Accelerating Innovation

On the day we announced our crowdsourcing plan for the advisory board for our Mayo Clinic Center for Social Media, Seth Godin ironically had a post called “Beyond Crowdsourcing.” It was a riff on the latest TED talk from Chris Anderson. Both of these guys are among my heroes.

I hope you find this video as interesting and inspiring as I did, and that you will pass it along. And check out Seth’s blog, too. It will give you a daily dose of a different perspective to challenge your thinking.

Who knows what innovations you might build upon Seth’s insights?

On World Peace, Labor Day and Blocking Facebook

I’m as big an advocate of social media as you’re likely to meet. Still, I think Washington Post columnist Kathleen Parker went a bit overboard in yesterday’s offering, Facebook and social media offer the potential of peace:

Not to be a Pollyanna, but it is striking to realize that peace becomes plausible when barriers to communication are eliminated. More than 500 million people use Facebook alone. Of those, 70 percent are outside the United States. MySpace has 122 million monthly active users, and Twitter reports 145 million registered users.

I actually think Ms. Parker does have a bit of the Pollyanna principle running through her argument. And it’s kind of nice for me to have people like her occupying the “extreme optimism” end of the social media spectrum. It makes me seem more moderate. I agree that building more friendship connections is helpful, but I’m not anticipating a Nobel Peace Prize for Mark Zuckerberg.

While I don’t see social media ending the Middle East conflict, I do see these tools playing a huge role in connecting and strengthening relationships within organizations and among those with common interests.

That leads me to one of Parker’s paragraphs that I thought was particularly illuminating, as it relates to the practice of many companies in blocking access to social media sites from their corporate networks:

Obviously, some countries don’t like these media for the very reasons we do. People talk. Facebook is blocked in Syria and China and until recently was also blocked in Iran, Pakistan and Bangladesh. Where freedom flourishes, so do open channels of communication.

As we celebrate Labor Day in the United States, maybe opening access to social media sites at work wouldn’t rank among the all-time achievements for employee-friendly workplaces. It probably won’t usher in a Millennium of peace, either.

But at least it would make your company more open than China, Syria and Iran.

Does your company block access to Facebook, Twitter and YouTube at work?

Hoping for an Augustinian Turnabout

It seems a gang of rampaging ruffians has brought Trouble (with a capital T) SMUG’s global headquarters. Don’t let the chirping birds fool you:

When I spoke with the police officer who arrived on the scene, he told me this had been the fifth report of such vandalism overnight in Northwest Austin. It seems a group of young lads had been out joyriding with a pellet gun, and shooting out windows in vehicles parked on the street.

Not that we know who they are…or that they are even lads. Maybe they’re lasses.

I realized after shooting this video that our situation was worse than I thought, because it wasn’t just the one window that was affected. Two other windows had been shot, but just hadn’t shattered. So I guess the hoodlums kept going until they got satisfaction.

These two would actually be interesting looking, if they weren’t dangerous…and if they didn’t cost several hundred dollars to fix. Click to enlarge:

St. Augustine said he discovered the evil in his heart when he stole his neighbor’s pears, even though he didn’t like pears. He just stole for the sake of stealing. He became the greatest theologian in the first millennium of the Christian church.

For their sake, I hope these young lads will come to a similar realization and turnabout.

The 36th Thesis

Just as Martin Luther’s 95 Theses posted on October 31, 1517 on the church door at Wittenberg were not a comprehensive statement of his theology, the 35 Social Media Theses posted on the wall of SMUG 492 years later also were just a beginning of the discussion. So here for your reaction is the 36th thesis, which I’ve been trying out in some recent presentations:

If your organization can’t find a way to constructively use free tools that enable deep, two-way communication with anyone, anywhere, anytime, your real problem is lack of imagination.

If someone gave you free and unlimited long-distance calling, or the ability to send letters through the mail without paying postage, would you not find ways to take advantage of those opportunities?

Of course, with social media tools you don’t just get to send your messages for free: you also get to hear from key stakeholders, whether they be customers, prospects, employees or the community.

Maybe you’re doing fine without these tools, and you’re feeling really happy with how your organization is performing (although I doubt it, given the overall state of the economy.)

If you’re comfortable with the status quo, you can be confident of one thing: you’re too confident. If you don’t use these powerful communication tools, a competitor will. And it may not even be someone you consider a competitor today. After all, Blockbuster didn’t see Netflix coming.

So if you can’t think of a way to effectively use social media in your organization, or if the barriers to adoption seem too high, you need to think harder. Or, in the words of the famous Apple slogan:

Which is, after all, what the first 35 Social Media Theses were all about. You don’t need to be an Einstein. Just think like MacGyver.

Thesis 14: Strategic Thinking about Social Media is no Substitute for Action

At a certain level, it’s important to think strategically about how your organization will use social media.

After all, if Thesis 4 is true, and if social media really are the defining communications trend of the third millennium, then using these powerful tools in a way that aligns with your overall strategy just makes good business sense.

Strategy is “a plan of action or policy designed to achieve a major or overall aim.” Aimless use of social media is no better than aimless advertising or product development research. It’s never a good idea to devote your organization’s time and resources to an activity that doesn’t relate in some way to an overall strategy. Aimless is pointless.

As B.L. Ochman has chronicled, there’s no shortage of self-proclaimed gurus, experts, specialists and strategists — nearly 16,000 at her last count — on Twitter. She also has a good post on “The only two questions you need to ask your prospective social media agency.” The problem I see with many of the self-proclaimed “gurus” is that they lack experience in tying social media to organizational strategy, and as B.L. says, “they’ll be learning on your dime.”

It’s much better for YOU to learn on your dime. Or your time.

After all, you know the strategic initiatives in your organization. The outside consultants and agencies don’t. Instead of paying them to learn about your organization, why not take the time to learn about social media so you can see how these tools can support your goals?

There is certainly a place for agencies to help in this area, especially if you have more money than time. They may be able to help you refine your plans, and bring perspective from other similar organizations to help you sell management on your plans.

But instead of insisting that you have a grand, fully developed strategy before embarking in social media (and which is accompanied by a hefty planning and consulting price tag that will make the ROI harder to prove,) I would suggest there are some goals compatible with social media strategies that apply for most organizations.

So here are a few goals you might want to pursue in the new year, using social media:

  1. Improving communication and collaboration among employees. Find a work unit in part of your organization that doesn’t deal with your most proprietary or confidential information, and encourage those employees to pilot use of Yammer, PBWiki or other networking and collaboration tools.
  2. Preventing brand-jacking. Claim your organization’s name on popular social networking sites to keep impostors from posing as you. That’s what we did with our Mayo Clinic Twitter account, Facebook page and Mayo Clinic YouTube channel.
  3. Improving customer service. Use social media tools like Twitter to listen to customers. Comcastcares is an example of this.
  4. Reaching niche “audiences” with in-depth content, and helping those “audiences” coalesce into communities. A YouTube channel, blogs and podcasts all may be good tools to use in reaching this goal, as you can provide information and resources to people who really want it, instead of using expensive advertising to interrupt those who don’t.
  5. Learning all you can about social media. By becoming conversant in social media and accustomed to its norms and mores, you’ll see many more specific applications for your work that will support your organization’s goals. I can recommend lots of books, but hands-on experience is essential to understanding. That’s why you might want to become a SMUGgle.

Your social media strategy doesn’t have to be perfect right away. In fact, I believe it should continually evolve as you learn more about the tools and see new applications.

The other point I want to emphasize from the definition of strategy is that it is a “plan of action….” Action without a goal is likely unproductive, but planning without action is even worse. By acting rashly without full consideration you might possibly do the right thing: you could just get lucky. But analysis paralysis means you will consume resources with no hope of accomplishing anything.

So those who seem to be the greatest defenders of strategy run the risk of undermining it.

To avoid this, identify one or two goals for your use of social media, either picking from the list above or something else you have in mind. Goal #5 can always be your personal entry point, if necessary.

Then execute against that plan, putting your strategy into action. General (and later President) Dwight Eisenhower famously said “plans are useless, but planning is indispensable.” I believe his wisdom is best applied in an almost continuous planning process that is accompanied by continuous execution and modification.

Remember, it’s a lot easier to steer a moving car than it is to get it started from a dead stop. If you find yourself going off course, you can always steer back or even tap on the brake. And by choosing some small but well-defined (and likely successful) social media projects, you can build momentum.

In a future post, I’ll tell how we used a series of mini-plans at Mayo Clinic to grow into full-scale incorporation of social media. We’ve had some minor course corrections along the way, but through the process we’ve learned a lot and built momentum that will help carry us forward.