Tuesday, 21 October 2008

Social Media part 2

Why is Social Networking so important?

New ways of working. What does this mean to you? What images does it conjure up? Possibly something about more people working from home and "hot desks", open plan offices? Possibly something about operations staff who need to be out and about being supported by computers such that they can record all they need to in the field. Possibly something about flexible working (much in the UK news right now Oct, 2008), reduced office accommodation and better work-life balance. And I'd agree that new ways of working is all of these things.

But what about the context within which all this works? What about the organisation as a whole. All of the above is about doing the things we already do in slightly different ways. But there is another meaning for new ways of working, and that is to invent an entirely new model for the organisation itself. And that's where social networking and the Web 2.0 technologies come in. Not because of what they are, but because of how they have been used by people at large and how this has changed the world.

I'll illustrate this with a true story (it comes from a book called Groundswell (2008) by Li and Bernoff, which I can thoroughly recommend). Does anyone remember a movie called Snakes on a Plane, from 2006? I didn't see it, but I recall seeing adverts for it at the movies. The title is self explanatory. Well, before the film was made rumours got out that it was being planned and that Samuel L Jackson would be its star. Soon there were hundreds of unofficial t-shirt designs for the movie and a blog called Snakes on a Blog was launched - and over 8,300 other blogs linked to it. Fans started suggesting plot lines and dialogue. One of the most popular suggestions was that Samuel L Jackson should have the line "I've had it with these mother-f~^ing snakes on this mother-f~^ing plane." The film hadn't been made yet! New Line Cinema had lost control of the movie and its marketing, and knowing it had to court these hard-core fans, it put the line into the movie and in the process lost the PG-13 rating it had been aiming for (Groundswell, p 7-8).

What this illustrates is that ordinary people have the power to change the way organisations behave because they now have a toolset (Web 2.0 technologies) that give them the power to do so. Organisations no longer have control over their marketing and communications and when they try to control it against the flow of popular opinion they risk coming off the worst. The news media are just as affected - no longer do they control and manipulate the way news is broken and reported - in fact they are growing ever more reliant on people for their news.

A few years ago, in another book I can recommend, Evans and Wurster described how these new technologies are being successfully harnessed by organisations to develop their models - Amazon being the pioneer of this. In their book "Blown to Bits" (2000) they showed how the Internet helps develop "richness" and "reach". Richness is all about the quality of the product and reach is about how easy it is to communicate the product to a wide audience. Clearly the Internet has a huge reach - a small local firm can overnight sell to a global audience. But how do you create richness in this environment? A bookshop has richness because you can go in and read (sorry, browse) the books. Amazon developed richness by adopting the power of people - by allowing its customers to post reviews and ratings (even bad ones) - it created a richness beyond the traditional, and together with its reach, created a new way of doing business. This really was a new way of working.

In my next post I'll elaborate on this a bit more and describe some of the ways in which this new "groundswell" movement will allow us to adopt a new way of working in this second sense of the term.

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