Bringing meaning to social networks

I’m someone who works with social tools for a living. My job is defined by the level of expertise I bring to using them and the way I can use them to connect with people in communities of expertise, mostly in a business context. In a grand failure (or, is it?) of work-life balance, my social and personal life involves a good deal of social network use too.

And, as part of my participation in TEDActive next week, I’m involved in a project called TEDActiveSOC. It’s all about finding deeper meaning in the way we use and create social networks and our ever-increasing hyperconnectedness. My ongoing research and thinking has me convinced that the heart of the project needs to be about enabling the production of social, or public goods.

We all know we can use our social networks for everything from the mundane and trivial to the world-changing.

I want to weight my use and actions in 2011 to real and tangible outcomes; something like a set of Umair Haque‘s laws for organisations into a similar set for social innovation.

It can’t be that hard.

There’s real social capital to be derived for users at the personal level with these outcomes in mind and even greater good at the level of organisations and society as a whole.

I’m keen for a perspective on social, organisational, governmental and personal change as an outcome that use of these tools can amplify. There are no Twitter and Facebook revolutions. Rather there are revolutions of people, somewhat amplified through social networks.

At this point, I’m actually thinking a touch wider. What I want to see is the creation of new social networks (whatever and whenever they are) with a “do no harm” perspective built in from the ground up in the DNA of the companies (and people) who make them.

So too, I want to see the users thinking the same way. Here are the sorts of questions I’m asking myself:

  • How do we use our social tools to ensure that no harm comes to others now and into the future as a consequence of our actions?
  • How do we create thick social value through the invention and use of social tools and networks?
  • How do we ensure our social tools are always about people over things?
  • How do we create and use social tools based on principle versus strategy – aiming purpose over profit?

I think we need to look to Africa and parts of Asia.

In these places, societies are becoming more connected, but in simpler ways that benefit the people directly through outcomes such as ensuring best prices for goods at market (Kenya, I think), knowing which port will buy your catch (Sri Lanka), ensuring police are paid their full wage rather than corrupt officials skimming a cut (Afghanistan), etc. All these projects are enabled by Internet-connected tools, but not accessed by anything more complex than an old-school grey screen Nokia and text messages.

This is the stuff that’s bugging me.

Curiosity and #telstradesire

Like Mark Pesce and Chris Rowland, I think I should make abundantly clear my reasons for getting involved in Telstra’s Social Review program, not least because of some of the bile that’s being sprayed about on Twitter.

Like the others, it’s not a ridiculous purchase for me to go out and spend between $700-$1200 on a smart phone I use for work. It strikes me as a reasonable spend. I was, and may still, use my iPhone 3GS as a device to keep me connected while I’m away from my office. The way I do my work makes having a smart device that keeps me connected to all the networks, feeds and information I consider valuable for my job.

I don’t need a free HTC Desire from Telstra for that, I can afford it myself.

I’ve got a pretty decent public profile. I don’t really need to build it up any more than it is.

I don’t need a free HTC Desire from Telstra for that, I have a rich, working, growing network.

So why get involved in this exercise. Well, the answer is simple, really.


I’m curious about the device itself and how it, as an alternative to the iPhone, fits my connected life as a device with which I can conduct my business.

I’m curious as to how Telstra came up with the idea of the Social Review and how it reflects on and blends with the work I do with clients. It’s an interesting hybrid of crowdsource, crowd wisdom and careful selection through and open application process (which all the reviewers did).

I’m curious about how different types of users will use the device. I’m certainly coming from a geek and business point-of-view, others definitely are not.

Mostly, I’m curious as to how all these moving parts fit together in a hyperconnected world and what that might mean for influence, for social media marketing, for relationships. What it means to do something like this together and what sort of benefit to decision making that might offer the rest of you.

That’s new and interesting and why I’m involved.

I’m sure Telstra are being smart about this; they know what they’re doing, they know they have a reasonably good device on their hands and they know they’ll get a level of benefit out of the program. After all, that’s the point, right?

However, we’ve all been tasked with reviewing the Desire any way we like, using social channels to do so. That’s happening, and it looks to be working.

You asked for my feedback – Paxus JobSeeker Survey

It’s a common opinion amongst the people I speak to, that the recruiting industry has a long way to come to improve its performance. Too much, this industry relies on outdated practices that fail to treat candiates as people and to establish a real relationship with them.

So, today, when I received an email asking me to complete the latest Paxus JobSeeker Survey, I did so. And in the “anything else” question, I had this to say:

Paxus (and most other recruiting agencies) fail dismally when it comes to understanding and knowing their candidates – whether active or passive. It would take the effort of a few minutes work to Google each candidate and understand them better from their profiles on such things as their blogs, conferences they have spoken at, LinkedIn Facebook, etc. Yet, the industry persists in being a sausage factory, interested only in numbers through the door.

It’s no longer about this. It’s about a deep, close relationship with candidates and potential candidates over a long period of time. And it’s time the recruiting industry changed.

I have actually taken to refusing to speak with recruiters who haven’t done their research on me. They don’t deserve my time or any income they might make from me.

What do you think? My take is the recruiting industry won’t change unless we pressure it to. So, take the survey and add your views.

Barry Schwartz on a new wisdom for business

Like my friend, Tara Hunt, I thought Barry Schwartz’s talk on practical wisdom at TED 2009 was brilliant. It was definitely one of my favorites.

You really should watch it and see for yourself how this man has imagined a kinder, better world for business where moral fortitude is a key underpinning. I am strongly inclined to think the same way as Barry – that the crisis we see in the world of business today is largely a factor of the world dropping the ball on sense and running itself into the ground with inflexible bureaucracy.

Company or person? The Twitter dilemma…

… or, I’d say, not so much of a dilemma really.

This question arises time and again and many opinions have been put forth. A quick search on Google can find a dozen variants on the theme or more. Given I was asked by Tim Malone to explain my position when in retweeting Andrew Barnett I said:

RT @andrewbarnett: sigh – companies should NOT be on twitter – companies should encourage their employees to be on twitter.

Tim asked me what I meant, and I responded with:

@tdmalone companies are not people. Humans connect with people not companies. This conversation could get long #

Here’s what I mean.

As a customer, consumer, stakeholder (or whatever) interested in your product, service or information, I may at some point have to, or choose to, interact with you. That is, with your organisation. But when this happens, who do I interact with?

At this point, you (the organisation) have got a couple of choices. You can present the typical nameless, faceless contact center to me – and you know how much I and all the other customers coming to you love that (and yet you persist), or you can maybe put a little sunshine in my day and let me interact with Mary from Sales, or Pete from Shipping, or Lou from Customer Support.

Even better, if you get this interaction right, Mary, Pete or Lou can actually be empowered to resolve my issue, rather than being bound up in dumbplexity (I love that word! I discovered it in Graham Winter‘s Think one team, which you should buy and read if you even remotely care about working in inspiring, meaningful businesses that are focused on their people and customers).

So how does this apply to Twitter?

Well, in my mind (and you needn’t agree) a Twitter account that is simply the name of your company (and that you use for anything more than announcements – see below) is like the contact center – a nameless, faceless, inhuman blob. I don’t like dealing with things that are inhuman. I’d much rather interact with a real person. And particularly with a real person that wants a conversation with me and that can resolve my issues.

Imagine!? Happy customers dealing with real people! Revolutionary!

There are many companies getting this right – Comcast and Frank Eliason, Telstra with Mike Hickinbotham and the BigPondTeam, Lauren Cochrane at RSPCA and anyone and everyone at Zappos with a Twitter account to name just a few.

Who are these people? Just that. People. But they’re people who want to help and are empowered to do so. There are several more examples that aren’t hard to find if you go looking.

What these people are doing, on behalf of the companies they work for, is building brand identity, adding value to the customer experience and being a real, human face with which to interact. And frankly, we humans like interacting with other humans.

On the other hand, there are Twitter accounts that represent brands that aren’t helping the brand identity and reputation much. They’re simply 140 character at a time foghorns for the companies. Or they are unresponsive. Or they look like they want to engage but don’t do much of a job at that engagement (are you reading this @KevinRuddPM?). They don’t add value. They certainly don’t feel like they’re managed by a human. They aren’t doing anyone any favors.

So, it’s not that the companies themselves shouldn’t have representatives on Twitter. They should. But those representatives should be identifiable as real humans. I don’t want to just talk to Coca-Cola, or SAP, or The Labor Party. I want to talk to a real, flesh and blood person involved with those organisations.

As ever, there are exceptions to every rule. These faceless accounts can be useful for announcements or broadcasts. So long as you make it clear that’s what the account is for. I have a secondary Twitter account, @acidlabs, that I use for just these announcements. But I made it clear when launching the account that that was what it was for.

So, if your organisation has one of those faceless accounts, either change the way it works to be backed by a real, identifiable person, or make sure it’s for broadcast and obviously so. In every other case, make sure your organisation is represented by people.

You can get some real insight into what organisations, and their people, are present on Twitter by looking at twibs. I’m there!

As ever, this is just my opinion. What do you think?

TED Session 2 – Reframe

The second TED session was possibly more mind-blowing than the first. Great speakers and arts. Huge ideas. Calls for action.

Gamelan X and ArcheDream

  • Weird beautiful chromatic dancers
  • Very like Cirque du Soleil
  • Online collaboration to bring together

Tom Reilly

  • Goes through the TED gift bag
  • Bags made from Coke bottles
  • Lots of very cool stuff, much of which has a sustainability or green or empowerment focus

Tim Berners-Lee

  • 20 years since inventing the WWW
  • Was a side project 18 months after he proposed it
  • “Vague but exciting” – memo note from TB-L’s boss
  • Hypertext documents cool but not enough
  • Now put your data there
  • Hyperlinked and manipulated data much more exciting, e.g. Hans Roslin’s TED talk
  • Linked data – data has relationships
  • dbpedia links data from Wikipedia to other related data sources!!!
  • Don’t hug your database, give us the unadulterated data (especially governments)
  • “Raw data now!”
  • Your social networks are about linked data – relationships
  • OpenStreetMap – add your own data
  • Make it and demand it

Cindy Gallop

  • Has sex with younger men (in 20s)
  • Encounters behaviors that exhibit the growth of pervasiveness of hardcore porn
  • Sexual behavior changing affected by accessibility to porn
  • Porn is defacto sex education thanks to prudish attitudes in society
  • Explodes the behavioral myths of hardcore porn
  • Use site to change behaviors and have a realistic conversation

Yair Landau

  • Left Sony after 17 years after TED last year
  • Began looking at collaboration for CGI film
  • Mass collaboration – 50K people, 440 shots

Nandan Nilekani

  • Growth of ideas(In India) we now think of people as human capital not a societal burden
  • Demographic dividend – India will be only young country in an aging world
  • Language an asset
  • From man vs machine to man and machine – technology now empowering
  • Indians very comfortable with globalisation – no longer viewed as a form of Imperialism
  • Deepening of democracy
  • Universal access to K-6
  • Infrastructure growth
  • Cities=growth engines
  • Single market
  • Policy making gridlock thanks to castes, etc.
  • Job protection hampering job creation
  • Energy drives growth

Pattie Maes

  • We use our senses to understand situations
  • We don’t have access to all the info we need
  • Can we have a 6th sense for metadata?
  • We don’t have the luxury of meta info as we need it and can’t make optimal decisions
  • MIT working on tools to give access to meta info
  • Current kit is US$350 – webcam, projector, cell phone
  • The camera software tracks gestures
  • Use any surface to interact with projected info
  • Totally mobile
  • Mass production for about the cost of a cell phone
  • Access to any required data based on personal preference
  • Harry Potter newspapers!
  • Tagged reality
  • Work in progress
  • 10 years to being biologically wired in

Al Gore

  • methane content in atmosphere growing thanks to bioactivity related to increased ice melt
  • entire Antarctic now has negative ice balance
  • Himalayas now has new lakes that used to be glaciers – reduced river flow availability from melt available to 2B people!
  • Andes – drinking water volume down
  • dramatic global increase in forest fire
  • 4x increase last 30 years over previous 75 years in climate-related disaster events
  • 70M tons of CO2 each day into atmosphere from human
  • fossil fuel burn now a significant percentage of total emissions
  • clean coal is an OXYMORON
  • a new clean energy movement = jobs growth and financial recovery (at least in part)

Ray Anderson

  • Husband, father, grandfather and industrialist
  • As competitive as anyone else in business
  • Reinvent the industrial system
  • “Whole problem is the decline of the biosphere”
  • Potentially 1000 years for the atmosphere to recover
  • Read Ecology of Commerce in 1994
  • “Take nothing and do no harm”
  • “Unless somebody leads, nobody will”
  • “I am a recovering plunderer”
  • There must be a clear, demonstrable alternative
  • Modified Erlich equation
  • Down 82% in absolute tonnage of CO2 with 2x profit
  • 75% reduction in H2O use in carpet tile manufacturing
  • 50% reduction in H2O use in broadloom manufacturing
  • 74K tons of used carpet completely recycled
  • 85M sq yds of no net waste carpet sold since 2002Only halfway to Zero Footprint. 2020 target for Mission Zero.
  • Incredibly good for business
  • Protect Tomorrow’s Child (poem)
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Telstra out of NBN. And deservedly so.

So, in news this morning, it appears that the Department of Broadband, Communications and the Digital Economy, has made one of its few bright decisions for the year in excluding Telstra’s bid from the National Broadband Network. I’m no telco pundit, but as an interested citizen who will be affected by the NBN and any Telstra involvement, I do have an opinion.

News stories at the ABC and Australian IT confirm that Telstra Chairman, Donald McGauchie, is less than delighted. Tough, frankly. The bid was incomplete and trivialised the process as well as the importance of the NBN itself. Telstra’s last-minute, recycled bid was an act of corporate contempt at best. This sort of behavior on the part of big corporates does not win friends and influence people.

The contempt with which senior Telstra management treated NBN was unconscionable and a remarkable display of corporate hubris. It flies in the face of the corporate culture that we in the connected world can see that Telstra people on the ground are trying to foster with the changes at Now We Are Talking and the use of tools like Twitter and @BigPondTeam to really connect with customers.

Good numbers of the workers have made mistakes, learned and moved on from their old ways to a much better, more open and connected organisation. The senior management continues to believe that being, to quote a trading phrase, “big swinging dicks”, is going to get them what they want. I hope that the Federal Court tells Telstra to pull their heads in when the inevitable case comes before the Full Bench.

Interestingly, the cultural changes, which were detailed in a recent article in AFR Boss, don’t seem to be being lived by the senior management…

My friend, Stilgherrian, has more analysis.

What does a social media consultant do?

This morning, my Kiwi compatriot, Simon Young (@audaciousgloop on Twitter) answered the question in the title on his own blog, predominantly in the context of explaining to people how his company, iJump, makes money.

I figure as there is growing interest in the business value of social media, I would have a lash at the same question. So, here goes nothing…

3007094100_23b26c5c8d.jpgI talk. A lot. I listen more. Two ears, one mouth used in that proportion. By doing this, I can build an understanding of my clients’ business and get across the problems they face – whether it’s collaborating internally, talking to their customers and stakeholders in the right way, or understanding how the market works in the social media world to name a few common issues.

I talk and listen some more. Strategising with my clients on building an understanding of their problems and the possible approaches they might take in addressing them is a core component of my work. From these discussions, which range from one-on-one with the CEO or mail room guy to large workshops with the entire staff, we’re able to build a list of issues to be addressed and some thinking about what we can do to address them. Sometimes it’s quick fixes we can start on tomorrow. Other times, we build a six month to one year plan.

I research and write. Lots. For myself and for my clients. Those issues that need solving? Sometimes that very issue has been tackled before. I want to know when, how, why, who did it and with what. So do my clients. I also want to know what the latest thinking and case studies on business use of social tools is. It’s my job to do that research and help my clients understand what it all means.

So, what words might be used to describe all this stuff? Innovation, change management, cultural change, mentoring, teaching, consulting.

The technology part of this equation, as Simon said in his post, is the least complex part. Understanding organisational culture, readiness for change and what motivations might bring about that change in individuals, groups and organisations are the bread and butter of my work. How do we flatten corporate structures? Encourage fast, cheap and innovative experimentation and failure? Change the management mindset from command-and-control to conversation, collaboration and community?

That’s the cool stuff. That’s the stuff I love. That’s why acidlabs is unique.