Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Tolerating Failure

Important lessons can be learned from mistakes. It should be noted that any degree of innovation will, as a corollary, incur risk. Clearly, as risk increases, so too does the likelihood of failure; this is undeniable. It is however imperative that such logic is not used to validate rigid policies and procedures which limit the organisation’s ability to innovate. Risks allow the employee an opportunity to learn; either through the creation of new frames of reference following a suitable outcome, or through mistakes following a failed outcome.

Creativity must always be embraced
over conformity, and failures must be tolerated. Rigid procedures should be replaced by processes designed for continuous innovation, and constraints should be addressed and eliminated. Embracing employee idiosyncrasies will invariably introduce disruption to the traditional hierarchy, however change must be facilitated. As idiosyncrasies extensively facilitate creativity, perhaps it is time for the value of organisational hierarchies to be re-examined.

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Wednesday, December 24, 2008

Thought Self Leadership and Creativity

Self Leadership is defined as:

“a process through which individuals control their own behaviour, influencing and leading themselves through the use of specific sets of behavioural and cognitive strategies”
(Neck & Houghton, 2006, p. 270)

As organisations strive for increasing operating efficiency, delayering of middle management has occurred. As organisations grow in scope and scale, it becomes impossible for a limited number of people to possess sufficient insight to orchestrate each of the systems in place. Instead, significant role restructuring has occurred, primarily involving additional responsibilities being afforded to followers. As followers frequently have a far greater knowledge of issues arising from day to day operations, restructuring enhances the likelihood that deficiencies are identified and addressed. The provision of greater autonomy over how one undertakes a task is identified as Self Leadership.

Self leadership involves influencing oneself to establish the self direction and self motivation required to perform a particular task. Further, self leadership encourages an individual to engage in self evaluation, replacing ineffective behaviour with more effective activities. Clearly, limitations of leader’s time, energy, knowledge, and scope make constant subordinate direction impossible. Yun et al therefore suggest that self leadership involves leaders “enlist(ing) the aid of many to cope with uncertainty beyond their own limits” (2006, p. 375). Empowering the employee thus has become an organisational imperative within the competitive environment.

It is generally agreed that self leadership comprises three elements; Beliefs and Assumptions; Self Dialogue; and Mental Imagery. These elements combine to create Thought Patterns, also known as Habitual Thoughts. Beliefs and assumptions represent individual beliefs. These beliefs are frequently identified as dysfunctional, and are often activated by surprising or challenging events. Self dialogue concerns internal dialogue. These covert statements correspond to emotional states. As such, the external environment may well influence an employee’s internal dialogue. Finally, mental imagery involves the imagining of successful task completion. Combined, these components comprise thought patterns, thus it is imperative that any dysfunctional thoughts are uprooted. This is particularly pertinent as such flows are likely to represent consistent approaches to action.

Failure to internally identify and replace dysfunctional thoughts will invariably cause negative thought patterns to become set. This is referred to as Obstacle Thinking. Such employees are likely to become discouraged because of an overt focus on the negative. Instead, employees should learn to embrace Opportunity Thinking. Employees which engage in opportunity thinking are significantly more likely to see opportunities, and embrace creative solutions. Employees should address any discrepancies by confronting negative thoughts and replacing them with more rational ones. Employees which envisage a positive outcome are far more likely to achieve success than those that fail to do so. Before increasing the level of autonomy placed upon the workforce, it is important to ensure that the need for autonomy is present before making any rash empowering decisions.

The successful implementation of self leadership is likely to depend upon the degree of autonomy acceptance amongst the workforce. However, as jobs are increasingly viewed as a means of personal fulfilment, a larger proportion of the workforce is demanding greater influence over job roles and the related decisions. Where demand allows, employees must be encouraged to lead themselves. By making employees more accountable for the projects with which they are involved, they simultaneously achieve greater involvement in organisational decision making. As the number of viewpoints considered increases, new frames of reference will be developed and acknowledged. The greater the number of accounts, the higher the probability that system improvements will be recognised and introduced.

All that's left to see is Merry Christmas to all my readers. I wish you all the very best this festive season.


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Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Facilitating Creativity through Effective Team Building

In order to encourage creativity, employees must be in a position to advance their skills and competencies. Specifically, employees must be positioned within a job role where their talents can be best exploited. Effectively matching employees with job roles that recognise their idiosyncrasies will help to enhance intrinsic motivation. This process is best described by Buckingham in the article ‘What Great Managers Do’:

“Average managers play checkers, while great managers play chess. The difference? In checkers, all the pieces are uniform and move in the same way; they are interchangeable. You need to plan and coordinate their movements, certainly, but they all move at the same pace, on parallel paths. In chess, each type of piece moves in a different way, and you can’t play if you don’t know how each piece moves. More important, you won’t win if you don’t think carefully about how you move the pieces. Great managers know and value the unique abilities and even the eccentricities of their employees, and they learn how best to integrate them into a coordinated plan of attack” (2005, p. 72)

As recognised by Buckingham, the workforce will invariably comprise a number of diverse and unique talents which, if used effectively, allow the organisation to coordinate an appropriate business strategy. The importance of management recognising unique and valuable idiosyncrasies is undeniable; failing to recognise these resources restricts the organisation’s capacity to coordinate. Indeed, developing an understanding of one’s workforce has become an organisational imperative where innovation is to be achieved. Further, management must continue to ensure that the fit between the employee and their role remains viable. Any discrepancies between an individual’s creative potential and actual creative output may indicate a poor fit between the individual and their position. Such discrepancies must be addressed in order to avoid friction. In order to recognise the employee’s true value, an environmental change designed to facilitate congruence between potential and actual creative output may be appropriate. Such changes may include the provision of greater freedom, autonomy, variety or feedback.

Similarly, the importance of diverse and varied workgroups has been frequently recognised. The importance of organisational collaboration and group problem solving is now equal to day to day operational considerations, such as paperwork. The effective construction of teams may facilitate organisational creativity, on the proviso that the appropriate heterogeneous and homogeneous connections are made. For example, heterogeneity between group members encourages the productive challenging and critiquing of ideas, based upon contrasting expertise and frames of reference. Conversely, homogeneity between members encourages shared intrinsic motivation and behaviours. Employees should be encouraged to identify and develop their strengths. By exploiting those skills which the employee finds easy, energising, and enjoyable, the organisation can benefit from enhanced productivity, whilst simultaneously improving the individual’s intrinsic motivation.

Such a win-win situation is only possible where employee’s strengths are proactively identified. By recognising an employee’s unique skills and attributes, management can encourage the individual to develop their capabilities. As the employee’s abilities blossom, they become a source of area expertise within the group. Encouraging employees to perfect their strengths facilitates recognition of potential, whilst augmenting levels of subject interdependency within the group. Such leveraging of capabilities will help create ‘great groups’; teams which rely upon one another to create an environment of regular innovation, where knowledge is generated and dispersed frequently.

Clearly, diversity offers benefits by enlarging the knowledgebase from which action can be crafted, whereas similarities provide a mutual source of support, and facilitated communications shared interpretations and behaviours.

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Monday, December 22, 2008

A Culture of Creativity

Creativity is killed more often than it is supported. Many authors have identified the potentially stifling effects of the organisation on creativity. Hiring creative people will be insufficient for achieving creativity if it is not facilitated within the organisational culture. Further, if creativity is rejected, creative returns in the form of innovation cannot be expected. By restricting the occurence of creative outcomes, the organisation is simultaneously reducing the likelihood of recognising innovation. Creative employees must be placed within an appropriate environment before creative potential can be adequately recognised. Resource Allocation, Management Practices, and Organisational Motivation must be addressed to ensure that appropriate creative support is available.

Without a supportive climate, any attempts towards innovation will fail. Hiring a creative workforce will be ineffective if their skills become bureaucratically constrained. Organisations have traditionally taken a hostile stance towards creativity. In order to succeed in 21st century business, such an archaic attitude must be eliminated. It is important that multiple viewpoints are embraced, and challenges to the status quo are actively encouraged. If questions are not asked, then it is unlikely that improvements will be identified. Instead, a culture of trust and respect must be established, and organisational flexibility recognised. A culture of trust and respect will help advance debate amongst the workforce, and will allow employees to recognise the power of their voice within the organisation.

Uncertainty must be explored, and failures resulting from risk should be embraced (see the upcoming post 'Tolerating Failure'). In contrast, when organisations reject creativity, the likelihood of employees engaging in creative action diminishes; negative responses will deter creativity, and it is likely that intrinsic motivation will as a corollary decline. Whilst creative returns are arguably less certain, failure to distinguish the creativity of the workforce will cause an integral organisational resource to become compromised.

must not be undermined by a diminished likelihood of success. Instead, organisations should recognise and reward creativity, and encourage collaboration and learning across the organisation. The importance thereof is recognised by Glynn:

“Organisations that value diversity in perspectives, tolerate ambiguity, value innovation, and accept risk taking will tend to have a stronger orientation toward innovation... In general, then, organisations characterised by less bureaucracy; less functional specialisation; more fluid, flexible, and integrative structures; increased worker autonomy; and good communication and information flows are thought to be more innovative” (1996, p. 1102)

Where organisations encourage self leadership (see the upcoming post 'Thought Self Leadership and Creativity), it is imperative that employees are assisted to function as they see appropriate. Whilst controlling managers will cause the effects of self leadership to diminish, an absence of challenging, yet specific goals is equally detrimental. Motivation to act is driven by goals and the expected outcome thereof. Failure to provide such a target will invariably result in confusion amongst the workforce. Conversely, by providing set goals whilst allowing the workforce autonomy concerning how to achieve them, the organisation can expect to see increased performance levels through enhanced motivation.

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Saturday, December 20, 2008

How Social is the Social Media?

Recently I have become slightly dubious of the degree of sociability within the social media. This month has seen the release of statistics from Forrester Research suggesting that faith in corporate blogs is as low as 16%. It has also been a month in which one of social media's most genuine enthusiasts, one Chris Brogan, had his integrity questioned by the online community to which he has given so much, requesting nothing in return. What is going on? This kind of behaviour is most certainly not lovable...

I think that the problem is that we are losing our perspective. Whilst many bloggers, myself included, have discussed the importance of transparency in the social media, our views thereof appear to have become blinkered, rendering anyone that accepts money for sponsored social media employment an opportunist. Does Chris Brogan's fully disclosed blog post for Kmart make him a social media traitor? Don't be absurd. Brogan helps thousands of people daily, and I personally consider this issue to have been blown fully out of proportion. Those that might suggest that Brogan's actions are devious should consider the time and effort which he directs into helping the community.

Perspective would ensure that Brogan's action be taken for what they were; an objective look at a given situation. Brogan would have nothing to gain from conning the very community which he voluntarily benefits on a daily basis. That he was 'sponsored' to offer these opinions is trivial. Whilst social media best practices concerning such subjects as transparency have become common knowledge, we must ensure that we too are objective in the application thereof. Why must we challenge those that offer so much to our online conversation? If these individuals are lost from the conversation, believe me, it is the community that misses out.

Put things into perspective, don't blow minor issues out of proportion, and help to ensure that the conversation remains a socially beneficial forum for all.

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Friday, December 19, 2008

The Components of Creativity Part 3; Motivation

Whilst expertise and creative skills are representative of what a person can do, motivation represents what the individual chooses to do. As such, motivation is less susceptible to external influence than expertise and creative skills, but is itself capable of influencing any decision to develop said skills. Whilst attitudes towards work will vary from one employee to the next, many authors are in agreement that Intrinsic Motivation is more conducive to creativity than Extrinsic Motivation.

Intrinsic motivation represents internal gratification as the driver of goal pursuit; in other words intrinsic motivation reflects self-fulfilment through one’s work. Those that have an active interest in creativity are significantly more likely to show willingness to pursue creativity. It is important that these individuals are encouraged to recognise self-fulfilment through creative output. Although the componential model of creativity recognises the importance of expertise and creative thinking, it has been noted that deficits in either may be overcome by a highly intrinsically motivated employee. This is recognised by Amabile thus:

“People will be most creative when they feel motivated primarily by the interest, satisfaction, and challenge of the work itself – and not by external pressures” (1998, p. 79)

Although every organisation should strive to create intrinsic motivation within the workforce, extrinsic motivation should not be discounted in its entirety. Indeed, whilst recognising the creative importance of intrinsic motivation, Amabile similarly acknowledges the effects of specific extrinsic motivation:

“Intrinsic motivation is conducive to creativity. Controlling extrinsic motivation is detrimental to creativity, but informational or enabling motivation can be conducive, particularly if initial levels of intrinsic motivation are high” (1997, p. 46)

Extrinsic Motivators represent external rewards, recognition, and feedback that either confirm competencies, or provide information pertaining to performance improvement. Similarly, Enabling Extrinsic Motivators represent external rewards, recognition, and feedback that increase the employee’s involvement with the work. An example of such recognition may be an increased allocation of resources in acknowledgement of outstanding performance. These extrinsic motivators, collectively known as Synergistic Extrinsic Motivators, will encourage creativity, both through enhancing levels of intrinsic motivation, and by creating competition amongst the workforce; a fact which Cummings and Oldham suggest does not detract from creative offerings. Conversely, Controlling Extrinsic Motivators aim to control motivation. Examples include the imposing of rigid procedures designed to control project direction.

Such attempts to control motivation levels are likely to backfire, reducing the intrinsic motivation present in the workforce prior to the event. Clearly, it is important to foster creativity within the organisation. In order to effectively encourage employee motivation to innovate, the organisation must focus on developing an Environment of Creativity.

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Thursday, December 18, 2008

The Components of Creativity Part 2; Creative Thinking

Whilst Expertise provides the foundations for creativity, Creative Thinking facilitates the recognition of creative potential. Expertise means little if the employee lacks the creative capacity to combine existing frames of reference into viable solutions. Whilst it is impossible to highlight a set of characteristics that guarantee an individual’s capacity for creative thinking, an initial interest in creativity clearly represents proclivities towards such potentials. Such personal tendencies towards creativity are only likely to be recognised where organisational creativity is facilitated. It is important to note that unless the immediate organisational environment actively facilitates and encourages creativity, innovative expectations of the workforce will not achieve realisation. This will be explored more fully in the post ' A Culture of Creativity'.

Although Tan recognises that one’s theoretical disposition may influence creativity management perceptions, it is generally accepted that creativity can, to an extent, be taught. Clearly, knowledge can be enhanced through ongoing interactions within the domain. Further, many academics have sugegsted that creative thinking can also be encouraged through relevant training. This finding is consistent with Bharadwaj & Menon, who suggest that “creativity training for individuals will enable them to prove their problem-solving skills, leading to more innovative solutions” (2000, p. 430).

Clearly there is an expense in terms of both time and money involved in creativity training. Recognising the value of intangible capabilities is however consistent with the Resource Based View, and should therefore be acknowledged as an investment made towards improving workforce effectiveness. Creativity is not simply an innate phenomenon, but can on the contrary be inculcated, encouraged and trained.

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Wednesday, December 17, 2008

The Components of Creativity Part 1; Expertise

Creativity has been found to comprise three central mechanisms; Expertise, Creative Thinking, and Motivation. Although these have on occasions been referred to under different headings (for example, as Intelligence, Creative Skills and Motivation to Innovate), academics are in general agreement about their definition. It should be noted that these components apply to both individual and small work group based creativity

Expertise denotes the individual’s knowledge; specifically, domain relevant knowledge, including opinions, domain-specific technical skills, and special talents. Expertise provides the individual with a repertoire of possible solutions to a specific problem. As there will invariably be a degree of risk involved with creativity, basic domain knowledge will result in outcome uncertainty reduction; specifically, expertise affords the individual a greater knowledge base from which to structure a potential solution. When facing events that are surprising or challenging, the process of ‘Sensemaking’ occurs. Sensemaking involves the retrieval of rational accounts, or frames of reference. These frames of reference represent cognitive knowledge structures about a concept, developed following exposure to an external stimulus. Such stimuli are cognitively encoded and stored, available as an influencer for future judgements and behaviours. As frames of reference become more accessible through regular activation, the ease with which the account is retrieved increases. As an individual becomes more knowledgeable about a subject, the various frames of reference from which action can be derived increase. Thus, employees with rich background domain knowledge will possess a greater pool of information from which to craft problem solutions.

As business turbulence increases, employees are regularly confronting unique events of which they have limited or no prior experience. By calling upon similarly categorised frames of reference, the likelihood of an appropriately creative response being crafted is enhanced. By combining existing knowledge in new and creative ways, the employee is able to adopt an appropriate strategy for addressing the situation. It should be acknowledged that such frames of reference may be influenced over time. For example, when organisation crises occur, the area that provides the eventual solution may influence the frame of reference recognised by a particular workgroup to address similar future occurrences.

It is important to note that expertise does not represent creativity in itself, however the more voluminous the number of cognitive accounts stored, the larger the knowledgebase from which a creative outcome can be constructed. In order to recognise creative potential, one must consider Creative Thinking.

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Tuesday, December 16, 2008

The Position of Creativity in Organisational Innovation

In a slight change to the advertised post, today I will be looking at the position of creativity in recognising organisational innovation.

As organisational turbulence increases, so too does the requirement for organisations to innovate. Although on occasions, creativity and innovation have been used synonymously, it is more appropriate to consider creativity as representative of an idea, whilst considering innovation as the implementation thereof. As identified in the post 'Influencing Business - Creativity Defined', Creativity can be said to produce ideas which are novel, useful, and offer potential value. As we have identified innovation herein as involving the development and implementation of new ideas, creativity is a central component of organisational innovation. Whilst not synonymous, both creativity and innovation rely upon one another to offer value to the organisation. The link between creativity and innovation is best visualised as cyclical; whilst individual creativity feeds the organisation's innovation, the culture and environment of the organisation will invariably influence the workforce's propensity to engage in creative activities. As such, it is very difficult for one to exist without the other.

As the organisation’s reliance upon innovation as a means of addressing non-routine problems increases, ideas become a valuable organisational resource. The importance of individual creativity has increasingly been recognised as a key driver of innovation, however much debate exists around the topic. For instance, many authors have tried to identify skills deemed representative of the creative individual. Whilst many articles claim that certain characteristics and propensities enhance the likelihood that an individual will act upon a creative impulse, many others suggest that such characteristics do not exist. Although the debate surrounding the existence of creativity enhancing personality traits is likely to continue for several years, congruence concerning the composition of creativity is far higher. These components are Expertise, Creative Thinking and Motivation, and will examined in depth during my upcoming posts.

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Sunday, December 14, 2008

Influencing Business - Creativity Defined

As business environments become ever more turbulent, the importance of organisational innovation has been frequently recognised. Consisting of a new idea, innovation has been further defined as “the development and implementation of new ideas by people who over time engage in transactions with others in an institutional context” (see Van de Ven, 1986, p. 604). Innovation is an organisational imperative for ongoing strategic success; as the rate of change hastens, the organisations that survive and flourish are those that prepare for the future, not those that allow their product offerings and systems to become idle. An era in which new product lifespans have never been shorter, such stagnation will invariably prove a significant organisational handicap towards change. Stagnation can be avoided by ensuring that innovation is encouraged and facilitated at the organisational level.

As interest in innovation continues to grow, many academics are recognising the value of creativity within the literature. Although these two terms have on occasion been used synonymously, many authors have identified clear distinctions between Innovation and Creativity. Indeed, to suggest that creativity and innovation are one and the same is a foolish submission, for whilst inextricable associations between the two exist, so too do several integral idiosyncrasies. Whilst innovation is generally agreed to comprise the implementation of new ideas, and is typically a response to unfamiliar, unexpected, or non-routine problems, Amabile defines creativity thus:

“We tend to associate creativity with the arts and to think of it as the expression of highly original ideas... In business, originality isn’t enough. To be creative, an idea must also be appropriate – useful and actionable. It must somehow influence the way business gets done – by improving a product, for instance, or by opening up a new way to approach a process”
(1998, p. 78)

Although an exact definition of creativity is hard to find, many authors agree that creativity must be novel, useful, and should offer value. Although some authors have examined creativity as a process through which people engage in organisational sensemaking, over the coming week I shall primarily observe creativity as producing novel, useful and valuable outcomes. As innovation involves the development and implementation of new ideas, creativity is a central component of organisational innovation. Whilst not synonymous, both creativity and innovation rely upon one another to offer value to the organisation.

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The Importance of Creativity within 21st Century Business

Over the coming week I shall be examining the importance of individual creativity and the effects thereof open an organisation's output. During the course of the week, I shall post several articles considering the various aspects of creativity; from the components and culture of creativity, to the position of failure in encouraging creativity.

Why creativity? The main reason for my interest in creativity stems from research undertaken during my Masters level studies; specifically, I was involved in an extensive examination of the effects of creativity in the 21st Century workplace. Whilst I had previously anticipated the importance thereof, the study truly opened my eyes to how inextricably linked individual creativity and organisational innovation really are. Whilst creativity is a critical component for what many of us are doing every day in submitting content to the social media, few organisation's truly appreciate the value which creativity subtly adds to their bottom line. I hope that by the end of this week, your organisation will understand the importance of nurturing creativity within the workforce.

Over the course of the following week, I will be posting an article on creativity daily. The following articles concerning creativity have been designed to identify the most important areas thereof:

  1. Influencing Business - Creativity Defined
  2. The Components of Creativity Part 1; Expertise
  3. The Components of Creativity Part 2; Creative Thinking
  4. The Components of Creativity Part 3; Motivation
  5. A Culture of Creativity
  6. Facilitating Creativity through Effective Team Building
  7. Thought Self Leadership and Creativity
  8. Tolerating Failure
  9. Is Creativity 'Born' or 'Taught'; You Decide

I hope to see you over the course of the coming week.

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Saturday, December 13, 2008

'Lovable Social Media'

One of the terms which I am most proud of ranking top in the Google natural search results for is 'Lovable Social Media'. In the light of research by such industry heavyweights as Forrester Research suggesting that consumer trust in corporate blogs may be as low as 16%, it would seem to me that organizations are forgetting that the social media should be 'lovable'; any organisational presence created in pursuit of customer engagement should be 'enjoyable' for all parties participating therein. Is this occuring at present? Whilst debatable, the figures would suggest that efforts to make the social media universally enjoyable have thus far failed.

For me, Lovable Social Media repesents fulfillment achieved through interactions with the social media. From an organisational perspective, this fulfillment represents the satisfaction of successfully representating the organisation through the social media. Whilst the implementation of a social media strategy will be primarily designed to improve the standing of the online brand perception, the personal satisfaction gained from the employees engaging therein represents an important biproduct. Conversely, lovable social media from the customer's perspective represents value added satisfaction achieved through engagement with the organisation's social media presence. In both cases, the choice to engage therein extends beyond feelings of obligation.

Remember, as an organisation , it is your reponsibility to make your social media presence enjoyable; customers must engage willingly, not simply because they feel obliged to do so. Transparently add value and the customer will engage. Remember, success in the social media is easy to achieve. Simply ensure that your presence is fun, enjoyable and value adding; in other words, bring lovable social media to your customers.

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Friday, December 12, 2008

Critical Mass in the Social Media

The theory of critical mass is nothing new. I first came across said theory in Evan and Wurster's 2000 book 'Blown to Bits; How the Economics of Information Transforms Strategy' after it was recommended to me by my good friend Des Laffey. In its most basic form, the theory of critical mass states that once the level of service adoption has reached a certain point, the value available through competing services is drastically reduced. As the number of users of a given service continue to rise beyond the point of critical mass, the value of the community increases by the square of its users (see Metcalfe in Bernoff and Li's Groundswell), and it becomes increasingly beneficial for the potential user to join this ever more voluminous community over its competitors.

The theory of critical mass is invariably an important consideration within the social media. As new social media tools and platforms appear on a near daily basis, the importance of achieving critical mass before the competitor has quickly become an organisational imperative for establishing a position of dominance within the market. Interestingly enough, the competitive advantage afforded by critical mass within the social media appears significantly less sustainable than has been the case in earlier industries, with one social platform being superseded by new competitors in relatively quick succession. The most obvious example of this phenomenon to date is the case of Facebook and MySpace.

Despite the diminishing capacity for critical mass to represent a long term competitive advantage, the benefits of critical mass within the social media must not be ignored. Whilst the benefits afforded thereby may be significantly less sustainable than have previously been the case, the capacity to draw significant attention to the service in vogue remains a pertinent bonus of the recognition thereof. Remember that whilst surpassing the point of critical mass will invariably cause the number of users to multiply exponentially, to achieve an ongoing advantage the organisation must continue to add value.

As an organisation, you must ensure that value is consistently added for users. This will help to elongate the period of competitive advantage achieved thereby. If your organisation is fortunate enough to exceed the point of critical mass, make sure that you aren't caught sleeping.

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Thursday, December 11, 2008

'Political' Behaviour in the Social Media

Earlier this week I stumbled upon two fantastic articles, one by Simon Owens the other by Michael Garrity. Both articles examined strategies adopted by the Digg community to push certain articles onto the platform's front page; in effect manipulating the social media. Whilst many Digg power users would quickly defend this strategy as little more than article promotion efforts, to borrow a phrase from Owen it would indeed appear that all votes are not created equal. As it becomes increasingly difficult for high quality content to achieve front page recognition on Digg, the presence of political behaviour quickly becomes apparent.

Political behaviour in the social media can be defined as behaviour that has not been officially sanctioned by the platform, and which has been strategically designed to maximise self interest. Whilst it is arguable that many of Digg's top submitters have earned their ability to consistently push content onto the platform's front page through painstaking network creation and maintenance, this degree of process manipulation has invariably detracted from the overall user experience. Democracy has, to an extent, been removed from Digg. Whether or not the platform is the victim of its own algorythms is questionable, however as Owens points out, as long as there are scientific algorythms, there will be some smart type attempting to manipulate them.

Whether or not Digg is viable under its current strategy is debatable. What is clear is that by removing democracy from the platform, the transparency thereof is similarly jeopardized. Whilst political behaviour may result in short term gains for those engaged therein, such a strategy is non viable in the long run. By jeopardizing both democracy and transparency, the platform has unintentionally alienated a large proportion of its users. As the content becomes less and less about quality and more about who you know, the number of active users engaging with the platform will invariably drop.

Whilst Digg retains its position as an enjoyable distraction for now, the question of how long it will remain so lingers. Take heed Digg before the majority of your community deserts you.

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Tuesday, December 9, 2008

Trust; the Currency of the Social Media

The overwhelming importance of transparency within the social media is oft cited. Organisations which covertly attempt to manipulate online brand perceptions will invariably be exposed as fraudulent; particularly as the creation of user generated content has never been easier. As emerging social media platforms increasingly facilitate the expression of self, the repercussions of perceived attempts to manipulate public opinion will invariably prove detrimental. Attempts to covertly influence the online community should be avoided at all costs.

A time in which honesty and transparency are organisational imperatives, trust has quickly become the major currency of the social media. It is earned by honestly and openly engaging with the online community, and is forfeit by actions deemed covert or manipulative. The level of trust establish by an organisation will invariably distinguish their social media presence from those of other, less transparent organisations, and customers will feel significantly more inclined to engage with an organisation they deem to be trustworthy. It should be noted that the aggregation of trust is ongoing, and whilst incredibly difficult to earn, can be lost in moments. One inappropriate action can result in the eradication of any trust accumulated up to that point. Once lost, trust can be even more difficult to rebuild from the tatters of your online reputation than had previously been the case.

The Internet is still regarded by some with trepidation. Ever increasing societal engagement with the Internet is matched by the daily emergence of new and increasingly destructive threats. Within such an environment, the importance of trust becomes perfectly evident. It is hardly surprising that in an environment of anonymity, customers rely upon established trust to gauge the likelihood of a successful transaction. Whilst trust can be established both online and offline, it is important to recognise that the effects of online brand attacks are likely to represent a significantly greater threat to the the organisational brand equity than those carried out offline; principally because they can spread quickly. Even organisations that do not have a social media presence must continue to monitor the Internet to counter any threats as and when they occur.

In sum, your organisation must ensure that trust is established with the customer. The anonymity afforded by the Internet has given rise to the need to gauge the likelihood of a successful outcome before an action is carried out. Within the social media, this currency is trust. Act transparently, engage in the conversation, and help your customer in the way they demand.

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Friday, December 5, 2008

Know the Rules of the Social Media Game before you Start to Play

Whilst many marketers are quick to get involved with the social media, few adequately investigate the community culture prior to creating a presence therein. Failure to understand the informal rules and social etiquettes of the community will almost certainly result in hostility eminating from the community; and understandably so. Social communities belong to the users therein, and whilst an organisational presence is often permissible, it is highly advised that the organisation undertake a stringent cultural analysis to gauge the possible outcome thereof.

Online communities differ very little from offline communities, comprising groups of individuals who, as a collective, come together to achieve a shared goal. Clearly, the views of individual community members will differ; such is human nature. It is highly probable that the collective will comprise multiple contrasting perspectives concerning the most effective methods for recognising these shared goals. Whilst the presence of contrary views to our own is without doubt conducive to achieving a more complete understanding of a given problem, from an organisational perspective, such contrasting opinions can make uninformed community engagement incredibly hazardous. We need only look to the recent Motrin video ad to see the potential negative repercussions of such an uninformed community engagement. Had the organisation possessed a greater knowledge of the community prior to the campaign being launched, it is likely that the subsequent negative publicity could have been avoided.

We are all aware of the potential organisational uses of the social media. The likelihood of successful application depends highly on the organisation's understanding of the community cultures and etiquettes. As an organisation, you must ensure that adequate time and effort is directed into developing your understanding of the community prior to establishing any campaign. This information will invariably provide a great deal of insight, and there is little doubt that these findings will influence the campaign direction.

What it comes down to is ensuring that your organisation understands the community rules before playing the social media game.

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Thursday, December 4, 2008

What is the Social Media?

Following my recent discussion of 'Web 2.0', I thought it only appropriate to devote a post to the 'Social Media'. Frequently referenced within my blog, I felt that it was important that the distinctions between the terms social media and web 2.0 are acknowledged and understood. Although these are, on occasion, used as synonymous, I would challenge their definition thus. The terms, whilst similar, are not one and the same. That being said, one is arguably a direct corollary of the other. Let me explain.

Web 2.0 simply represents a social revolution; the power shift resulting from increasingly vocal demand for greater connectivity. As customers became increasingly dissatisfied with an inherently static Internet, change quickly became an imperative. One-way information flows illustrative of the more traditional communications channels were no longer viable as a means of engaging the customer. From the ashes of the static, uni-directional webpages of the early 1990's however, rose the new media platforms, more commonly referred to as the social media.

In my opinion, whilst web 2.0 represents a specific event; namely a shift in societal expectations, the social media represents the subsequent response of increasingly innovative web developers; a set of tools designed to satisfy increased demands for connectivity. These tools have essentially focused upon the development of community, offering users the capacity to connect with one another. Whilst the tools were developed primarily for the benefit of the community, many have since been adopted for marketing purposes; a fact which has on occasion detracted from the transparency of the engagement.

Whilst it is probable that the web 2.0 will be superseded by a web 3.0, it is unclear whether these changes will be representative of a societal or a technological shift. What is clear however, is that organisation's will have to stay on their toes to ensure that they are able to react promptly to anything the internet throws at them; clearly, business as usual is no longer viable.

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Wednesday, December 3, 2008

Quantification within the Social Media; isn't that against the Point?

Earlier this week I was reading about a chap called Matt Bacak. The article in question chronicles Bacak's 'stratospheric' rise to the status of social media elite; a 'feat' achieved in only a matter of months. Whilst I personally do not follow Matt, I am always sceptical of those that achieve such extraordinarily high numbers of followers in such a ridiculously short timescale. Whilst there may be legitimate grounds for the creation of a follower base of the scale seen here, I remain dubious of the value achieved by either party. Whilst Bacak claims that this is evidence of his ability to 'walk the talk' these figures prove very little to me. After all, when was the social media overly concerned with quantifiable data...?

The truth is, the social media has never been about quantification; the purpose of engaging the customer through the social media is to develop qualitative relationships which add value to the various parties concerned. Whilst traditional professionals are likely to continue to base their organisational decision making efforts on facts and figures similar to those provided by Bacak, this quantifiable data offers little actual insight into online brand perceptions. The quality of 'followers' is of far greater organisational value than the 'quantity' thereof; or at least it should be... Unfortunately, as Bacak's article highlights, this is not always the case.

As previously discussed, I have no idea what value Bacak offers his readers, yet the proclaimed 'stratospheric' rise in the number of followers within such a short timescale leads me to conclude that the majority of these were simply 'auto-following'. If that is the case, then the value added to an organisation employing his services are likely to be incredibly low. The meaningless value of huge 'friend' lists was recently discussed in an article by Beth Harte. Followers that auto-follow are unlikely to represent qualified leads. As such, their interest in a given organisation or industry may be none. Whilst this reach may be an opportunity for an organisation to engage in brand visibility building, it is unlikely that such a strategy will assist in the development of a strong, successful brand.

At the end of the day, it is the value brought to the community that will define your social media success. I hope for Matt Bacak's sake that he offers value to the conversation...

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Tuesday, December 2, 2008

Viva la Revolution! But Which One...?

In my opinion, many people misunderstand what is meant by the term 'Web 2.0'. Despite the phrase having reached 'buzzword' status in recent years, it is questionable whether or not those using the term actually understand its meaning. One of the most notable deficiencies of the public understanding of web 2.0 is the belief that the term refers exclusively to a mystical technological revolution that happened in the early 2000's, shaping society as a corollary. This common misconception is understandable, but is essentially backwards in its focus. You see, it wasn't the technologies that instigated the resultant social revolution; it was a social revolution that lead to the demand for enhanced levels of connectivity.

Whilst web 1.0 is generally agreed to represent the first generation of web based communications, web 2.0 was a corollary of changing societal demands for connectivity. Whilst the resultant technologies were undoubtedly the product of developing demands, they do not represent a revolution in themselves. Essentially, the revolution in question has involved communications shifting from one-directional to two-directional; a shift which has left many a traditional organisation feeling powerless in an increasingly collaborative economy. Whilst recent developments have invariably been facilitated by web communications technologies, the success thereof always has been highly dependent upon ongoing customer interest and demand. As interest therein begins to ebb, so too will the success of these tools.

The reason for this post is simply to highlight an important organisational rule which should not be forgotten; don't get too caught up in the technologies themselves, these will, without fail be superseded. Recognise instead, that customer engagement remains all important. Create a presence only within those platforms in which a presence is demanded by the customer. An unnecessary presence in each will invariably stretch the organisation’s resources beyond capacity, and the subsequent value of the content will invariably be compromised. A strong understanding of the customer, matched by a desire to engage them in a manner which they would deem appropriate will undoubtedly assist in the development of an appropriate organizational social media strategy.

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Monday, December 1, 2008

Avoiding the Manufactured Social Media Presence Part 2: The Imaginery Customer

Pretending to be one of their own customers is amongst the biggest mistakes an organisation engaging in the social media can make. Whilst this may seem obvious, many organizations are relentless in their attempts to covertly influence the customer decision making process through the implementation of devious tactics. Unfortunately for these organizations, an artificial presence will invariably be identified as such by the community, and the exposure of attempted social media manipulation will ultimately result in damage to the brand's equity.

Transparency remains all important. Whilst it is often permissible to engage respectfully in social media based marketing, it is imperative that these efforts are identified thus; remember, the social media 'belongs' to the customer. Shrouded attempts to influence the direction of the conversation, be these through the planting of stories, the faking of reviews, or the disparaging of competitors, will inevitably lead to the organisation incurring the wrath of the community. Despite the degree of anonymity afforded by the social media, artificial engagement will always stand apart from natural content; most notably because it will fail to add value to the overall conversation.

Don't make this mistake; let the quality of your products do the talking, whilst implementing the social media as 'value added' for the customers in any manner they see fit. If on the other hand your product lacks the quality to speak for itself, my recommendation would be to refocus your efforts into other channels. Whilst the social media has the capacity to avert the development of negative online perceptions of the brand, it will not hide the limitations of your product or service offerings for long.

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