“Communities aren’t built through grand visions,” says Julian Dobson his a great post about community building. A grand vision is nice ‘n all, but it takes action to build a community and there’s a skill in knowing which actions are the right ones. Julian runs through a list of five, and I think all of them are applicable to business communities as much as third sector communities. For example:
2. If you want to be a leader, start by serving.
Creating community, by definition, isn’t about ego. There’s no room for celebrities. Leaders prove their worth by mucking in and helping out. You win respect by being ready to serve. If you’re out to make a name for yourself, why should anyone trust you?
If you want to start a brand community or an internal community of interest, think about how you would engage with it and what you could do for others in that community. How would you serve others?
Julian’s post is very thought provoking, even more so when you put it in the context of enterprise community building.
Johnny Holland Stephen Anderson discusses in some considerable detail how it might be possible to add game-like behaviours to email to help people be more effective and achieve Inbox Zero more easily. It’s a very interesting post and I’d love someone to go ahead and build an email client that takes these ideas on board. I think it would be fascinating to see how we might remake our relationship to one of the most pervasive communications medium of the modern world.
But Holland Anderson doesn’t even mention the most important problem: That we send far too much unnecessary email for reasons which are emotional rather than logical. Encouraging people to process their email more effectively is only half the battle. We need to remove as much content as possible from the email system, especially newsletters, notices, FYIs and other forms of occupational spam. We need to empower people not to cover their ass, not to CC their entire department, and not to get sucked into endless and pointless – but very polite – conversations by email.
Until we learn to send less email, learning how to process it is only going to give us a false sense of success and may even encourage us to, well, send more email.
Fabulous blog post from Richard Millington today. Richard asks a very important question of companies who are trying to do community building: Do you want a community or just a really big following? Most businesses, he says, just want (need?) a big following and aren’t really suited to having a community.
You only need a community when your audience has a desire to talk to each other and when there is a benefit (to the audience!) from talking to each other. Very, very, few organizations fit this criteria. Perhaps as low as 1 in 10.
If you don’t understand what you want or need, you won’t have the right strategy to achieve your aims. Read Richard’s whole post for more insights.
[She] studied the popularity of 75 bloggers on the site Livejournal.com. She looked at the number of friends each blogger had, the number of posts they made, the total number of words written and the overall tone of the posts. She then asked the bloggers to rate how attractive they found each of their peer’s blogs.
She found that the more words a blogger posted, the more friends they had and the higher their attractiveness rating. The tone of their posts – whether they contained mostly positive or negative comments – had no effect.
The BPS goes into a little bit more detail, explaining that the Liverjournalers were invited into a new community and then asked to rate their fellow community members after one week. I’m not sure if this falls within the bounds of Bad Science, but it’s certainly not an accurate reflection of how communities build in the real world.
My first problem is that you just can’t extrapolate from communities on LiveJournal to blogs in general. LiveJournal has always had a different demographic to, say, bloggers using Typepad or WordPress. LiveJournal has always had a gender bias towards women, for example: currently it has 62.5% female and 37.5% male, the rest unspecified. And the bulk of users are between 18 and 34 (with an impressive spike at 30), historically much younger than demographics for other tools.
Furthermore, LiveJournal is culturally different to many other blogs and blogging platforms and has traditionally been the meeting place for people who felt that other platforms were too open for them or who felt disenfranchised by mainstream tools and wanted to be with their peers. LiveJournal, for many, was where you could be yourself and enjoy the company of people like you, no matter how weird others thought you were.
LiveJournal isn’t a typical blogging community and results from studies on LiveJournal can’t be applied to other bloggers.
But furthermore, after only a week of getting to know someone, you have very little information to go on. Those who talk most will almost certainly get higher rankings than those who are quiet simply because they stand out and can easily be remembered. If you are trying to get to know 75 people in just seven days – and you have to ask if that is even possible – you’re going to rank the noisier ones higher just because they are the people you’ve had most exposure to. If you’ve had very little conversation with someone you are bound to rank them near the bottom simply because they are still strangers and humans tend to be stranger-averse.
How would this study have turned out if they had got to know each other over the course of a month? Or six months? Or a year? You know, real human friendship timescales. And how does the nature of the community change how people react to each other? The study doesn’t say what the raison d’être of the community was, and whether these people were gathered around an issue they cared deeply about or were just mooching around online, killing time.
The lesson that this study appears to be teaching is that bloggers should write more, and not worry about quality. Frankly, I call bullshit on the whole thing. The way that we form relationships through blogging is a complex and nuanced process, just like the way that we form friendships offline. We get to know people over time. We decide whether we agree with their points of view, whether we like the way they present themselves, how they interact with others and we build a picture of them that is either attractive or not.
That this study should get headlines in The Telegraph and BusinessWeek shows how poorly social media is still being covered by the mainstream press and how little understanding or critical thinking they do.
We do need a lot more research into the use of social media and particularly its use in the UK. Studies like Jamison-Powell’s, however, do not advance the debate in any useful way.
Anthony pulls two ideas out of the video: How our need to assign and take the credit for ideas can mess things up; and how sometimes information should just fade from view as it gets older, rather than being always perfectly preserved.
I pulled out another: That releasing software in beta is an important statement about the underlying attitudes towards innovation and development, and sets the scene psychologically for change and progression. In the Web 2.0 community, the ‘release early, release often’ ethos is well known and frequently used. Start-ups release the most basic version of their software, gather user feedback, watch for emergent behaviour and then develop the next release accordingly. Users are primed by the word ‘beta’ to expect problems – so they are less upset when they occur – and also to expect change. The process doesn’t always go smoothly, but it is a cost-effective way of developing software and web services quickly.
Enterprise really needs to embrace the idea of beta, not just in software development but in their project planning too. The idea that everything has to be perfect at launch, that launch is an end instead of a beginning, and that addressing bugs and flaws after launch is somehow a sign of weakness is an anachronism. I can’t count the number of projects where all the effort has gone into a final deadline and the results of all our hard work withered on the vine because no one thought about what to do with the work we had produced.
This is especially true of social software and social media projects where the tools are evolving faster than even the professionals can keep up. Social media projects of whatever stripe should be be seen as an ongoing process of change as the tools, ideas and culture all slowly mature. It’s much more like cheese that ripens slowly than a souffle that flops if not consumed immediately.
LinkedIn is one of those tools that I almost always showcase in my social media workshops and which often makes an appearance in the strategies I write. It’s a tool that, used cleverly, can go well beyond simply allowing people to build a professional network and can help businesses form relationships too. Launched in 2003, LinkedIn has always had a bit of an old-school feel to it, which is not in itself a bad thing, but it’s good to see them now providing more sophisticated functionality around sharing news items. This video explains all:
According to Out-Law, Alex Hilton, who runs Labourhome.org, has failed to get a libel case brought against him by Johanna Kaschke over a post written about her by contributor John Gray thrown out by the High Court. Hilton argued that he had no control over Gray’s post and that he should enjoy the same ‘safe harbour’ protection afforded to companies like ISPs or search engines who are not responsible for the content that flows over their networks.
But the High Court ruled that, because Hilton did sometimes exercise editorial control over parts of his site, that his case needed to be heard by a court to fully examine the issue.
Mr Justice Stadlen said that even to fix the spelling in a post could cost the host the protection of Regulation 19 [safe harbour].
“Mr Hilton stated in terms that where a blog is promoted by him he may check the piece for spelling and grammar and make corrections. That in my view arguably goes beyond mere storage of information,” he wrote.
This should concern anyone who runs a blog or other site where users can add content, especially if they moderate contributions, even if just to fix the spelling or filter for spam.
Struan Robertson, a technology lawyer with Pinsent Masons, who publish OUT-LAW.COM, said:
“Even an attempt to filter for profanities or comment spam, if done manually, involves a risk for the publisher. If you want to be sure that you’re not liable for what your users say, the judge is basically saying you need to ignore user contributions completely until you get a complaint.”
“That’s not a new principle,” said Robertson, “but it’s a warning to site owners about how to interpret it. Some owners may think they have less responsibility for user comments than they really do, and they may wrongly assume that a post-moderation policy is completely safe.”
The impact of this ruling on high-volume comment sites and short-term high-volume projects such as a user-lead mash-up advertising campaign, could be huge. It may be that, once this case is heard fully, such sites would have to decide between full moderation and the huge financial costs that incurs, or no moderation at all and the cost in reputation that comes from leaving spam and offensive comments up until someone complains about them. Hm, which do we fancy? Scylla or Charybdis?
Paul Adams has a great post on how our social networks are comprised of a vast variety of people, but we mainly restrict our interactions to people we already know. Yet most social tools fail to treat these groups – our intimates and our acquaintances – differently. Paul then splits our relationships out into three types:
Strong ties: People we care deeply about.
Weak ties: People we are loosely connected to, like friends of friends.
Temporary ties: People we don’t know, and interact with temporarily.
and goes on to examine what these groups mean for social interaction design. These insights are just as relevant to business social networks as personal ones, yet I’d wager most people designing internal tools aren’t thinking in this much detail about the types of networks they are designing for.
Anyway, this is a really interesting post and well worth reading.
There can’t be anyone left who’s not aware of the Eyjafjallajökull eruption in Iceland. Activity started on 20 March with a ‘curtain of fire‘ fissure eruption at Fimmvörðuháls, which sits in between two glaciers, then entered a second phase on 14h April with what’s known as a phreatomagmatic eruption actually under the Eyjafjallajökull ice cap. A phreatomagmatic eruption is one where magma reacts explosively with a water source, be it ground water, snow or ice, resulting in a plume of ash and steam.
I’ve been following the eruption closely since 20th March, mainly because my degree was in geology and volcanoes have always fascinated me. I love a good Hawai’i style eruption! When it was just a fissure eruption at Fimmvörðuháls it was basically a neat little tourist attraction, but things are much more serious now. This new phreatomagmatic eruption is a different kettle of North Atlantic cod, primarily because of the airspace closures that the ash cloud is causing.
Disrupted air travel is not just affecting tourists who are stuck abroad or whose holiday has been cancelled, it’s also affecting business travel and, much more importantly, airfreight movements. Airspace closure of a day or so is one thing, but it has been six days and that is going to cause some significant problems not just for the airlines who are currently haemorrhaging cash, but for any business relying on goods transported by air, whether as part of a just-in-time supply chain or not. We may soon start to notice this as perishables like fruit and veg become restricted to locally-available and in-season produce.
It seems unlikely to me that this current eruption is going to cease any time soon. It is, of course, impossible to predict with any certainty what is going to happen, but historically Eyjafjallajökull has shown itself capable of prolonged (two year) eruptions and we need to accept that we might just be at the beginning of such a period of volcanicity.
If that’s the case, then the main factor we need to keep an eye on is the weather. At the moment, the winds are bringing the ash right towards Europe, with Norway and the UK bearing the brunt of it. If the weather changes and a southerly starts to push the ash plume up towards polar regions, for example, then hopefully that’ll clear the air and we’ll be able to start flying. However, I think we should at the very least start to prepare for a future in which air travel is unreliable and where we suffer ongoing sporadic airspace closures. Even if the weather changes enough that we can start to fly again mid-week, there’s no guarantee that we’re not going to see more bans in future.
What does this have to do with social media? Well, if I were a CIO right now, I’d be looking at making sure that everyone in the company has access to video conferencing software such as iChat or Skype, particularly those who usually travel a lot. I’d also be looking at encouraging clients, partners and customers to ensure that they too have these tools installed. I would also provide everyone in my company with IM, would install one of the better wiki platforms and start encouraging people to ramp down their business travel and use social media and video calls instead.
Now, admittedly if I was a CIO I’d be doing that anyway. When people have a choice they tend to choice the status quo over change, but necessity is the mother of invention adoption. Continued sporadic air travel bans will take choice away, so it is in business’ best interests to prepare now for what could be a long period of unreliable travel.
Business travel – such as for meetings, conferences, training – is something we’ve taken for granted. But we haven’t always done business that way and there’s no reason why we have to rely on face-to-face meetings now. Social media can step in to fill the gap, providing a better solution than conference calls alone. I wonder if Eyjafjallajökull is going to force the wider adoption of social tools as air travel once again becomes rare.