When I was at IDC and newly researching the social media space, I reported on a world of possibility that was opening up to us and radically changing the way we communicated and the way we organized ourselves for collaboration. But connecting dots in a theoretical way and actually working in a new and different way are two entirely different things.
I was fortunate to have a network that kept recommending, prodding and poking me to try things. Back in early 2007 I started hearing from a lot of people that I should try out Twitter. Like many business executives, my initial and recurring reaction was that it sounded silly, and therefore couldn’t possibly be a productive thing to explore (despite its simplicity). It took more than six months of regular exposure and finally Aaron Strout telling me that it was not about sharing what I had for breakfast but a way to monitor and share what I was thinking and exploring. A few important things happened after that that got me almost immediately to an ‘aha’ moment about its power:
- I was welcomed: Aaron reached out, welcomed me, and introduced me around providing me immediately with a comfortable context and relevant people to follow.
- I already knew some participants: Mukund Mohan, Bill Johnston and others I knew were already actively using Twitter (and making me feel like it was worthwhile because they were worthwhile to me).
- Connections were exposed: When I realized Aaron, Mukund & Bill all knew each other and I could see the breadth of conversations they were having with each other, independent of my interests, I realized the powerful access the tool gave me in understanding a broader scope of their interests, which in turn allowed me to more quickly understand them and build relationships.
It’s interesting to go back and look at my conversion process because the amount of time it took to change my behavior relative to the ease of the behavior change is somewhat surprising but I suspect it is not that different for most other people, and especially executives. However, I believe it is critical for executives that hope to pursue a social business strategy to personally understand and use social approaches (we would call this a community management approach) – and the value proposition for executives that are constantly looking for ways to extend themselves and scale is huge. At the end of it all, if leaders do not change, their organizations will not change.
The other reason it is critical for executives to change is that currently, even those that support social initiatives are not ‘all in’ and it is leading to one of the biggest risks I see to the success of social business – the squeeze felt by most community teams and the broader lack of commitment to services that complement and make social technologies successful. This lack of resources to really make social approaches successful suggests an ambivalence on the part of sponsoring executives in that they think it is worth exploring but it is not yet imperative to ensure it succeeds.
At The Community Roundtable we believe that to succeed and excel, executives in all areas of the business need to understand the power of a social approach for themselves and that their own social experience, more than anything else, will tip the balance between an organization that sees this as an nice-to-have technology and a business imperative.
There has been plenty of research recently demonstrating that social technologies have caught the attention of executives. IBM, McKinsey & MIT have all produced some excellent analysis. But there is a missing gap: understanding how executives themselves change from interest to experimentation to regular use to integration with their daily worksflows. I’m excited to announce that this fall, The Community Roundtable is doing some groundbreaking research in this area titled The Social Executive. We will be looking at how executive stakeholders move through the following stages of change – from a traditional approach to executive leadership and management to one that slowly adopts more of the techniques, approaches and principals of social business.
We believe that community management is a discipline of general management and that the better executives understand community management, the more effective they will be in the networked age. If you are interested in this research initiative, please let us know by filling out the short form below.