Last night I attended the Social Media Club of Boston 5th Anniversary Celebration: The Evolution of Social Business. It featured a panel with Alistar Rennie, General Manager, Social Business and Collaboration Solutions, IBM; Andy Carusone from Lowe’s Home Improvement; and Ric Fulop, North Bridge Venture Partners.
Alistar talked about how IBM got involved with social media. In 2004 they were working to become more integrated on a global basis. They built some collaborative tools for their own use that become products for clients. But it much more that tools. They used social tools to help define their values to better establish trust.
At the same time they found that their clients were experiencing the same issues. Over the past several years the conversations have gone from tools to how to better organize the business. The discussion now is how to leverage the network of people. He mentioned CEMEX that wanted to integrate their people on a global basis. CEMEX wanted to reduce product introduction time by 50%. In a former life, I did some work for them in Mexico. They sell concrete and make a lot of money doing it through better use of technology. He said we will see a change in how organizations are structured. Command and control will be gone. The issue is now how to drive faster decision-making and innovation
Andy focused inside the firewall. He discussed what Lowe’s is doing for employee connections. Two years ago he got put into the social media effort. The history of Lowe’s is making home improvement simpler. This goal has guided all their efforts. Home improvement changed in the 80s to the big box store from small stores. Now people do not want to just experience home improvement at a store. They want to experience it at their homes on the Web. To make the home improvement experience simple when it is actually complex, Lowe’s needed to connect their enterprise.
The conversations on social media are now not about tools but performance. They needed to inspire their workforce to move their work out loud. They needed to create light-weight workflows. With social media, solutions are going viral. Instead of asking their supervisor, employees are asking the enterprise through social media.
Ric Fulop said he has been starting companies since he was 16. Now he is an investor after doing nine startups. His firm has funded over 100 companies. They are now focused on very early stage companies. They funded Acquia and helped it get started (see Acquia Provides Drupal Commons to Support Open Source Enterprise Collaboration).
He talked about three trends after looking at over 1,000 business plans every year: consumerization of the enterprise, conversational Web, and next generation optimization. Consumerization of the enterprise will mean information about companies will become more local and granular with more user-generated content. The conversational Web means that if you put up information, there are many comments. Now there is much more attention to the comments. Next generation optimization means that you can bypass IT to upgrade or change things.
The questions started:
Lowe’s uses IBM Connections inside the firewall for their over 250,000 employees. They have over 6,000 communities. Their CEO is the fourth largest blogger in the community. This is part of his strategy to better connect with employees. Now you can go beyond awareness to commitment because of the better engagement. Andy said that social media did not change their culture. It exposed it and this is what they needed. They needed to move away from control. Hearing the complaints is even more helpful that the complements because then you can address them. Some companies are not ready for this. The CEO recognizes this.
I asked Ric about startups that are looking at the Voice of the Customer and Voice of the Employee – monitoring what people are saying within the enterprise. Ric mentioned firms like Get Satisfaction for customer feedback, Shopify for social commerce, Otimizly, and other tools. These were all Web focused tools.
Andy mentioned that they are listening to the voice of the employee. Their stores are quite different by location. In the past messages were delivered by top down. Now you needed to have networked conversations about initiative. They need dialogue, not feedback. Feedback is not interactive. The do not use monitoring tools but they have tens of thousands of employees o monitoring what is being said and responding to it.
Someone asked about who is commenting on the Web. He does not do it. Ric said Google now indexes comments. There is very valuable information there. The tool, Discuss, said they have close to 50 million comments within 500 million readers. In Engadget some articles have over 5,000 comments to a short article. Contenly helps companies generate content that generate comments. The commenters are the people who care about the product.
A question: How do you accommodate different cultures in social media? Alistair said they are seeing more common behavior rather than differences and they have been studying this a lot. One issue to work through is getting language translation in place so people can speak in their natural language. They wil be more engaged this way. Ric mentioned Hyperlocal and Local Response that deal with these issues for companies. Local Response can tell you what everyone in Twitter said about your company.
To a question about IT, Andy said the Lowe’s IT group is one of the most progressive uses of social media. Alistair said some of the best companies are looking at how to take the information gained through social media and making actual changes.
Andy said the social media behind the firewall is not an application that people should be required to use such as a payroll system. You need an culture of opt in. He added that you cannot measure value of social media by counting stuff. ROI is not the issue. Make sure you are measuring the right thing. It is change in performance. Measure outcomes. They needed a difference type of performance at Lowe’s and social media enabled it. Companies who are successful will not look at social media as an IT project, but a business project. You will not get 100% engagement but they do have 90% participation at Lowe’s.
This was an entertaining and useful session.