Does the CIO have a role in successful social media adoption?

Like everyone else who’s awake, my long-time friend and colleague Keri Pearlson and I have been trying to make sense out of the uptake of new "social" technologies into organizations. We are noodling on the hypothesis that the CIO represents the best choice if an organization wants to develop a social technology strategy that is both effective and reasonably efficient in the demands it exacts on the organization.

Saying the Dell or P&G has a social technology strategy is a common shorthand that obscures a more important truth. There are real people in specific roles who take on the responsibility for developing and deploying the collection of initiatives and programs that get labeled as an organization’s social technology strategy. The specific people and the particular functions involved greatly influence the success or failure of these initiatives

Some manager in marketing experiments with Twitter or a fan page on Facebook. A lawyer in the general counsel’s office raises a concern about whether an employee comment on Twitter creates a liability for the corporation. A divisional general who still has his assistant print out his email traffic creates a task force to develop a corporate social media policy proposal. While there may be no right answer for how an organization handles social media, these choices matter. The hypothesis that we are considering is this:

The CIO represents an excellent choice for who should coordinate an organization’s approach to social media/social networking.

Why we think this is a reasonable hypothesis

From an IT manager’s perspective, the technologies of social media/social networking appear quite simple. They are either web services hosted outside the firewall or they are very simple new capabilities hosted on internal servers. Compared with the complexities of a global ERP system, a distributed point-of-sale system, or a terabyte-scale data warehouse, social media/social networking capabilities are technologically trivial. Why then are they a problem relevant to the IT function? Why not simply let ownership and management of these capabilities reside in the business?

First, much of the value in social media/social networking lies in the masses of data they generate. Whether in the content of employees at Microsoft blogging internally or publicly about their work or in the network linkage data embedded in the interactions among customers and customer service staff using @ComcastCares on Twitter, there are masses of data to be managed and manipulated. IT knows and understands the issues that arise when dealing with data on this scale. Moreover, they understand how to filter through and extract insight from this data.

Second, there is huge potential value in connecting activity in social networking venues to specific business process steps embedded in the current enterprise support environment. This too constitutes an area where IT’s existing perspectives add value as social media/networking activity moves from experiment to operating at scale.

Third, many of the issues with social media/social networking cross functional boundaries in the organization. IT as a group routinely handles cross-functional issues in designing and deploying other technology around the organization. They will have established relationships with the right people around the organization and they will be sensitive to the kinds of organizational issues that arise in cross-functional undertakings.

The general point is that experiments with these technologies will occur naturally in multiple spots throughout the organization. As these experiments grow in scale and scope the particular management challenges that will appear fall squarely in the sweet spot of the IT function.

What we’re doing next

Organizational work is messy and complex. Social technologies are messy and complex. Put the two together and you have mess squared.

What that means is that there aren’t any maps and there aren’t any checklists. There is no cookbook or operating manual to follow. Not yet, at any rate.

The appropriate research strategy now is to capture and start to understand the messy stories of what is actually going on. It is too soon to strip the story down to its essentials, because we can’t yet differentiate critical step from colorful detail.

We are looking to develop case studies of what organizations are actually doing. At this point, it is premature to be distilling these stories into a coherent and over simplified narrative. For now, it is enough to get multiple stories of successful, failed, and too soon to tell efforts. Comparing and contrasting those stories will begin to reveal the patterns of what matters. if you’re interested, drop one of us a line or leave us a comment.

Odds of being a terrorism victim on a flight

What this graphic and the underlying data analysis show more than anything else is how little evidence and rational analysis have to do with most decisions by most people.  We can lament that all we want. If you’re running a lottery, you make money off this predictable irrationality. On the other hand, if you’re committed to seeing more decisions based on evidence, then you’ve got a challenge.


Nate Silver of collected the data for this handsome infographic designed by Jesus Diaz of Gizmodo. It shows your odds of becoming an airborne victim of terrorism. Maybe the new TSA rules will decrease the odds of being a terrorism victim from 1 in 10,408,947 to 1 in 10,408,948. Let’s hope so!

The True Odds of Airborne Terror Chart

Odds of being a terrorism victim on a flight
Mark Frauenfelder
Wed, 30 Dec 2009 22:09:37 GMT

Learning to love the backchannel

Just before Thanksgiving I was at the KM World 2009 conference in San Jose listening to a keynote presentation by Charlene Li. Like many others, I was tweeting during her presentation and posted the following:


At just about the same time, on the right coast, danah boyd of Microsoft was delivering a keynote at the Web 2.0 Expo in New York City that didn’t go as well. Her experience and the subsequent conversation around it represent the latest installment in the evolving relationship between audience and presenter. It also contains comparable lessons for the successful adoption of social media within the enterprise.

If you ever expect to stand and deliver in front of a group, these are issues you need to think about beforehand. That can be as adrenaline inducing as boyd’s keynote or as seemingly innocuous as running a status meeting while the team focuses on their laptops, Blackberrys, and iphones.

I’ve been gathering and organizing links to some of the more useful and informative material I’ve found on this topic. For starters, here are some key pointers specific to boyd’s experience, including her own reflections and assessment:

danah body isn’t the only one dealing with this new relationship between audience and speaker. Here are some other accounts and overviews of other less than successful encounters, both recent and not-so-recent:

Fortunately, we’re also starting to see some good advice emerging on how to cope:

These examples are highly visible. They also take place in settings where you have the additional problems of a degree of anonymity that seems to encourage a level of boorishness more reminiscent of middle school than anything else. At the same time, they are also leading indicators of a default working environment that will be more public and transparent than we are accustomed to or comfortable with. Paying attention here and thinking through what lessons are available and how they translate into other settings is time well spent. Some of the questions on my mind include:

  • Where and when can you influence the tenor of the backchannel? As a presenter? As a conference organizer? As a member of the audience?
  • What can you do before the fact to set useful expectations or standards of interaction?
  • What can you do in the moment?
  • What can you do after the fact?
  • What’s likely to differ in more private venues? What will differ for the better? For worse?
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On not being surprised by the future

The future is already here. It’s just unevenly distributed
                            William Gibson

A recent discussion about bad television science fiction versus what good science fiction can be illuminates the challenge of coping with today’s technology environment in everyday organizational reality.

It started with a recent speech by Star Trek writer Ron Moore:

At his recent keynote speech at the New York Television Festival, former Star Trek writer and creator of the re-imagined Battlestar Galactica Ron Moore revealed the secret formula to writing for Trek.

He described how the writers would just insert "tech" into the scripts whenever they needed to resolve a story or plot line, then they’d have consultants fill in the appropriate words (aka technobabble) later.

"It became the solution to so many plot lines and so many stories," Moore said. "It was so mechanical that we had science consultants who would just come up with the words for us and we’d just write ‘tech’ in the script. You know, Picard would say ‘Commander La Forge, tech the tech to the warp drive.’ I’m serious. If you look at those scripts, you’ll see that."

Moore calls Star Trek’s tech "meaningless"

This triggered an excellent rant by Charlie Stross, one of today’s best science fiction authors, on his blog about Why I Hate Star Trek. Here’s the key point for me:

…I start by trying to draw a cognitive map of a culture, and then establish a handful of characters who are products of (and producers of) that culture. The culture in question differs from our own: there will be knowledge or techniques or tools that we don’t have, and these have social effects and the social effects have second order effects much as integrated circuits are useful and allow the mobile phone industry to exist and to add cheap camera chips to phones: and cheap camera chips in phones lead to happy slapping or sexting and other forms of behaviour that, thirty years ago, would have sounded science fictional. And then I have to work with characters who arise naturally from this culture and take this stuff for granted, and try and think myself inside their heads. Then I start looking for a source of conflict, and work out what cognitive or technological tools my protagonists will likely turn to to deal with it.


The biggest weakness of the entire genre is this: the protagonists don’t tell us anything interesting about the human condition under science fictional circumstances. The scriptwriters and producers have thrown away the key tool that makes SF interesting and useful in the first place, by relegating "tech" to a token afterthought rather than an integral part of plot and characterization. What they end up with is SF written for the Pointy-Haired [studio] Boss, who has an instinctive aversion to ever having to learn anything that might modify their world-view. The characters are divorced from their social and cultural context…

Why I hate Star Trek
Tue, 13 Oct 2009 11:01:45 GMT

There are two common responses to thinking about how technology impacts today’s organizations. In Pointy-Haired Boss mode, the constants of human behavior and motivation are ALL that matter. The background sets might be shinier, but it’s still just a soap opera and being in tune with human drama and politics is what separates winners and losers. In technology singularity mode, there are no people to clutter up the shiny sets. Neither of these common approaches is very useful, although both have the useful property of not requiring a great deal of thought or work. Unfortunately, it puts pointy-haired bosses at the mercy of snake-oil salesmen and marginalizes technocrats.

The third way requires that you become more comfortable operating where technology and people collide. Depending on your own background and predispositions you may need to invest time in learning more about people or technology. Both benefit if you get your experience first hand whenever possible. Second hand experience can also make a difference. That can take the form of tracking down the better case studies of organizations succeeding and failing with new technology. I would also advocate adding a dash (or more) of good science fiction, if you have a taste for fiction in general. Here are some suggested starting points:

What have you found helpful? Either in terms of recommended reading or in terms of useful practices?

Social media experience at Mayo Clinic

PNG version of this image

Image via Wikipedia

[cross posted at FASTforward blog]

At last week’s Blogwell 2 conference in Chicago, Lee Aase from the Mayo Clinic shared their efforts to use social media to continue to share the Clinic’s message with the existing extended community tightly and loosely surrounding them. The Mayo Clinic has built a worldwide reputation over the course of many decades. Fundamentally, that reputation is a function of word of mouth. That makes social media in all forms a natural fit for Mayo.

They are working across multiple fronts included a fan page on Facebook, multiple blogs, a YouTube channel, and Twitter. At the conference, Lee announced their most recent effort, Sharing Mayo Clinic, which is intended as a place to share people stories about the Clinic and to serve as a hub around which other social media efforts and coalesce.

i was struck by a number of things in Lee’s presentation and Mayo’s overall efforts. First and foremost was the value of simply diving in and learning from their experiences. Coupled with that was the additional leverage found in thinking systemically. The heart of their strategy here is to find and share the human stories connected to the Clinic every day. The technologies serve as multiple ways to get the story out and Lee and his team (which is much smaller than I would have predicted) are smart enough to not get in the way of those stories.

For example, although they are making extensive use of video in their storytelling, they are using the Flip Video Camcorder instead of a more complex (and intimidating) video set up. What they are learning is that the Flip provides good enough production values and doesn’t get in the way of the storytelling. I suspect that there’s more craft involved than Lee let on, but not so much that it is out of reach for any organization that’s willing to make a few mistakes in the early stages.

Lee closed with an intriguing observation about the value of Mayo’s investments in social media. Here’s how he put it:

As I approaches 0, ROI approaches infinity

I suspect that the average CFO would be a bit suspicious, but there’s an important point here. The financial investments in social media can start at zero and don’t need to get terribly far away. The real investments are in organizational time and attention and what Lee and others are demonstrating is that those costs are also readily manageable. Answering questions about ROI does not necessarily entail using a spreadsheet.


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Blogwell 2 conference in Chicago – simple works

In recent years I’ve taken to avoiding conferences unless I find my way onto the agenda or some other active role. Too many conferences have become thinly and poorly veiled marketing exercises by sponsors who seem to believe that the participants cannot distinguish between substantive content and a sales pitch. Or perhaps don’t particularly care what participants think.

I broke my rule last week and decided to attend the Blogwell conference in Chicago, organized by Andy Sernovitz and the folks at GasPedal. Fortunately, Blogwell broke the rules as well and it proved to be a worthwhile afternoon that justified the investment of my time and attention. The conference design that made this work was trivially simple. The conference organizers collected eight users of blogs, Twitter, and other social media and let them share their stories. Some of them were good story tellers; some had useful lessons learned. A couple managed to combine both. But all did a good job of providing concrete reports from the field. There’s been a good deal of discussion during and after the conference on Twitter; the best way to track that is via Twitter Search.

Thanks to Andy Sernovitz and the folks at GasPedal for keeping it simple.


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Social media lessons from the Obama campaign

[cross posted at FAST Forward]

The Obama campaign was innovative on a number of dimensions, particularly with the use of social media and the effective leverage of committed volunteers. There’s been some good reporting that captures the ground truth of what the campaign actually did and some early efforts to make sense out of these facts in a way that offers lessons for those of us interested in their relevance to broader organizational and enterprise needs.

Use of social media

Effective use of engaged volunteers

Lessons for organizational design and strategy

Some links on social media applications within organizations

As part of my talk yesterday at the Social Media Strategies conference, I made passing reference to a number of stories, blog posts, bloggers, thinkers, and writers. It’s an occupational hazard of being a former professor.

I’ve written about different elements of yesterday’s talk over the course of various blog posts over time. Here are links to some of the most directly relevant together with links to other items I referenced:

Finally, I drew on a number of smarter people than I on the topics of expertise and organizational change. Here are some good entry points for further reading.

Seeing Organizational Patterns : A New Theory and Language of Organizational Design, Keidel, Robert W.
Keidel is an organizational theorist/designer who builds a very practical way of thinking and talking about organizations around the simple observation that all interactions in organizations can be understood in terms of the blend of control, cooperative, and autonomous ways of relating that organizational members can engage in. For the sports-minded, Keidel maps these three basic relating choices to the sports of American football, basketball, and baseball. He builds a nice case that organizational design choices can all be understood in terms of how these three fundamental relationship choices are mixed and blended.

Situated Learning: Legitimate Peripheral Participation, Lave, Jean
Jean Lave is an ethnographer working as part of Xerox’s Palo Alto Research Center. In this volume, Lave explores learning as primarily a social phenomenon and builds a very practical theory of how apprenticeship forms of skill acquisition and learning work in the real world.




Pragmatic Thinking and Learning: Refactor Your Wetware, Hunt, Andy
I’ve become a general fan of Andy Hunt’s pragmatic programming series of books. They are useful well beyond the narrow area of software development. In this new book, Hunt offers a useful introduction to the Dreyfus model of expertise and how it applies in the general context of knowledge work.




Quality Software Management (V1) : Systems Thinking, Weinberg, Gerald M.
The first of a four-volume exploration of the particular and peculiar challenges of managing the development and implementation of software. The first volume introduces fundamental notions of how to model and think about complex systems and how they respond to change. Weinberg adapts Virginia Satir’s family therapy theories to the environment of complex organizational environments.




Quality Software Management (V3): Congruent Action, Weinberg, Gerald M.

While all four volumes of Weinberg’s work are valuable, this volume on what Weinberg describes as “Congruent Action” is the most useful for understanding organizational change in concert with Volume 1.

Social Media Strategies Conference – presentation on internal communities

Here is the presentation I did today at the Social Media Strategies conference going on at the Stanford Court in San Francisco. We got some excellent input and interaction going. There should be a full size version of this graphic linked to this version.


I did this presentation using MindManager 7.0. It mostly worked, but not as well as I would have liked. The link to the MindManager file itself is below:

MindManager format file: Internal communities mindmap