The Social Media Explosion - I'm Now a Believer!

First, let me tell you that while I am fairly technical and usually right on the edge of the technology curve, I've been a bit slow to embrace certain aspects of social media.  One reason is that I simply can't do anything halfway.  I was afraid that if I got into a social network, I would become consumed by it and spend every waking moment updating my status, reading about others, and making snarky comments to my friends.  My family would think I had disappeared, and I would slowly morph into the people from Wall-E...never leaving my chair and ever expanding in the wrong directions.  The other main reason was I simply thought it wasn't a good use of my time.  I've been on Linked-In for a few years, because I viewed that as a valuable way to maintain my career network.  "This could help me if I need a job!" was my thought.  But Twitter?  Facebook?  MySpace?  That was for my little cousins.  While I still feel that way about MySpace, I jumped on the Twitter bandwagon about 9 months ago, and I was quickly hooked.  Twitter was a great way to keep up with a lot of my friends and collegues I met while on the conference speaking circuit.  I wasn't going to fall for Facebook, but a few months ago there arose a Mike Lazar "imposter" who became friends with a few of my real friends (how does that happen???), so I had to get online and set the record straight.  Of course now, I'm a Facebook junkie.  So for the past few months I've been happily doing the usual Twitter & Facebook thing and didn't really think this was a corporate game changer.  That is, until last week.

Last week I had the priviledge of going to one of my favorite conferences (Lotusphere), as well as the BlogWell conference, hosted by the Blog Council (of which Orange Business is a member).  I was absolutely BLOWN AWAY by how pervasive and enabling social media can be at a conference the size of Lotusphere.  A few of my friends have discussed it already such as Ed Brill and Chris Miller, but I wanted to share my experience as well.  First, the usage of Twitter made it incredibly simple to find people at Lotusphere.  People will simply Tweet "I'm at the Dolphin Rotunda", and voila, people could easily find you.  If you wanted to broadcast it, adding the #ls09 hashtag sent it out to everyone watching that stream.  Within 3 minutes of sending that tweet, I ran into 3 people I wanted to see.  That would not have happened any year before 2009.  At least, not without some major random luck being involved.  On top of that, Chris setup BrightKite locations all over the conference, so you could easily B-Kite your position for people.  Despite a few logistical issues and obvious red tape to get that happening at 3 hotels, it worked well.  Again, this is something that was simply unheard of even a year ago, and these are extremely technically gifted people!  Imagine what this can do for your company in the next 18 months if you just embrace it.

Later in the week, I attended the BlogWell event in Chicago, where several companies discussed the usage of social media in their workplaces.  Obviously this group of people are your heavy social media users.  What struck me the most was the sense of community.  People who had never met each other in person were instantly willing to help others out, just because they were part of this group.  The #BlogWell Twitter Stream was the highest trending stream when I looked a few times during the day.  While the signal-to-noise ratio can get a bit overwhelming, it was a great way to see what was happening in the sessions I couldn't get to, and it was also a great validation for the notes I was taking.  Was that point really important, or just to me?  Well, 25 other people just Tweeted about it, so I think it resonated.  That instant validation is as good a feedback mechanism as I have ever encountered.

So, how does this relate to the enterprise?  Well, you need to embrace your corporate identity in the social media sphere, and you need to encourage your people to get into social media.  If you have read my other posts, you know that removing inefficiencies or "human latency" in processes is a passion of mine.  The 2 events I attended are shining examples of that.  Imagine what you could do with your production line or distribution channel if something as simple as a Tweet of "Who's available to take 100 boxes from Row 123 to loading dock 4?" could replace your existing assignment process, where there isn't instant notification, and you don't know if someone is available until they log into a computer and notice the assignment?  Simply having those people also B-Kite their positions could do wonders for managers assigning those jobs.  Take it a step further, and smart devices on the forklift could broadcast their B-Kite position via wi-fi or RFID, completely freeing the operator up to simply do their job.

In the world of "knowledge networks", social media is as close to the mark as I have seen.  For years, companies have wanted to be able to have their experts available at the click of a button, for anyone to find if needed.  Twitter, Facebook, etc., are great examples of how this could be done.  You can group people, send out requests, find people with similar skills or interests, all with a few mouse clicks.  If you need to know the size of the belt that goes on your model xyz widget, someone in that corporate Tweet stream or Facebook would see it and respond.  Instantly.  That, my friends, is powerful.  That is a game changer.  If you don't embrace it soon, your competitors will.  When they do, they will catapault ahead of you in customer service, speed to market, and eventually, revenue & profit.
Nicolas Jacquey
michael lazar