xkcd's Online Communities Map
xkcd’s Online Communities Map

Blogging, Tweeting and “the” Facebooks are now deeply part of the modern business culture. We all have some sort of feeling that our communities built around our business are powerful marketing tools, or at the very least, a way of sending 10% off coupons to our existing clients. Whether our communities are really interested in some of the things we talk about or not is up for debate, but like any good arms race, NOT participating while your competitors are is a good enough reason for most firms to take the Social Networking thing seriously.

The problem is that constantly updating your blog, twitter account and Facebook status is time consuming, boring and expensive (not necessarily in that order.) These days, larger organizations have “Social Media Experts” or out source the work to specialist companies to handle it for them. We do some of this our selves at Sourcetoad for a number of clients and they seem pretty happy with not having to do it. But most small to medium size companies don’t have the cash to throw at an employee or company to constantly be churning out interesting tidbits for their customers to read. You also run into problems with some of the instantly gratifying uses of Social systems that can be used inside your organization like Wikis. So why is any of this stuff important and who is going to do it all?

Well lets look at why this stuff might actually help your bottom line first, and then find a couple of ways to do it.

First off, the internal stuff. Now unless you have a massive organization with an active social calendar, there isn’t a whole lot of use for something like an internal social network. Short of an intranet extension listing, you’re better off just having a locked down Facebook page if your employees are hanging out after work. But there are a few things that would be useful to have inside your walls.

A company wiki or knowledge-base can be an incredibly useful piece of IP for your business. If your company had a living document center that was open to all, and actually used, your would slowly build a great set of instructions, job profiles, best practices, common issues, company policies etc, for both new and existing employees to use as a resource. The thing is they would have to use it in order for it to pay dividends. Trying to move a culture to any new form of doing business is tough, let alone one that requires anyone to do any more work! But think about it; how many times has your sales manager had to email a sales person that application form, or explain the CRM system to a new employee. They’ve probably already written the same instructions 20 times, and are pretty sick of it. Getting a couple of key leaders in your organization to contribute what they’ve already written to the Wiki would be a great priming of the pump, and with minimal training, everyone else in the company could jump on the band wagon. Wouldn’t it be great to have a single repository of knowledge that anyone could read and contribute to? From the CEO posting a company history, to the CFO writing a document on how they do RFPs way down to the Janitorial staff laying out the cleaning supplies needed for the lab areas. It is tough to get right, but I’ve seen it work so well in a number of companies that I don’t know why it is not standard instructional material for MBA classes.

Cracking the Social Network Code
Cracking the Social Network Code

The second aspect of the “Social” trend is the external marketing side. We want to have a bunch of content on our blog because it’s the modern client newsletter, search engine food to attract new customers, and also a good place to post common issues that you can point your clients to when they run into problems. Facebook and Twitter are great for quick updates to your base, letting people know when new information, products and services are available as well as a great way to get feedback on your business. But both of these have the same problem: who the hell is going to do all this work?

Well the solution is simple: Everyone! If you have ten folks in your business, it becomes pretty easy to have an active Interwebs social life. All you really have to do is split the work up into easy to manage, bite size pieces and make it required. It doesn’t matter if you are a plumbing company or a large IT firm, everyone can do it. In fact, if you are a small plumbing company, you are probably going to benefit much more, because your competition is significantly less likely to be doing the same thing.
So! What you do is put an administrative person inside your organization in charge of the blog. They don’t have to be an expert, just someone who can read and write and knows when something should or shouldn’t be said. Then, make up a calendar with everyone in the company’s name scheduled. Have ten worker bees? Make a schedule of two blog posts a week in a five-week cycle. That means that every five weeks, one of your employees has to write a 250-word article about whatever they want to, as long as it relates to the core business. It doesn’t matter if they’re a budding novelist or not, anyone can churn out 250 words about something. And who is going to complain about having to write something every five weeks? It gets written, sent to the person in charge of the Social Stuff, briefly edited to sound something like English, and then turned loose on the world.

Now you might think that a plumbing firm would have a limited amount of interesting information they could post on their site, but, surprisingly, people who work on a task every day normally end up knowing a lot about what they do. We’ve done this with plumbers (as you can tell from my consistent example), Roofers, cookie bakers, and even bankers! And the results have been startling.

If he can do it....
If he can do it….

After setting up a small website for a roofing company, we put them on a blog writing schedule. At first there was a lot of complaining and grumbling, but within a few weeks, something amazing started happing; the actual roofers started competing with each other over who could write the better post, and who could get the most hits. Within a few months, the small Michigan-based roofing firm was number one on Google for their city name and pretty much anything to do with roofing. They were putting up an article every two days! The quality of the writing was not heart-achingly beautiful prose, but it was very useful, well thought-out information written by people who know a lot about roofs. We built a simple extension to post their article headings to their Facebook status and twitter feed and low and behold, an entire Social Network presence for a roofing company, something nothing of their competitors even came close to. And the punch line? Sales went up by 35% within five months! That’s right; 25 to 45 minutes per month per employee had an ROI of 35%. I don’t think there is anything in the known business universe that can come close to that. Now the reason it was so astonishing was that they’re in a pretty technologically impaired industry, so their competition was terribly organized, and the simple act of a blogging campaign brought in around 50-60 internet leads a month, when before they had none, but that’s kind of the point. The more you leverage this type of distributed work, and the smaller your niche, the more successful you’ll be with this type of strategy. Obviously if you’re doing something like selling books online, this is not going to but it, but if you’re in a field where most of your competitors are sitting on their hands, you’re going to make a big splash.

Previous ArticleNext Article
I help cruise lines turn their technical ideas into reality. I'm experienced in all stages of innovation and technology management. I've also been programing since I was 8 years old, and have somehow retained the ability to have normal human interactions. Occasionally I speak about how Industrial Psychology and Neurophysiology can be interrogated with IT and systems management, because I spend a lot of time thinking about the subject, as strange as that may seem.

Leave a Reply

Potential Solutions to the Great IT Cultural Divide

Last post I talked about how the strong cultural bond in IT departments (and nerd/geek culture in general), can damage organizational trust, cohesion, general pleasantness and ultimately profit. Now let’s look at drilling down into the rest of the organization and see if we can’t find some solutions…

Never a truer acronym written in jest

The problem is that critically necessary information, in any situation, is scattered in different departments and at different levels throughout any organization. This is the reason that command and control management does not work any more. It is the reason why managers cannot go into their offices, close the door and write operational plans in splendid isolation. It is the reason why collaborative intelligence is the new gold in our economy.

Now stand back from IT culture, of all types, for a moment. Imagine that you are not special, wonderful, highly-creative, technologically-gifted, but simply people who are part of a world of complexity, needing to collaborate with others, needing knowledge of other perspectives. Needing “Diversity for IT people”.

Would you really want her job?

Let’s drill down into a couple of other departments, and look at their subcultures. Here’s a guy in telemarketing. You probably instinctively despise him, but he gets up every morning and makes 500 calls to people who usually tell him to F*** off. He does this 8 hours a day, for 280 days a year. Without him, your organization wouldn’t work. Your ideas of how his software should work are all very well, but he knows things you don’t know.

Move on to the warehouse. Here’s a 60-year-old lady who tracks and picks and ships thousands of different widgets, none of which you could recognize. Sadly, there is no air-conditioning. Perhaps she knows something you don’t?

Anyone who does not live under a rock knows that technology tools, products, skills and services will dominate our future; no single occupation has all the knowledge required to produce a best-possible solution to any business issue.

As IT understands it’s own culture and sub-cultures, it becomes more able to understand and flex to the cultures around it, building people and thinking skills to serve it’s business partners.

Other disciplines have thinking tools to help. Other occupations have knowledge we need, as badly as they need ours.

Aaah, Science Jokes...

A POTENTIAL solution

This is something I’ve borrowed from Competency and Performance Solutions:


The IQ symbol: critical thinking skills and the varied intelligences that make up cognition. Thinking skills are most useful when one has the conscious ability to use formal thinking tools (SWOTs, decision matrixes, cause and effect analyses, etc.) and understand thinking skills themselves as a toolbox of various skills, to use alone and with other people.

The EQ symbol represents the clusters of skills usually covered by emotional intelligence: the competencies in the intrapersonal, interpersonal, and communication domain. EQ grows with your own interest in, and insights into the self, with a positive, open-minded and non-judgmental exploration of your own needs, values, personality, and ways of relating to others.

The TQ symbol represents technological intelligence, the group of skills, knowledge and attitudes that are an essential part of managing information sharing and collaborative work in the technology-based Age of Knowledge. This is obviously the geek’s strongest card.

Word to the L.T!

So add them all up and you get Collaborative Intelligence. The CQ is this idea that if you are to function in a modern organization, you need to have the full set of “Intelligences”. This may not be as true for the programmer at his desk, but vital for a project manager or any IT person actually aspiring to be something more than a code jockey or cable nerd. The very process of looking at this issue will help adjust peoples’ attitudes and ideas about the bubbles that their alien co-workers semi-coexist in.

Training is another way to handle these types of revaluation moments. A skilled facilitator with a good idea on how to structure an organizational cultural study could help the different groups understand better ways to deal with each other. Training companies all over the country are cashing in on teaching inter-generational understanding because organizations have realized the costs associated with the tensions between the Gen-Ys and the rest of the work force – why can’t we apply this same type of understanding to inter-company cultures. An organization could quite easily sponsor a “bring your nerd to work day” where IT folk could go play in the warehouse for the day or get taught the basics of the HR department.

As IT understands it’s own culture and sub-cultures, it becomes more able to understand and flex to the cultures around it, building people and thinking skills to serve it’s business partners.

My Nerd Credentials

Well if you got this far through this post and you would like to read the rest, remember that this is Part 3 of a three part series, and you can find the others here in Part 1 and Part 2.