SHiFT: Euan Semple – The Quiet Revolution

Here at SHiFT in Lisbon, a two day conference on Social and Human Ideas for Technology. Again, not going to blog every session, just a few here and there. First up, Euan Semple.

Words ‘social’ and ‘media’ and ‘business’ help people make assumptions about what is happening, so they then package and dismiss it. People come up with all sorts of reasons why blogs/wikis/etc won’t work in their business, why it is nothing to do with them.Some people are jumpy about ‘social’ in the workplace.

BBC, implemented social software and had ‘globally distributed, near instant, person to person conversations’. Different from the way organisations usually talk. Most businesses try to manage relationships and information, to control communications. The global nature of the net and the uncontrolled nature of the conversation on the net is intimidating to most people. But the thing that scares people the most is the fact that it’s person-to-person. business has sanitised the personal out of business. You try to act as your job title instead of your as a person, and you’re not encouraged to act as a person, to be yourself, and a lot of businesses actively discourage it.

Way BBC implemented social computing was different too. Usually do months of consultancy and user testing and that doesn’t really work. Companies get fleeced by IT people doing that. Decided didn’t want to do that at BBC, so had own ideas, own technology, and wanted to just get on with it.

Created a forum first. No marketing, all word of mouth. Out of 24k staff, 18k had used the forum at some point or another. Most of it’s mundane, people asking questions. Exposed differences within the different parts of the business, which previously they’d pretended didn’t exist. Smart manager engages with the conversation, even when they are negative or critical. E.g. weather graphics were not liked by people in the BBC, and the manager in charge of that came into the conversation and just talked calmly to everyone.

Euan keen not to own the forum, fought off people branding it, or tell people how to behave. When there were problems he’d go and just ask questions about it, to encourage discussion.

Forum talked about big stuff too. Jerry Springer the Opera. Big discussions. First time that they’d had a pan-BBC discussion about something big.

People think it’s just about the technology, but it’s not. Is naturally disruptive. But organisations don’t have a choice – the MySpace generation will demand this if it’s not there – they’ll either not work for you, or they’ll do it on the web which could be really bad for you.

Then put in a social networking tool, Connect.Gateway. Tools helps people get to find people interested in the same things, and empowered people who would otherwise not have had a way of connecting.

Then added blogs. Euan’s still cautious about blogs in business because they work on the basis of having an opinion and expressing it, and that’s not trivial in an organisation. It’s difficult tot say what you think. It’s paradoxical – in business it’s hard to say what you think and there’s no accountability, whereas in the geek world if you don’t say what you think you don’t exist, and there’s a trail behind you that everyone can follow.

Richard Sambrook started to get interested, and wanted to talk directly to a new division of 1500 people and didn’t want to do memos and staff emails and newsletters, so he used a blog instead. Did it well, blogged every day, mix of stuff, allowed comments. Would raise strategic issues and sometimes other senior managers would engage in the conversation in the comments thread. Those conversations would have happened elsewhere, but you wouldn’t have seen them publicly.

His internal blog at one point was being read by 8000 staff, now settled down to 4000 staff. Also humanised him, took him out of the org chart. Has now just started his own public blog. Very challenging for people in an organisation like the BBC. Some of the stuff eh wrote on his internal blog ended up in the press. The edges are getting fuzzier, what can you and can’t you write about.

Then introduced wikis. Adoption curve was steeper, less popular. Firstly, people used it as an easy way to set up a website. Allowed people to publish information that they couldn’t have published any other way, as had no budget for a web designer.

Euan then used the wiki to collaboratively write a policy for employee blogs. Asked 90 BBC bloggers to help work on the policy, using comment son the wiki pages (Confluence). After a couple of weeks it slowed down, as the policy writers reached consensus (with no meetings), and so got given to the management to ratify.

Someone in the forum said that it was frustrating that BBC staff can’t take part in BBC competitions. Set up competition internally, and collaboratively people put together the rules, the criteria, etc, for a photography comp. Now they are using it for organising programmes.

Something about the ownership about it, the self-selection that allows people to really engage with it.

RSS helps. Lots of people talking internally, but need a way to manage all that conversation and RSS does that. Began to see who was interest to who and that showed them who’s interested in what.

Tagging also an important. Tools that replicate delicious inside the organisation.

We have a glimpse of how this works, but when the MySpace generation comes into business, they will expect this, and they will know better how it works, and how to sidestep the red tape that can get in the way of getting things done.

shift06, euan semple