-for-you” products whose marketing you always believe? Would we have known any better? Would we have ever missed the social collectiveness of Facebook, the viral communication of Twitter? Would we have contently stayed in the Matrix of the blue pill, and never sought more?

Because remember, this world existed before. And many companies still take the blue pill. The fight isn’t over yet!