To Tweet Or Not to Tweet – Handling Employee Use of Social Technologies
September 14, 2009 – 2:31 pm | 3 Comments

This is the second installment of my new series on Forbes focusing on Social Media Guidelines and Etiquette.

Here is a rough transcript of this segment:
Q.
How should I deal with employees using tools like Twitter for personal use during work hours?
A.
To Tweet or not to Tweet – that is your question. Actually the real question here seems to be about productivity and how to maintain a healthy balance in the workplace. Modern work has plenty of outside distractions during work hours without needing help from social media; mobile phones, text messaging, instant message, dating sites and the ubiquitous, never ending “cigarette break.” To mention just a few. So in this regard, social technologies like Twitter don’t really present a new problem – they simply resurface an old productivity concern.
Let me suggest a few things I think every company should be doing specific to social technologies.

  1. No matter what you decide – publish clear guidelines so that employees know where you stand. It is never good to answer these questions one at a time and retroactively – get ahead of this question now.
  2. To do this – study others who have gone before you. My favorite guidelines right now are from IBM, Intel and The BBC – but there are literally dozens out there.
  3. Consider getting your employees in on the act. You can do this by creating a small guidelines committee and setting up a collaborative wiki where your employees can help you refine the document. You will be killing two birds with one stone – establishing clear guidelines with employee buy-in baked in and getting some experience with collaboration.

Whatever you do – Build your guidelines around job performance, not vague concerns about productivity. Get clear on how you measure successful job performance. Then measure it. If your sales team is nailing their numbers then why should you care if they are on Facebook? If you are in the call center and you are handling the expected number of daily calls and have high quality of service – why should I care if you are on Twitter? Most companies that think they have a social media “distraction” problem actually have a measurement problem – that is – they aren’t clear on what defines a productive employee.
Employers that set meaningless rules like “no Facebook at work” or put employees under surveillance risk losing authority, respect, and control in the workplace.

Finally – having social media literate employees is a good thing – you may need them when the time comes.

Ecommerce by Invitation
September 2, 2009 – 12:48 pm | One Comment

I just found The Gilt Groupe. From their site:

Gilt Groupe provides access, by invitation only, to Men’s, Women’s and Children’s coveted fashion and luxury brands at prices up to 70% off retail. Each sale lasts 36 hours and features hand selected styles from a single designer.

These are powerful ingredients:

+Exclusive membership
+Coveted Brands
+70% Off
+Time-limited sales

I am waiting for my membership submission to be approved…

giltgroupe

Social Sense and Sensibility – New Video Series on Forbes
August 26, 2009 – 9:36 am | No Comment

This is a new video series that I have begun with Forbes.  I have long wanted a larger forum to discuss the issue of social media etiquette.  While the term “etiquette” often conjures an image of how to behave like an 19th century Englishman at the table, proper etiquette is a critical component of being successful on the social web.

Why?  Because like any social system, the web is held together by an unwritten set of norms that govern behavior.   Blogs, social networks, Twitter etc. have behavioral norms that a company trespasses at its peril (think of Walmart’s fake blog or all the consternation over astroturfing using these tools).

I will be answering questions submitted directly to Forbes (@forbestech) or me via twitter (@jmichele), this blog, or email (josh at jmicheleross.com)

For those that prefer text – here is the basic copy outline:
Q.
How are companies balancing the urge to tweet purely revenue-focused information with useful content that won’t make them a buck?
A.
The question puts up what I think is a false dichotomy; an opposition between revenue generating activities and “useful” activities that “won’t make a buck”.
Newsflash: If you aren’t “useful” to your community in social media – you don’t stand a chance of generating revenue. Tools like Twitter belong in a bigger category called “Social” technologies for a reason – They aren’t called “business” technologies. They are first and foremost “social” – and social tools follow social rules. The great thing is – we all already know these rules. Everyone knows how to be social – how to make and maintain relationships in the real world by being sincere and engaging in the normal give and take. To find balance in your Twitter activities just think of using it “socially”.
Here is what I mean. Think about Twitter like a party where your friends Dylan and Jen invite you over for what you think is a social gathering – let’s say a wine and cheese party – or a beer and Cheetos party if you prefer. Once all the guests arrive Dylan and Jen lock the front door and dive into a seriously heavy AMWAY pitch. Why you need it, why it’s good for you, why you really shouldn’t leave the party without buying in… If you are like me you would be indignant. This isn’t what you came to their house for! They aren’t “friends” at all – and this wasn’t a social gathering – it was a sales job! Jen and Dylan suck!!

Well – Twitter is like a wine and cheese party. If all you are talking to your guests about is your own money-making schemes – well then you wouldn’t have many friends then would you? Everyone will leave your Twitter Party. If however, during the course of a lovely evening at Jen and Dylan’s – Dylan turns to you and tells you about an amazing deal on Tupperware – you are going to listen.

Let the balance that you have as a well-rounded human being be your guide. If you are using Twitter in a social way – it means that you are finding interesting tidbits and passing them along for the good of the community – You are following others and passing along the information they have that is useful. If you have promotions you want to include for your users – Tweet it up… But remember, people join social networks not for your benefit but for their own…. Provide immediate value to the user first – you will be amazed what you can build once you do.
Start following @dell – or @peets_tweets they both do a good job of balancing promotions while also providing valuable information to their followers. Follow their lead.

Why I Love Posterous
August 23, 2009 – 3:35 pm | 3 Comments

posterous1

I recently began experimenting with a new web publishing service called Posterous.   I love it.  Here is why:

Posterous begins with something nearly everyone knows how to do (email) and uses that as the basis for web publishing.   Just address your email to post@posterous.com and Posterous does the rest – it creates your account using your unique email address (no more long registration forms), it formats your blog post (subject title is the blog post title – body copy and contents are the post itself).   It carries some very intuitive business logic that works for 90% of the blogs you want to post — for instance when you attach photos it automatically creates a photo gallery.  Include a YouTube link and Posterous embeds the video into your blog for you – and so on.

I don’t think that these modifications are small improvements -  By dramatically lowering the barrier to publishing, (if you know how to email you know how to post to the web) there will likely be a whole new group that becomes active.  To understand my point just look back at the blogging phenomenon itself.

Blogs didn’t create anything new – they made an old activity (publishing to the web) easier.    That change, or more precisely, lowering the “cost” of publishing in terms of effort and barriers to participation  is HUGE.    Posterous  will be successful because it makes web publishing even easier than traditional blogging.

It has also been interesting to see how this change of method creates a change in nomenclature.  Most people I have met who deal with Posterous do not refer to what they are doing as blogging (just as bloggers needed a new name for their activity despite the fact that it wasn’t new either) they talk about posting to “My Posterous” or other variations.   When you change the way people do an old activity – that old activity gets a new name.

Posterous holds a lesson about innovation as well. If you were to have asked me and, I believe, many others, if there were room for another contender in the personal web publishing space I would have said, not really — it is a crowded, and well-advanced market.   I would have been wrong.   Posterous went back to the drawing board on nearly every process – from registration to publishing process.  They cut away all the feature creep that makes other products attractive for more advanced users but add  useless clutter for the vast majority.   There is always room to rethink the way we approach our business models and our business processes.   This is the big and inspiring lesson I draw from Posterous.

posterous2

Skills Focus vs. Customer Focus
August 16, 2009 – 11:50 pm | No Comment

I was reviewing some notes for an upcoming presentation and found this gem of a quote from a BusinessWeek interview with Jeff Bezos.

Q: Every company claims to be customer-focused. Why do you think so few are able to pull it off?
A:
Companies get skills-focused, instead of customer-needs focused. When [companies] think about extending their business into some new area, the first question is “why should we do that—we don’t have any skills in that area.” That approach puts a finite lifetime on a company, because the world changes, and what used to be cutting-edge skills have turned into something your customers may not need anymore. A much more stable strategy is to start with “what do my customers need?” Then do an inventory of the gaps in your skills. Kindle is a great example. If we set our strategy by what our skills happen to be rather than by what our customers need, we never would have done it. We had to go out and hire people who know how to build hardware devices and create a whole new competency for the company.

Particularly in times of rapid change – the question of what you decide to focus on can be critically important.    This also, in my opinion, reinforces the business logic of Amazon’s recent purchase of Zappos which I wrote about here.

The Productivity Myth – Step Away From the Twitter – Get Back to Work
August 12, 2009 – 4:44 am | One Comment

This is a cross-post from Radar

Ever since I posted a how-to on establishing guidelines for social media in the workplace, the issue that has generated the most energy concerns productivity. Employers it seems are very worried about lost productivity due to social media usage (Facebook, Twitter etc.).

I can’t really get my arms around it because I don’t think these tools bring out any really new productivity concerns (and yes I am aware of operant conditioning).

The fact is that there are already tons of other outside distractions at work ranging from instant message, email, workplace socializing and the never ending cigarette break – so this is not a new problem – but an old concern applied to a new technology; similar to what we see when the ranks of psychologists hit the TV news circuit to describe some new addiction caused by technology. I don’t buy it. Do you?

During the same time that Facebook grew from 100 million users to 200 million and Twitter went Oprah (March ’08 to March ’09) U.S business sector productivity has increased 2.0 percent. This is a bit off the recent historic rate 2.5% – but I don’t think anyone during this recession is blaming that on Twitter.

Companies that think they may have a productivity problem because of social networks and the like actually have a measurement problem – that is – they don’t know how to objectively measure whether an employee is meeting standards of productivity. In the absence of clear measurement – they resort to punitive actions (blocking these sites, monitoring employee behavior) that can damage morale and trust. If your sales team is nailing their numbers do you care if they are on Facebook? If your call center is handling volume with great customer satisfaction – do you care if they use Twitter?

Lastly, most companies don’t recognize that they often expect employees to check email after hours and bring work home when needed. If this is the expectation then blocking employees from accessing these social sites during “work hours” is not a fair bargain.

My recommendation for companies is to clarify job performance criteria and establish clear guidelines on how to productively engage social media (social media savvy employees are an asset not a liability)… and to build those guidelines collaboratively with their employees using these very same technologies. My favorite guideline comes from IBM (they have the best guidelines that I know of) which says, “Don’t forget your day job” Enough said.

Alert: Joshua Ross is Up to No Good
August 5, 2009 – 2:50 am | No Comment

Does your name contain your fate?  Or some clues into your personality?

One of the easiest ways to see where you are showing up on the Internet is to set up a Google Alert. Just tell Google what terms you are interested in – and you will get an email anytime that term shows up on Google’s radar. Like many people, I have set up an alert for my name since I want to know if I am being mentioned out there on the Interwebs.

More often than not however – I receive alerts on the hundreds of other Joshua Rosses out there.

In the digital era we are thrown into a much larger pool of reference. Suddenly where once my shortened name “Joshua Ross” was unique, I now find myself receiving daily alerts on the Internet comings and goings of all the Joshua Rosses out there. Scary. From Rabbis to repeat felons my fellow Joshua Rosses run the gamut (That is why, in an effort at having a unique identifier, I only use my full name now).

As the alert shows up in my email I receive a short description of why this particular Joshua Ross is making news. Often these are quite compelling and I often try to assign some causality between name and deeds. Do all Joshua Rosses share a common set of traits? You be the judge.

I am going to share some of my favorites as they arrive in my inbox. This came in this morning:

Mall kiosk challenged for selling ‘electronic cigarettes’

DesMoinesRegister.com – Des Moines,IA,USA

Kiosk manager Joshua Ross said he doesn’t understand why there’s a fuss about his wares. “What you inhale is steam. It’s about the same as what comes off a …

Social Media Guidelines – The Sequel
July 30, 2009 – 8:29 am | One Comment

Thanks to everyone who attended today’s webcast.   As promised, I wanted to put some supporting materials online for you.   If you have any questions I will answer them here in the comments area.

There are two big reasons to get started creating a set of guidelines

1. The massive proliferation of so called “social” technologies means that our employees are WAY more engaged with each other and the “outside” world.  Most of this is a net plus but it does have its downsides – as the line between personal and professional can get seriously eroded and conflicts or misunderstandings are made totally public.   This extends well beyond just how you reach your customers – inter-office communication can also create serious issues such as workplace bullying.  Expect a new raft of laws in the near future similar to sexual harrassment laws.  It is good to get ahead of these problems.

2. As with any social group – the social web is full of communities that are bound by a common set of norms that guide behavior and denote inclusion in the group. The social web is all about identity and authenticity - and that is why violations of this compact are so eggregious.  This is why Walmart was so punished when they went out with a fake blog: Walmarting Across America

walmartingacrossamerica

There are four pieces you need to consider when putting together your guidelines:

Your Industry – Regulations, known liabilities, standards of conduct etc. These can be very specific – A Financial Services firm has totally different considerations than, say the YMCA.

Your “as is” Culture value is created in social systems through sharing, soft leadership, natural hierarchies – some work cultures are much more amenable to this – others less so. Every company can take steps – but it is good to have a realistic understanding of your “as is” culture

Your Employees’ Social IQ – In the same way that we design solutions based on the affordance of our customers (are they online, do they use these technologies etc.) we should always understand the behavioral profile of your employees

Your Employees as co-authors – Consider having your employees help you create your guidelines. You can do this by creating a small guidelines committee and setting up a collaborative wiki where your employees can help you refine the document. You will be killing two birds with one stone – establishing clear guidelines with employee buy-in baked in and getting some experience with collaboration.

Whatever you do, Engage every key department.   This harkens back to understanding your industry (regulatory, ethical codes etc.) as well as general issues such as expectations of privacy, code of conduct for inter-office interactions  etc. – but also in understanding that Social Media cuts across the whole company – HR and Legal are obvious – but also Customer Service, Customer Insight, Marketing etc. Often you will find these engagements begin with marketing but – b/c of the two-way nature of social communication – the information and exchanges that start with marketing have direct impact on other groups.   Be sure that you can follow through — if marketing people begin receiving customer service inquiries (and they will) are they prepared?
Design for Possibility – Then Design for Risk
Disclosure of sensitive information is usually the biggest fear that companies have around social media. Really, this is not a new problem – email and telephone pose the same risks and are harder to monitor.
I talk a lot about beginning from a position of trust – facilitateWhile there are possible negatives involved in having employees on the social Web, most employees have common sense. Begin with a set of possibilities first.  These should be tied to business objectives (increasing awareness, improving customer service, gaining customer insight and so on) then draw up a list of worst-case scenarios (bad mouthing the company, inappropriate language, leaking IP, to name a few). Modify the guiding principles for your employees below to help mitigate the risks you’ve identified.    If you get everyone on board first imagining what is possible — you will enroll them in helping you move forward.   Often I find that IT / Legal (the people charged with lowering risk)  are not engaged in any planning — just given a program that scares the heck out of them — and they they do their job:  tear it down because it is risky.  Engage them early and often in your planning.

Resources:Here are some of my favorite guidelines:

IBM:  My favorite set is here.   IBM wrote these in collaboration with a broad set of employees — To me even the language in these feels distinct and genuine.   Best section: “Don’t forget your day job”

Intel:A very healthy set of guidelines that harken back to an Intel Code of Conduct.  Best section, “If it gives you pause, pause”

Dell has been a leader in social media – from innovation hubs to using Twitter.

Electronic Frontier Foundation has a great set of guidelines around safe blogging.

SAP is another company that developed their guidelines in collaboration with employees.

Laurel Papworth did a massive rundown of guidelines if you want more.  Thanks to Euan Semple for pointing me to these.
Lastly – this flowchart from the Air Force made the rounds a while back – Though it is focused on how to respond to blogs, it does a great job of visualizing how to engage in social media.

If you have any examples you would like to share – feel free to put them in the comments.  If you have any questions I will do my best to answer them here.

airforce-guidelines-policy

In Defense of Social Media (at least some of it)
July 23, 2009 – 10:48 am | No Comment

This is a cross-post of a recent Radar piece I wrote

Scott Berkun just posted a great rant titled, Calling Bullshit on Social Media.  I suggest everyone read it.  Berkun raises good  points – and I agree the hype around social media  warrants taking a critical  look. Despite being in general agreement,  there are a few areas I can’t abide.   The first is this bit:

social media is a stupid term. Is there any anti-social media out there? Of course not. All media, by definition, is social in some way.

Railing against the popular lexicon  is always a losing bet.   Language is formed by collective agreement and it sticks because it resonates and serves a purpose.   The words we use to assign to concepts can reveal quite a lot.   Rather than dismissing it, we should try and learn from it.  I have written before that I believe the  term “social” is a new metaphor for understanding how we will transact business and conduct government.   As Lakoff and Johnson so aptly pointed out in Metaphors We Live By,  metaphors play a crucial role in shaping our very thought and action.   We should take the “social” in social media seriously.

Second, Berkun writes:

We have always had social networks. Call them families, tribes, clubs, cliques or even towns, cities and nations.  You could call throwing a party or telling stories by a fire “social media tools”. If anything has happened recently it’s not the birth of social networks, it’s the popularity of digital tools for social networks, which is something different. These tools may improve how we relate to each other, but at best it will improve upon something we as a species have always done. Never forget social networks are old. The best tools will come from people who recognize, and learn from, the rich 10,000+ year history of social networks.

Well yes and no.  The problem is this.  Communication is the foundation of economies, government and business.  When you scale up communications you change the world.  It is that simple.  When you radically accelerate or democratize a means of communication (I would include physical transportation in this category too) it is not a change in class (as Berkun argues) it is a change in kind.

By way of analogy, the railroad did not invent the wheel nor did it invent locomotion or steam power.  In fact the train did not create anything particularly new.  What it did was massively accelerate the ability to move people and goods across land.  That acceleration changed everything… In the U.S. it standardized time, it nationalized commerce.   Around the world it broke the lock of power on maritime cities that used to control commerce… and on and on.

Similarly the Internet, and social technologies in particular, do not create much that is new in the way of content (or even human interaction as Berkun notes)  but the medium massively accelerates our ability to create, share, connect and collaborate.   That  acceleration of our innate capacity and desire to be social is exactly  what makes social technologies transformative.   Where I agree with Berkun’s statement above is that the same rules of social etiquette will apply in this media.   That is exactly what stuns so many corporations believing they can migrate essentially antisocial behaviors (hack PR blogs, social media gimmick campaigns etc.) into  “social” media.

Lastly Berkun writes,

Be suspicious of technologies claimed to change the world. The problem with the world is rarely the lack of technologies, the problem is us. Look, we have trouble following brain dead simple concepts like The Golden Rule.

Agreed.  People can really suck.  But “change” is a value neutral term.  It doesn’t imply good or bad and while it is true that many negative human traits will accompany these technologies, it is hard to overstate the magnitude of the changes that are taking place as a direct result of  social media – new ways to communicate, stars (including academics finding an audience) born from YouTube,  bloggers redefining journalism and science,  open source software dethroning traditional players, the demise of established industries like publishing, music and entertainment,  with other industries like telecommunications and manufacturing, retailing queuing up for their turn.   We see social technologies organizing spontaneous rallies in California, Moldavia and most recently Iran.  That is change.   I would also argue that the democratic promise of these tools – the promise that people can connect with each other without an intermediary (I know all of the ways that this may not turn out to be the case – but still…)  holds the possibility of  distributing power more evenly.  If there is one root problem in much of this world – it is the concentration of power wielded by a small minority.

Social Media Blurs the Lines between Business Functions
July 17, 2009 – 10:46 am | No Comment

peetscustomerservice_marketing

It has become fairly obvious to state that Social Media blurs the lines between business functions – but sometimes I encounter such a clear example that I want to share it.

<– Take a close look at this sequential set of Tweets from Peets Coffee and answer the following question.  Is this

(A) a marketing effort

(B) a customer service effort

(C) a PR effort or

(D) all of the above.

If you answered D, all of the above – you are correct.  This single screen capture is a great example of how Social Media blurs the boundaries between business functions.  In one short period of time Peets is answering questions about where muffins at a specific store come from and affirming that their plastic tumblers are BPA free… (customer service).   Peets is also letting people know about new store openings, linking to their Facebook page to let people know about how to meet their tea master, Eliot Jordan (Marketing outreach, events promotion)  and finally, doing a bit of PR on how small scale farmers in Rwanda are breaking the cycle of poverty through growing coffee. (causal marketing / PR).

Disclosure – Tina – who runs Peets’ Twitter presence is a good friend and we had casual discussions about how to use Twitter effectively when she took Peets onto Twitter.  She is doing a fantastic job.