What is the “it” of the Social Web?

by Jay Deragon on 01/12/2008

What is the “it” of the social web?We were recently in a conversations with an executive of a global corporation and he said “ Social media and social networking reminds me of the dot com bubble and I am not buying the hype”. To which we responded ” The difference is there aren’t millions of people buying any particular stock rather there are over 500 million people engaging in conversations with new found freedom and enablement tools“.

Many business executives want to discard that which they don’t understand labeling it with something they do understand. The executive in the previous conversation also kept saying “I don’t understand the ambiguous “it” that everyone refers to when talking about social media. What is the “it” in terms that we can measure and consider applying to our business?” To which we responded “Do you currently measure the value of email, cell phone usage, customer interaction or time spent engaging your market?” His response was “No those are just tools we use and things we do as does everybody”. He answered his own objections but still didn’t get “it”.

What is the “it” that everyone talks about?

If we could describe the “it” as one thing or one tool then the comprehension of “its” value might be easier but we can’t. If “it” represented a public stock or hundreds of stocks that were hot then we could point to “it” and also understand why some call “it” a bubble. If “it” represented one new technology then businesses may be able to comprehend “its” value but “it” isn’t any one new piece of technology. If we could point to one company that made a ton of money with “it” then every business would want “it” but we can’t because “it” is free. When we describe “it” as a movement, an open conversation or human connectivity “it” become ambiguous and labeled as just another buzz word that businesses reject because they can’t but “it” into a container and point to “it”.

The “it” is a mindset wrapped around the intersection of technology and human expression with no limitations, the freedom of speech. Just thinking about the meaning of the previous sentence becomes a mind warp for most businesses because “its” meaning is deep and wide and cannot be condensed into “sound bites” or “contained into one thing”. The entire value proposition of the social web is aimed at human emotion and intellect fueled by enabling conversations, one to one to millions and “its” free.

As more voices join in conversations…………..scholars, business leaders, authors, journalist, inventors, engineers, politicians and others…the quality of the conversations increases and participants tap into a “learning channel”. It wasn’t long ago, it was a notable event, when main stream media picked up on “these conversations”. Now it is happening all the time. Main stream media has become so dependent on social media, in fact, that is is hard to imagine that professional news organizations would let this channel of conversations simply go away. But most businesses have yet to truly engage because “it” simply doesn’t make sense to the traditional mindset shaped by past experiences.

Will Businesses Get “It”?

In 2006 a survey of 550 Chief Marketing Officers found that nearly three-quarters didn’t utilize a customer advisory board or a formal online community of customers. Only 6 percent of those that did said it was critical to their work. Nearly 30% said someone else in the company determines customer segmentation and targeting and that most customer interactions are driven by the sales departments.

To make matters worse most businesses do not realize that everyone of their employees represents conversational intersections with both existing and prospective customers. Oh yeah I forgot, employees fall under human resource management rather than marketing, sales, customer service and never shall they cross the holy grail of “leadership”. To add to the constraints, employees are banned from engaging in social media during work hours because “it” robs productivity and businesses worry about what their employees are saying in these “spaces”.

In the same conversation which started this post the executive said “I don’t want us to spend money chasing a fad or starting yet another initiative that doesn’t provide us with measureable payback”. Well you know what you shouldn’t and if you treat this as an initiative or a fad then it will bite you in the rear end and when it does you won’t understand why rather you’ll simply find someone to blame because you never really understood “it”. Why? As we try and engage business leaders in conversations about the social web they are more inclined to tell us what “they think” vs. what the people who make up the social web are saying. It is a problem of listening and comprehending the essence and dynamics of conversations happening globally.

Is This Frustrating or What?

A 64-page report is called The Authentic Enterprise: Relationships, Values and The Evolution of Corporate Communications produced by Arthur W. Page Society of Public relations states: “We are no longer in control of our traditional spheres of professional activity. Indeed, all business functions are at the dawn of an era of radical de-professionalization. For business, globalization has long been transforming markets for capital and labor. Now it is reshaping the footprint – and even the idea – of the corporation. This institution is shifting from a hierarchical, monolithic, multinational model to one that is horizontal, networked and globally integrated.”

“All of this makes the 21st century enterprise vulnerable at a wholly new level to unexpected developments that can damage the brand, negatively affect employee commitment, undercut outside relationships and destabilize management, including the CEO and other corporate officers and Board members. This, in turn, means that the stakes are much higher for what corporate communicators do. Message ‘segmentation’ is no longer practical or desirable. Despite the proliferation of diverse stakeholders, all are now on a level playing field.”

“Realize a company’s true character is expressed by its people. The strongest opinions – good or bad – about a company are shaped by the words and deeds of its employees. As a result, every employee – active or retired – is involved with public relations. It is the responsibility of corporate communications to support each employee’s capability and desire to be an honest, knowledgeable ambassador to customers, friends, shareowners and public officials. The greatest danger corporate communications faces, ironically, may lie in our very success over the past two decades, if that success blinds us to the new demands that lie ahead.”

Even when leaders within traditional business communities are confirming the transformational power of the social web businesses simply want the short answer that enable them to produce results. Here is your answer, listen, learn and allow the conversation to change your mindset.

We know it is scary but if you let go of your frame of reference you’ll understand why people, your customers and your employees, are being influenced by the power of conversations unleashed by “it”.

What say you?


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Michael Pokocky January 18, 2008 at 3:03 pm

{It} is a loop of a conversation thread to expanding the thread to revising the thread to a sharp cutting edge to then introducing it to a few trusted friends and asking for their feedback to then accepting their feedback or not and then polishing off the thread of the original conversation to doing some research to back up the salient points to producing a finished conversational thread that can be introduced to the masses to receiving feedback or queries from others and opinions that add to the conversation so that at the end of the day the conversation has become so {profoundly socially engaging} that it begins to take on a life of its own.

Then one day you are sitting at a bus stop and there is a billboard on a passing bus with Your Conversation on it and the person next to you says to you a perfect stranger {They got that right}!!!!!!

That’s a good day for anyone!!!!

Earl Rudolfo January 12, 2008 at 7:43 am

I agree. Excellent article, Jay. Think I will print this for future reference. And I think Lucas Wyrsch gets “it”. Sounds to me that social media and social networking = knowledge sharing and knowledge exchange. Need I say more?

Lucas Wyrsch January 12, 2008 at 7:25 am

Dear Jay,

Thank you for your excellent posting!

I think that many business executives simply ignore the Deming system of profound knowledge!

"The prevailing style of management must undergo transformation. A system cannot understand itself. The transformation requires a view from outside. The aim of this chapter is to provide an outside view—a lens—that I call a system of profound knowledge. It provides a map of theory by which to understand the organizations that we work in. "The first step is transformation of the individual. This transformation is discontinuous. It comes from understanding of the system of profound knowledge. The individual, transformed, will perceive new meaning to his life, to events, to numbers, to interactions between people. "Once the individual understands the system of profound knowledge, he will apply its principles in every kind of relationship with other people. He will have a basis for judgment of his own decisions and for transformation of the organizations that he belongs to. The individual, once transformed, will: Set an example;Be a good listener, but will not compromise;Continually teach other people; andHelp people to pull away from their current practices and beliefs and move into the new philosophy without a feeling of guilt about the past." Deming advocated that all managers need to have what he called a System of Profound Knowledge, consisting of four parts: Appreciation of a system: understanding the overall processes involving suppliers, producers, and customers (or recipients) of goods and servicesKnowledge of variation: the range and causes of variation in quality, and use of statistical sampling in measurements;Theory of knowledge: the concepts explaining knowledge and the limits of what can be knownKnowledge of psychology: concepts of human nature. Deming explained, "One need not be eminent in any part nor in all four parts in order to understand it and to apply it. The 14 points for management in industry, education, and government follow naturally as application of this outside knowledge, for transformation from the present style of Western management to one of optimization." "The various segments of the system of profound knowledge proposed here cannot be separated. They interact with each other. Thus, knowledge of psychology is incomplete without knowledge of variation. "A manager of people needs to understand that all people are different. This is not ranking people. He needs to understand that the performance of anyone is governed largely by the system that he works in, the responsibility of management. A psychologist that possesses even a crude understanding of variation as will be learned in the experiment with the Red Beads (Ch. 7) could no longer participate in refinement of a plan for ranking people. The Appreciation of a system involves understanding how interactions (i.e. feedback) between the elements of a system can result in internal restrictions that force the system to behave as a single organism that automatically seeks a steady state. It is this steady state that determines the output of the system rather than the individual elements. Thus it is the structure of the organization rather than the employees, alone, which holds the key to improving the quality of output. The Knowledge of variation involves understanding that everything measured consists of both "normal" variation due to the flexibility of the system and of "special causes" that create defects. Quality involves recognizing the difference in order to eliminate "special causes" while controlling normal variation. Deming taught that making changes in response to "normal" variation would only make the system perform worse. Understanding variation includes the mathematical certainty that variation will normally occur within six standard deviations where six sigma is the symbol for standard deviation of the mean. The System of Profound Knowledge is the basis for application of Deming’s famous 14 Points for Management.Isn’t vision possible without (a system of profound) knowledge?


That’s why Jay integrates into “data” the metrics “information”, “knowledge” and “understanding” that lead to “vision” thanks to the right “location” here the optimal social network and the right connections, here the optimal mastermind group!

Excellent work, Jay, thanks!

– Lucas

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