Friday, 15 May 2009

Doing Good

At a recent (6/5/09) NWeGG programme and project managers' (PPM) group meeting, we had a really interesting session, led by Peter Kawalek, on social networking. Peter's remit was to try and relate this to the world of PPM, but inevitably we ended up discussing it in a wider context. This led me to think about the following two attributes of social networking.

1. Social networking can help like minded people form self-help groups

Peter's example of this was the SAP Community Network practitioners' group - hosted by SAP but run by SAP practitioners. It's not unique, and I've touched on this sort of group in my previous blogs, although in a different context. (If you're interested, see my series based on the book Groundswell). The SAP group is a good example though because it demonstrates some of the really positive aspects of social networks, and ones that are hard to achieve in any other way because of the geographically distributed nature of the members of the group.
  • Firstly, it is very cheap for SAP: the company gains huge advantage for very little cost because the people within the community help each other out for free (well, they do get goody points, and can trade these in for gifts such as a SAP jacket; but this costs peanuts compared with what it would cost to pay these people for their time and effort).
  • Secondly, it really is a community. These are people who are passionate about their subject and who love to discuss it with like minded others. Because they are so widely distributed geographically, this would be very hard to achieve by any other means.
  • It works as a support group as well. You can post a question about a SAP issue and within days (sometimes hours or minutes) receive a series of expert replies. This, of course, is also typical of the Open Source community.
  • From SAP's point of view, not only is it cheap, it also helps build trust in the brand - it's a great showcase for the SAP product set. Even in terms of SAP problems, because SAP can say: "Got a problem? Here's a way of getting it fixed!"
  • Finally (though I expect there are other aspects I've missed) it's a great way for SAP to communicate to its own expert community - again a very cost effective mechanism.

2. People are basically philanthropic in social networking

Peter gave the fascinating example of the use of Wikipedia for broadcasting news about the London terrorist bombings of 7 July 2005. The two amazing things about this were that:
  • The news was broken more rapidly and extensively via Wikipedia than by the traditional news media - so much so that at one point BBC News was using the Wikipedia posts for some of its sources.
  • When someone attempted to vandalise the reporting of the event, the vandalism was stopped and the material reposted within seconds.
The second point here is really key, because that's why Wikipedia (and similar social media sites) work. When you read an article on Saturn, or angler fish, or the Glossop North End Football Club you know that it is going to be accurate because the community quickly spots and corrects mistakes and deliberate vandalism. This is one of the great things about social networking: it shows that for all our faults, the human race can build communities that work to support each other for nothing more than the knowledge that you know you're doing good.

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