I got into this whole social media proficiency thing about a year ago.
Transform how my company (EMC) does business using social techniques.
I am of the belief that communities are perhaps the most valuable social media construct. And, if one is to think like a corporate strategist, the highest value comes from communities that are aligned with a company's core value propositions.
At its core, EMC is a product and technology company.
So, of course, one of my early goals were broad, powerful product communities that stretched outside the corporate firewalls.
And -- here we are -- almost a year later -- and we're finally starting to see a grass-roots groundswell in this direction.
So, in the spirit of sharing with others who are trying to do the same thing for their companies, I think it's worth a discussion of just what took so long ...
Now, I'm Not Complaining
As I've mentioned before, there's a ton of good that's come out of our efforts up to this point. I could write post after post on the nuggets of distinct and unique economic value we've seen so far.
But part of our corporate culture (and my personality) is to focus on what's not working, rather rest on our collective laurels.
And if EMC is a product company, we need product-oriented communities.
So, What Took So Long?
As I think about it, there's a number of factors that probably were behind the long gestation period. Some of these might be controllable, others not.
First, all of this was pretty new to everyone. Our internal platform (EMC|ONE) has been up since Sept 2007.
Not surprisingly, the idea of a single, open platform that encourages semi-public conversations on just about any topic that freely crosses organizational and management boundaries -- well, that kind of flew in the face of our traditional corporate culture.
However, there was much less resistance to the idea than I had any right to expect. I'm continually surprised by EMC's ability to change and adapt to new circumstances.
But -- even with this, it's still was a new beast that had to be approached with a bit of caution and trepidation before everyone felt comfortable giving it a big hug, so to speak.
Nine months is plenty of time for people -- at all levels of the organization -- to get comfortable not only with the platform, but to understand what it's good at, and what it's not. And to be absolutely sure that "it's OK".
In retrospect, I think I underestimated how long it would take people to get really comfortable.
Could this be accelerated? Maybe -- if there was some sort of mandate to "start using this thing" -- we could have accelerated familiarity -- but also caused some resentment in the process.
There's also an underlying "critical mass" effect that probably helped. After a while, enough people were active and engaged on the platform that it wasn't something that required explanation, a learning curve, etc.
Could this be accelerated? I think we did everything humanly possible to do this in a natural, comfortable fashion. Had we tried any harder, we'd probably end up annoying far more people than we did ;-)
Second, the sponsorship for these product communities was distinctly grass roots. We didn't have many senior managers saying "this is what we're going to do".
No, it was more quiet suggestions, over time, that eventually percolated up into management thinking. This takes time, I'd argue.
Indeed, I've heard stories of meetings where senior management initially resisted the idea of product communities, only to be confronted by several of their staff pushing back just as hard.
It takes time to build that sort of groundswell.
One of the smartest things we did was recruit Susan to do evangelist work, targeting potential high-value communities -- like product communities.
This doesn't happen in one or two meetings -- it's a regular, persistent cadence of meetings with different people, showing them what's possible, explaining the benefits, answering the concerns, and generally getting people comfortable with the idea -- multiple time, and at multiple levels.
Without Susan's efforts, I probably wouldn't be declaring initial progress. Indeed, I wouldn't try this without a dedicated role of "community evangelist" targeting high-value communities. Some things just don't happen by themselves.
Waiting For Leaders To Emerge
For this thing to work, people have to be willing and able to step up and play a new, important role among their peers.
I can't tell you how many times I had the "somebody" conversation. "Somebody" should step up and develop a community. "Somebody" should lead the charge.
I am now of the firm belief that these roles must be self-selected by people who are passionate, and have the respect of their peers. And if they don't step forward, you're dead.
Simply assigning someone a new role, or yet another job to do, doesn't engender the passion and the group spirit so essential to community formation.
And it takes time for these people to assess the situation, assess their own goals, assess the level of support and encouragement they'd get -- and cautiously step up.
A few people self-selected early, but didn't really have the support they needed from other community participants. We tried to work with these people and help them understand the social context they were working in, but we weren't always successful. And, after a while, it was clear that their efforts weren't paying off, and things moved on.
There was another delay from the opposite problem -- multiple people wanting to play a leadership role in community formation for what was essentially the same topic.
One of the things that Susan did well was to spot these situations, and do a bit of shuttle diplomacy to get all parties to agree that they had common interests -- and there was plenty of work (and credit) to go around.
In retrospect, I don't think can be explicitly accelerated. It takes time for the right conditions to form, for the proto-leaders to emerge, for them to gain the support they need, and to learn to collaborate with others who desire similar roles on similar topics.
And A Kick In The Pants Doesn't Hurt, Either
I have a lot of informal conversations across EMC with leaders at different levels. And I use that opportunity frequently to "nudge" people along in certain directions.
A few months ago, I added a new "nudge" to the mix: what are you waiting for?
I mean, we've got a platform that's very successful -- everyone's using it. The business benefits we've seen to date are substantial and inarguable. Other groups at EMC are successfully using social productivity and communities to further their agendas.
If they push back a bit, I go for another round:
Look, you're always trying to find ways to do more with less, how can you ignore this? And, let's not forget, the company has invested in people and platform to help you do this -- I think it's expected that you'll use the resource to your advantage.
What are you waiting for, an MBO to be handed to you?
But, let's face it, you can't nudge people in this way unless you've created the backdrop for them to move ahead.
Something similar happened with globalization a few years back. We all knew that we had to have a global R+D organization. Our first round was simply telling different product groups they had to go do it.
Wasn't very successful.
Finally, we realized that the company had to invest in shared globalization infrastructure (shared R+D centers). Individual product groups found it much easier to globalize their R+D once the platform was in place, and other people had successfully started to use it.
And thing went much faster from that point.
Will Other Social Media Strategists Be This Patient?
I don't know. We've been at this for a year.
Sure, I wish we were farther along. But, by the same token, I think we've laid a very solid, grass-roots foundation.
Put differently, the initiative has to be driven top down. But if it isn't supported bottoms-up, you'll get nowhere.
And, to a certain extent, that takes time.