Sharing is a cornerstone of what we humans do on the Web today, what puts the social in social media. We post pictures and video, offer opinions, ratings and reviews, volunteer our interests and locations. We reveal ourselves and our relationships in a billion different public acts every day.
Individually and collectively, we appear to be growing more comfortable living in public like this through our profiles, social networks and mobile communications.
Like all exponential changes, this shift in attitude and practice has crept up on us — it gradually and quietly gathered momentum over the “Web 2.0″ era of the last seven years. In the last several years, the volume and ubiquity of this sharing and conversing has gone supercritical. From Twitter, Tumblr, Facebook and LinkedIn to hundreds of other online avenues, sharing has become the defining quality of digital society.
Now businesses and organizations are seeking to adapt to the Social Web and incorporate this big switch in human behavior and cultural habits into their operations and strategies. At IBM — and consultancies such as Dachis and Altimeter — this new stratagem is often referred to as “social business.” It entails more than just business use of social software and networks for external purposes such as marketing. In the fuller view, social business is about re-shaping organizations to become more collaborative, communal and capable in fostering human relationships. Not surprisingly, such a new frontier is right in the wheelhouse of the strategy & transformation consulting services offered by Global Business Services (GBS), the part of IBM I work in.
The leader of my group in GBS communications, Christine Kinser, makes an excellent point about the human dynamics at the heart of social business — that our relationships (with colleagues and customers) are forged on trust, a shared sense of purpose and a willingness to share and build on each other’s ideas. In this sense I think you could say that a social business strives to be a much more human (and humane) kind of entity.
Like many IBM colleagues, I’m one of those early adopter types that constitutionally likes to try new things and share everywhere. Inside IBM, we share prodigiously through our intranet infrastructure of blogs, wikis, forums, file-sharing, social bookmarks and communities. Externally, we engage via a seemingly endless array of vehicles and methods (IBMers are, for example, one of the largest groups represented on the new Google Plus network). I am also fortunate that my knowledge-hunting, -gathering and -sharing is a central part of my job.
On this score, my informal social contract with IBM is pretty great — I’m not just able to devote time and energy to strategic sharing and innovating in social media, I am generally recognized and rewarded for leading by these examples.
In my view, more people, in more kinds of companies and in a wider range of roles, need this kind of clear charter. Social computing skills and best practices should no longer be limited to “evangelists” or enthusiasts, but should become an integral facet of professional business leadership. Just as organizations are starting to get serious about “socializing” functions such as HR, customer support and market research, an aspiring social business needs to get serious about professionalizing capabilities such as community management, social media relations and knowledge sharing.
It starts with determining the kind of social contract that each worker should have with the business — not just to be a good corporate citizen — but to be an effective social businessperson. By social contract, I don’t mean a formal agreement or legal document, but a more explicit understanding between organizations and their people (or at least across teams, departments and peers)… something more defined as official policy, doctrine or value.
(IBM developed one of the most emulated corporate Social Computing Guidelines, but it is centered on giving IBMers direction on how to delve responsibly in external social media and networking. It doesn’t really establish sharing and collaboration as part of every IBMer’s role or responsibility.) IBMers and workers elsewhere should know how they are expected to share their knowledge and expertise; in return, workers should be clear on how businesses and organizations will measure and reward that behavior.
If organizations want to become more innovative and productive by encouraging and rewarding their workforce to share, collaborate and build collective intelligence they must do more than grant permission for people to build relationships and share their experience inside and outside the organization. They must bake incentives for this new way of working into their policies, management systems and training programs. As I’ve discussed elsewhere (“Social Business 101″), becoming a social business is much more about changing culture than it is about technology or tools. And changing human behavior or organizational habits is among the tallest of orders.
Right now, many businesses don’t have the kind of social (business) contract with workers they need, and may even be discouraging sharing. Some companies forbid or restrict external social sharing, largely because they don’t have the systems, controls or guidelines to make these efforts constructive rather than the productivity drain they may perceive them to be. And most aren’t set up to measure and reward how well individual workers or teams share internally, cooperate or contribute to organizational intelligence and expertise development. As my colleague Ethan McCarty notes, some of the most valuable kinds of sharing — generosity of mind, thought leadership and the like — may be particularly hard to measure. What’s more, some workers believe that if social sharing isn’t specifically part of their performance metrics, they don’t have time for it.
As a canary in the social business coalmine, let me offer one personal example. Like many others I like to share — with colleagues, external influencers and online communities — toward the goal of making IBM a smarter organization and enhancing the company’s reputation and relationship with those I touch through the social sphere. I also benefit enormously from all that colleagues and people in my networks share with me. But I also want my peers and I to be recognized and rewarded for all of that ostensible selflessness. In truth, I’m not interested in being a prolific enabler of conversation and social interaction out of altruism, but because this approach is proving to deliver business value and utility.
Fortunately, new business analytics capabilities and online metrics promise to make sharing a commodity that can be monitored and quantified. I can imagine a kind of personal, social ROI emerging, something akin to the Klout rating that gauges people’s influence on Twitter, and now, LinkedIn, Facebook and Foursquare as well. In fact, IBM has an internal platform called Small Blue, which for those like me who opt in to participate, analyzes activity via Lotus Notes (email, instant message chats, meetings, etc) to better understand what I work on, who with, and what kind of expertise and influence I may possess. I’m willing to share all this daily dish on myself because I want our global organization to be able to know, and see, how deeply I am immersed in my focus areas, and how much I actually get done.
Some people might cringe, or be fearful, of this kind of personal openness or institutional data mining. I embrace it because I expect that the data I share (and over which which I have lots of privacy controls) will enhance my reputation and IBM’s ability to evaluate my contributions. As a knowledge worker in a very large, complex, global organization, I want my work and effort as a social business activist to be empirical and transparent, not just anecdotal, or based solely on the subjective opinions of managers or peers, (as much as I may enjoy working and collaborating with so many of them).
In my implicit social business contract with IBM, I’m willing to share a lot with the organization (and to its great benefit, I hope) if I benefit proportionally as a result. This same kind of give-and-take covenant underlies many of the “free” Web services and applications we use across the Social Web — we get music, maps and more in exchange for sharing our digital patterns and preferences. I’m willing to make that kind of grand bargain, if the social contract is a clear, win/win proposition.
So, what kind of social contract do you want with the organization you work within? What kind do you want with your peers? What do you see as the key obstacles or impediments to an organization becoming a social business? How do companies need to approach changing the way people work collaboratively, share knowledge and open up, inside and outside?
Jack Mason, IBM Global Business Services
(N.B. the image to the left is my Socialprint, a QR code that links to my mobile profile on Skanz … social media experimenting punches no time clock! Scan it with your smartphone and send me a message or comment)