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The 2.0 Business Relationship: Are you investing in your network?

Social media is getting plenty of traction, but I’m still intrigued by its untapped potential, both inside the enterprise and out in open spaces.

Stubbornly, several barriers to adoption remain.

We’ve been chipping away at these hurdles here, first exploring culture in the organization, and then engagement. Those conversations have helped to surface yet another challenge: how to build valuable relationships (call them “virtual” if you must) using social media.

Let’s tee it up this way:

What are the dynamics and limits of “relationship” in a virtual world, where connections are free, global, and easily made? Can true value be achieved? And can we navigate network overload?

We’ll start with traditional business relationships, to set the stage.

Whether inside or outside of organizations, people are constantly meeting, connecting, and communicating. Results will vary. Some will pass each other by completely. Others will move closer together in their thinking and spark a collaboration, or they might hit a snag, and move further apart. It’s all in motion.

A successful organization brings a master plan to the madness. Via work groups, partnerships and/or employment relationships, an enterprise uses structure to bind together groups of people with a shared focus. There’s still that constant flux of relationships: people connecting, communicating, and learning. But if and when coordinated, good things happen, and the organization has a chance to thrive.

The impact of social media.

Our hyper-connected world accelerates and multiply’s our ability to connect with people anywhere. Boundaries of time and place are removed. Whether tweeting or blogging, the potential to meet, share and learn from others – literally around the globe – is unbounded. But there’s a catch. As you start to engage and connections start flooding in, you are soon forced to ask: Should this person be in my network? Should I reach out to them? Or will I be wasting my time?

Up front, there’s really no way to know.

I think most people that exit social media, often in frustration, do so in face of those daunting, never ending decisions. And that’s unfortunate. The possibility of each new social media connection creates a fascinating opportunity. Each connection you make brings the chance to challenge your thinking, expand your horizons, and even to change your path.

Navigating the challenges of network building

What factors will influence the chances of an online business relationship in the 2.0 space? I think it boils down to a couple of key things:

  1. Clarity of your intent. Why are you here? Are you tapping social media and building your network for a reason? Get in touch with that. Share your intentions right up front.
  2. Common ground (context). With intent on the table, establishing common ground is a matching exercise. Search engines and hashtags and communities are all ways to get connected. Believe it or not, this part is becoming easier by the day.
  3. Investing in your network (learning to “time box”). Relationships tend to benefit from ‘going deeper’ but time is increasingly precious. This is where many connections with potential fall short. Set aside an evening, a cup of coffee, a few minutes a day for network building. Put a box around the time commitment. That “time box” can be small, medium or large. Change the time allocation as needed, but make a commitment, to yourself and your network, so they’ll know what to expect.
  4. Dare to adapt. Ultimately, you may find many connections don’t align with your objectives, but don’t be too quick to filter on that. You may find new opportunities or interests by being open minded and flexible.

Sure, building a network via social media can seem overwhelming. But as the virtual world unfolds around us, it’s time to look deeper at its potential to spark new levels of collaboration. We need to think hard about what it will take to build value into our networks.

It’s easier than ever to connect with people online in the 2.0 space.

But the ultimate value – for you and for your connections – is driven by a shared willingness to focus, to set aside a little quality time on a regular basis. Even if it’s in small chunks. A tweet here. A blog comment there. One or two twitter chats. Okay, maybe three.

Are you willing to make an investment?

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Pathways for change in the K12 Ecosystem

It’s easy to toss aside the notion of meaningful social change. For starters, you’d have lots of company. But let’s take a look at an area with mounting problems and the highest of stakes:

Un-packing the Challenges of K12 Education

By any measure, our western culture and economy – and within that universe, our education systems – have grown so large and intertwined that we quickly scoff at the notion of doing something to improve them. Countless well-intended efforts have failed. Or they succeed for a bit locally, but then can’t scale. Frustrations mount. Those inside the hardened silos of our aging institutions are just as trapped by their realities as those on the outside.

It’s not a lack of passion or desire. It’s just that, as a society, we’ve become overwhelmed by ‘the system’. It’s been going on for a long time – by most accounts, over 100 years. Quite simply, it feels like we’ve lost control, and in some important ways, we have.

What if we changed the rules?

The problem with social, cultural and economic forces – the complex result of human interaction – is that the outcomes don’t align with our intentions. Most of us were reared in a simple (linear, Newtonian) world of ’cause and effect’, and we expect a simple answer to every problem.

Why can’t we just fix schools? Or healthcare? Or the economy?

What we’re learning is that complex systems – especially the human variety – work and behave very differently. We must focus on actors, motivators, outcomes and patterns.

We must attack these problems in a different way.

EcoSys is a social innovation group that started in August 2009. The goal of the group has been to apply a new science – the study of complexity in social ecosystems – to the hardened problems we face as a society.

Intriguing? Ambitious? Yes, on both counts. But open your mind for a moment.

Can you imagine the potential of global thought leaders discovering a focused problem-solving dialog, adding to it, and ultimately building a shared knowledge base of solutions?

Can you imagine an objective exchange of ideas and concerns, shared publicly in the spirit of collaboration, subordinating agendas and special interests in favor of meaningful, scalable innovations?

Can you see social media – Twitter, in fact – as an engine for change, with the connections of each contributor serving as pathways to deeper insight and focused action?

That work is underway, and we’ve posted some K12 progress here.

We’ve still got some work to do on it, as we continue to refine our issue framing.

Are you ready to Engage?  Join us each MONDAY at 9pET using hashtag #ecosys. You can use TweetChat  (try this link), TweetDeck, TweetGrid or HootSuite to join us. Just be sure the #ecosys hashtag is in each tweet, and search on that tag.  Bring your insights and an open mind. It’s free, unaffiliated, and destined to make a difference.

How do we know?

Because 3 years in and some +40,000 tweets later, our topics are gaining traction and spontaneous conversations are starting to break out. We call that momentum. And we’re working to take a step to the next level.

Stay tuned. And welcome to the K12 ecosys.

Original framing blog
Full process
EcoDNA (our first emergent innovation)
EcoSYS founders

The DNA of Collaboration: Unlocking the Potential of 21st Century Teams (where Ecosys is a case study)

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Web 2.0′s “Broadcast” problem: The case for Meaningful Engagement

For the commercial web’s first decade, people communicated the old fashioned way: broadcasting their messages to anyone who would listen. It was a simple, easy extension of traditional advertising, public relations, politics and academic publishing. E-mail, also cutting edge at the time, modeled the same broadcast mentality. It was yet another easy way to lob messages to large audiences.

Prevalence of the “broadcast model” has limited people’s view of how the internet can be used to deliver messages. Many still don’t realize that the new internet (Web 2.0) offers a radically different proposition: collaborating with others via an open, multi-party exchange.

Engagement is communication at a different level

If communicating via email was passive and routine, the connections possible with engagement are active and dynamic. True engagement is more work. It requires time, energy and active listening. But the resulting flow of information brings rich rewards. Insights begin to accumulate and multiply. Ideas get validated and enhanced in several directions at once. And as the value of the idea exchange increases, personal relationships begin to form around them.

Meaningful, high-value connections like these are at the core of the Twitter chat phenomenon that’s spawned successful, ongoing communities like #smchat and #blogchat and social innovation teams like #ecosys.

And yet engagement rates among the masses remain critically low. Try to talk about social media with the average person, and you can see the resistance in their eyes, as if to say, “I know better, I’ve heard that one before, you can’t fool me.”

That makes building social teams and virtual communities much harder than it needs to be.

Why so much resistance?

I find the Web 1.0 mindset serves as a filter to the possibilities, reinforced by a culture that has grown cynical and distrusting. Unfortunately, those old habits and opinions die hard.

Thought leadership in this space goes back 50 years. Concepts like Thomas Kuhn’s “paradigm” (1962), Charles Handy’s “organizational culture” (1976), and Peter Senge’s “mental models” (1990) all build on the theme of the filters we use when we perceive the world around us. It seems we’ve advanced our understanding, but have moved too little to act on what we’ve learned.

The idea of “getting outside the box” was clearly spawned from this line of thinking. Far too many remain safely inside those boxes.

Here’s a key takeaway, unvarnished:

Mental filters (influenced by culture, formal education and our past life experiences) shape how we perceive the world around us, blinding us to new perspectives and blocking us from making deep connections with others.

Can we take this problem on, unlocking engagement in the virtual space? I say yes. Getting past our mental filters may be the first hurdle, but there are more. I’ve posted thoughts on the specifics of meaningful engagement over at Talent Culture.

There’s a world full of complex problems out there. Embracing broad, meaningful collaborative engagement on a much larger scale is critical if we hope to solve them.

Solving for ‘Social Media’? Why Context Matters

It’s common these days to see conversations or workshops with the premise: “here’s how you achieve success in social media.”

To be fair, in our weekly SMCHAT discussions, we’ve been exploring some similar questions .. though we’d claim it’s been with rigor, applying energy to frame specifics, and to vet our takeaways. But let’s face it. Lots of people are trying to get their hands around the new technology. The answers are needed.

No harm, no foul.

What we’ve learned, however, is that ‘solving for SM’ can’t be reduced to a simple formula.

Sure, it’s fundamental to engage, and to be authentic. Those are universal basics. But there’s also a variety of usage scenarios that cross a range of organizational contexts. The dynamics of using social technologies can vary quite a bit .. all the way down to selecting the best tools and metaphors .. depending on these scenarios. To illustrate the point, here’s a quick snapshot of the results from our brainstorming over the last several weeks.

For more viewable detail, check out the SM Usage Scenarios in pdf format.

Like everything we do at SMCHAT, we’re going to attack the problem head on, to try and wrestle it down. But this one may be our nemesis. With a quick glance, it’s clear: there are many contexts to consider, a range of content types, and (as shown in the PDF) a diverse set of audiences. The many to many to many mapping can get a bit crazy. Welcome to social media. Or in some quarters, its now ‘new media’ .. more proof of the variability of requirements across venues.

The semantics of “2.0” can be a daunting exercise, no?

We’re going to use charts like these to get our bearings, as we plan the scope and scale for SMCHAT in 2010, already in progress. But if there’s one thing we CAN take away from this analysis already, it’s this.

The correct answer to “How should you handle ‘social media’ .. ?”

It depends.

Twitter Lists: What’s the Plan?

Lot’s of excitement over Twitter lists in the early stages of the game. After some research, I’m finding many are still trying to sort it all out. Here are some basic questions to help test whether lists can help you:

  1. What do I know about my friends/followers that others don’t?
  2. Would it be worthwhile (to me and/or to them) to share it?
  3. Are there topical categories of people I want to connect with that I currently can’t see?
  4. Can I identify specific actions that I’d take having created a specific list (using it as a rolodex, tracking potential clients)?
  5. Do I have time for figure this out and make the connections?

If the answer to all of these questions is “I don’t know” or “no”, then maintaining Twitter lists could lead to frustrations. The best bet is to set some objectives, remain focused (don’t try to ‘list the world’) and keep an eye on reducing redundant work with others in your circle. Then again, you may want to wait for some list management apps.

Here are some points to help simplify the options:

  1. long lists only help if they name everyone someone would want to know on a given topic. If yours is not the longest in that space, potential followers may pass you over for someone else who has the primo list.
  2. avoid personal laundry lists if you’re not going to act on them (eg., ‘people I know’). Anyone you put at position 350 on a list of 360 is not going to get seen. Would you look at someone else’s laundry list?
  3. short lists are generally more useful. Why? If they have an interesting and relevant name, they are more likely to get browsed.
  4. think about superlatives, folks that stand out (eg., “top bloggers” vs. “bloggers).
  5. following too many people? Your “All Friends” stream moving too fast? You can use lists to create a subset of people to follow, by topic, to manage how you allocate your Twitter browsing .. but for now you’ll have to surf to those links to find those tweets; the true value is in futures .. having TweetDeck (or related apps) created filter Groups by list content;
  6. communities/groups (like #SMCHAT) benefit from one master “all-in” list for everyone to follow. Consider appointing someone to maintain it, and make sure folks know where it is; rotate the role;
  7. events should follow similar thinking. Capture Twitter ID’s w/ registration. Take the time to build an accurate list, or appoint someone and let folks know who it is; events should publish speaker ID’s as a list to facilitate tweetcasting;
  8. keep in mind many will grab follows as they scroll through, not following the list; this is invisible to the list creator and negates the effect of a ‘list follow count’;
  9. .. more proof (if we needed it) that counters don’t matter;
  10. Check out Listorious; it actually supports list tagging and tag lookup; great news !! if more folks would start using it. Still pretty slim pickin’s, but it’s early;
  11. Some have said hashtags can go away, but I’m not so sure; lists associate people to topics/roles, hashtags relate tweets/links to topics. What’s really needed is ubiquitous tagging, that would help us aggregate tweets, links and people together, so we can tag at will;
  12. Remember, not everybody uses hashtags .. so relevant lists can help fill that gap.

A lot to consider .. but 2 general rules: ‘keep it simple’ and ‘keep it real’.

Lists are Twitter’s first official recognition that there may some value in helping communities form. In this case, benefit will go to those in a virtual community that act as a community vs. everyone doing their own thing.

Will be interesting to see when and where that happens.

I think folks who say “lists change everything” are actually realizing the value of a ‘filtered’ Twitter. For many, hashtags and TweetDeck search filters have played that role in part. Now we can add lists to .. the list.

I still believe Twitter changes everything, as I’ve shared in prior posts. Maybe we’re on the same page after all.

Tweetcasting: the Virtual #CONF Connection

[A special thanks to DEAN MEYERS for guest posting this week, part of the framing for our Q26 discussion at this weeks’ SMCHAT.]

Some INSIGHTS from Dean Meyers

My first involvement as someone actively Twittering (or tweeting) a conference was at Jeff Pulver’s SocComm in February ‘09. The use of the hashtag made it a trending topic, and as Jeff has added the #140Conf (the State of Now) conference to his schedule, his inclusion of “official” Tweeters (usually 25 people or so) has pushed his conferences into Twitter trending topics quickly, often within the top 3 positions. I’ve tweeted while at a conference, watching it live streamed, and just watching the hashtagged stream, often in that last case to ask questions.

I believe the best tweets from conferences come from those who can:

  1. summarize key points quickly-without personal editorializing
  2. prep the audience following the hash tag with other info, as in who is about to speak, their topic, their twitter name
  3. convey the level of involvement, describing engagement by panelists and the audience, acting as our eyes and ears.

So, the basic rule: it’s really about good journalism. That means clear concise tweets, careful use of personal voice rather than overwhelming opinions about each speaker’s content, and focused attention on what’s going on in the room all make for a good tweeter at a conference.

There’s a new a trend of using the hashtag stream within a conference to allow both conversation with the speakers and content added by the audience. Here’s a blog post from a terrific blog about presentations in general. Olivia Mitchell is the source. She’s really offering good insight and raising good questions.

www.speakingaboutpresenting.com

To sum it up: if you choose to “report” from an event to provide twitter coverage, great. If you choose to share your personal experience from a conference, as in telling us how awful the wifi coverage is (a routine problem) or how the panel chair won’t shut up, that makes it a very different experience; it becomes more about the person tweeting rather than the conference. Perhaps a combination of the two might become the new standard, a hybrid way of tweeting from a conference.

But you can be sure there will always be tweets about where to meetup before and afterwards—that’s a part of twitter activity that’s been used at conferences from the getgo.

[You can follow Dean on Twitter @DeanMeistr and check out his blog, which can be accessed via www.deanmeyers.net.]

Twitter Gets Down to Business: Unlocking 1:n Collaboration for the Enterprise

Companies seeking to innovate want to spark collaboration, but the path is often elusive. Twitter is positioned to help change this.  It’s founders have recently started talking about opening up microblogging in the commercial space, per a recent interview w/ Biz Stone.

But first, there’s a hurdle.  Companies must start to trust employees to communicate openly on shared topics inside the firewall. In theory, that shouldn’t be so hard. It simply means employees must exercise judgment, as has always been required, deciding when email, phone or (heaven forbid) face to face meetings would be more appropriate means to share something. But because the new mode of communication is out in the open, the bar is raised. Judgment will be even more important.

Point made. I believe employees will see the value of 1:n collaboration and will step up to the plate.

When execs and IT realize the water is safe? That’s when Twitter (or micro-blogging tools like it) will start unlocking doors.

What is 1:n (or “one to many”) communication? We’ve all been buried by emails and convoluted distribution lists that would have been far better served as an “open wire” dialog or chat.  It’s the input that creates your opportunistic “oh, I didn’t know that was happening” response.  Today only Twitter can efficiently spark that electronically in real-time.

I believe Twitter and solutions like it will have an evolutionary impact on communications when they begin to take hold.

Given the chance, most want to help drive an innovative idea or solution. They seek to get their ideas in circulation. 1:n communication is the better mousetrap.

Not to sound impatient, but why wait?  Security in the corporate setting was solved long ago.  Granted, when information is going outside and across the firewall, who uses Twitter and definitions of “safe ground” for tweet content is a bit more complicated.   There have been some great posts on the ‘spectrum’ of corporate views on how to interact with the public using Twitter including Marketing, PR & Customer Service guidance.  This aspect is evolving.

But let’s not sacrifice the internal work group benefit to wait for the external Marketing & PR side to catch-up.

It’s time to get down to the business of effective 1:n corporate communication. Twitter represents a powerful new medium for more effective enterprise collaboration.

Become an advocate for change in your organization.  Help take the “social” out of Social Media by putting it to work on important business conversations.  That leg-up will give Twitter the chance to work it’s collaboration magic in the enterprise.

Start brainstorming with your colleagues, how could you leverage “1:n” communication to solve business problems?

(Thanks to a blog post by George M. Tomko with a comment by Nigel Legg, where portions of this post first appeared as a comment; you guys got me thinking on an important topic !! CJ)