Mar 31, 2012

Organizations Don't Tweet, People Do: A Personal Review

It’s rare that a book’s title tells you something new, but when I first heard of this title, I was enamored by the original insight. We often see Twitter accounts, where companies and individuals push their agenda through a one-way blast of self-promotional tweets. This title suddenly made me realize that social media interaction needs to be between authentic individuals, not projected images of your role or organization.

Euan Semple is a leading expert on social web based on his direct experience in introducing social media tools into a large successful organization, BBC. After reading his book, I feel it is much broader than its subtitle: ‘A Manager’s Guide to the Social Web’. It is a manifesto for a new management paradigm similar to other fascinating books like ‘Mobilizing Minds’ by McKinsey authors and ‘Future of Management’ by Gary Hamel (who continues his work through the Management Innovation Exchange web site).

‘Orgs Don’t Tweet’ feels like conversations with a friend over a beer on how social media works answering questions I was too embarrassed to ask. The book does not have laborious case studies or fancy trend diagrams (‘# of smartphones by 2015’ etc). It is a hands-on guide giving actionable advice in nuggets (45 short chapters) slowly transforming your worldview, by one insight at a time based on practical tales. I highly recommend this book to anyone interested in social media, especially those new to blogging or tweeting. Let me discuss a few ideas that I found personally valuable connecting to my own experiences as a newbie blogger/ tweeter:

Collaboration as learning: Watching an expert and asking questions in an ‘apprentice model’ has been the most effective way to learn a new skill. Social tools (like forums or YouTube) let you learn from experts all over the world and even get answers from them – on cooking or coding or repairing a car. The whole web is about informal learning.

Business learning has been focused on formal courses (‘bums on seats’) or rigidly structured intranets/ knowledge management solutions (‘dry business stuff stored in knowledge coffin’), which are useless to most people to find the information they need when they need it. However, businesses are realizing that being able to ask a question to the leading expert on the topic in real time is the best way to learn. The author defines informal learning as ‘increasing the quality and frequency of the conversations that get your job done’.

Collaboration is how organizations can make this happen through social tools and is not a buzzword. I called it ‘Q&A platform for the company’ in a post. Collaboration does not happen through establishing processes or ‘initiatives’ mandating the use of a software tool, but through a willingness to help. True collaboration is always through mutual self-interest, but facilitated by a culture that does not focus on the short-term self-interest alone, but promotes a shared willingness to help.

Blogging as ‘Writing ourselves into existence’: Anyone considering blogging has faced the uncomfortable questions: ‘Who am I to say all these? Who cares what I think? What if nobody reads (and everyone knows that nobody reads!)? What if my boss disapproves or colleagues ridicule me in the cafĂ©?’ We often end up taking Mark Twain’s advice: “Better to keep your mouth closed and be thought a fool than to open it and remove all doubt!” Committing to your ideas in public is hard. ‘Blogging is like being confident to throw a party but then not confident enough to deal with how well or badly it goes’ – true! It was scary to write a post comparing Google Plus and Twitter!

I realized the truth in the author’s statement that blogging makes you self-aware. Once you start blogging, you start observing the world with more awareness and take responsibility, instead of going through the motions as a passive subject. ‘If you are going to say what you think in public, you have to be happy about what you are thinking or do something about it until you are happy!’

The process of blogging will also help you reinforce your learning, as you need to explain it to someone else. Euan Semple calls it one of the least publicized benefits of blogging. I discovered it while writing about mobile loyalty or enterprise finance.

‘A Word or Two on Love’: In his farewell blog post at BBC, he talks about the strongest motivating force in the world not being used in business. I named this blog ‘From Enterprise to Consumer with Love’ from the conviction that enterprise software could have a deeper connection with people inspired from the consumer world. However, it was embarrassing to use a ‘touchy-feely’ word in a ‘professional’ blog, especially when colleagues showed slight derision. Semple’s final words were reassuring: “Love does have a place in business… Maybe we will realize that accepting love into the workplace reminds us of the original purpose of work – not to maximize shareholder value but to come together to do good things, to help each other and hopefully to make the world a better place!”

Book on Amazon:
Euan Semple’s web

Mar 12, 2012

Mobilize Loyalty before Mobile Payments

Mobile payment seems to be the hottest eCommerce category now. Google, PayPal and Square have massive mobile payment initiatives, along with many innovative start-ups like Dwolla. At SXSW, major mobile and credit card companies (AT&T, Verizon, Visa, MasterCard etc) just announced the Isis Mobile Wallet two days ago. 

However, as a consumer, I don’t understand 'what’s in it for me'.  The geek dream is to eliminate the 2-3 credit cards from your wallet and probably 10-seconds faster check-out. However, it’ll be 3 years (if not more) before every store I visit will work with my smartphone payment solution, which means I still have to carry these cards, even before we discuss if NFC is realistic or the inevitable privacy/ security concerns. Sure – it feels cool to walk into Starbucks and brandish (or tap) your phone to pay, but is that a real benefit? Moreover, the space is extremely competitive and fraught with deep conflicting self-interests.

On the other hand, carrying plastic loyalty cards is a real problem today and relatively far easier to solve. I have 15-20 plastic loyalty store cards, out of which I probably use 5-6 frequently. It’s annoying to carry all of them. If I decide to leave any of them home, miraculously I end up having to go to that store the same day! And to redeem any mail offer, retailers insist on carrying both the loyalty card and the paper coupon.

Loyalty is critical for repeat business (customer lifetime value) and hence, store profitability. Groupon has built a great customer acquisition tool that still offers no guarantees of repeat business, while even a marginally effective loyalty program can sway customers to choose store/ restaurant A over B. (Great article explaining why - ~20% of loyal customers account for ~80% of brand sales).

Hence, I am curious to find any mobile app that promises to solve this problem. I am not interested in the deals/ check-in apps (e.g., ShopKick, Foursquare etc), but want an app that reduces the plastic loyalty/ punch card clutter and also help me get the best offers at my favorite stores easily (without the ‘oh s**t’ feeling for having missed the discount after purchase). For every store loyalty program I transfer to mobile successfully, I can throw away one plastic card immediately and even go paperless (sustainability!) without waiting for all the stores adopting that application.

I have downloaded and played with many loyalty apps. All of them let you scan your plastic loyalty card and save it on your phone as a barcode/ image. It also works with some stores to send mobile offers or coupons to your phone. I like KeyRing App the most, as it’s extremely simple (detailed review) Another app is CardStar. They are never perfect, as scanners are not always designed to read from a smartphone (e.g., Mountain View Public Library). It could also be awkward - the PF Chang's waiter had to take my phone with the barcode image to give the discount. Never a good feeling to see your iPhone disappear into the kitchen!

For a mobile loyalty program to be effective, beyond being extremely easy to use (entry bar for a consumer mobile app), I think there are five requirements:
  • Integration with the retailer CRM system to correlate the loyalty data with the existing user profile & demographic information. I am not talking about social network integration, as it’s unclear to me why P&G expects me to tweet every Tide purchase at Costco.
  • Purchase history at line item level detail is the crown jewel data, but often buried in POS or order management systems. It is incredibly valuable combined with loyalty program data to determine my brand preferences, actual spend habits etc. 
  • Big Data analytics is where all the data above come to life producing relevant and targeted offers for me. I read stories about how retailers know all my secrets, but I have never seen a single major retailer (except Amazon) have any clue about what I like nor stop bombarding with me all the irrelevant mail promotions that usually go straight to recycling.
  • Loyalty program management is the ability to log in to the actual program to get e-bills, update information etc
  • An aggregator/ consolidator app that works with most retailers & brands. I cannot download and manage 20+ brand mobile apps.
 As I wrote in an earlier post (on real-time inventory feeds), connecting the new mobile app world and the ‘old’ enterprise system world is critical to drive value for consumers, as offline and online commerce are rapidly merging. Loyalty management is another great example.

Do you think mobile loyalty could be more useful than mobile payment?

Mar 5, 2012

SuccessFactors Jam for Social Enterprise

My colleague Prashanth Padmanabhan has been blogging about SuccessFactors Jam (former CubeTree) collaboration tool. In the spirit of ‘eating your own dogfood’, I started using the tool and here are some initial personal observations as an employee user.

Jam is free to sign up for at  With your work email address, you are instantly in the internal company group – similar to Yammer. After playing around for some time - joining groups and creating groups, I felt this was the best enterprise collaboration tool I’ve used that solves many problems of earlier products. It’s extremely easy to share content (link, email, Twitter, blogs, discussions etc) and also build content through video.

 Social enterprise is often presented as an all-or-nothing word with all tools claiming to be everything for everyone, but the features of a tool need to be understood in the context of the specific problem you are trying to solve. In an earlier post, I talked about the behavioral differences between social in enterprise and consumer worlds, but I think there are three distinct classes of business problems that social tools can best solve in an enterprise: project-collaboration, ad hoc functional collaboration, and broad Q&A platform.

 Project-collaboration: is when a few (~<10) colleagues (whether same team or cross-functional) work together for ~2-6 months to complete a project. Everyone is motivated by the same project goals and if a tool is easy to use and helps them be more productive, reducing email clutter, it’ll be quickly adopted. In a small working group of peers, network effects and information overload are not major concerns.

Since the deliverable of most knowledge worker projects is a document (often Microsoft Office) – e.g., sales contract, decision presentation, white paper, RFP/ response, budget spreadsheet - document collaboration is critical for projects. Jam really shines here due to the unique document collaboration support in groups/ projects (private or company-public). Everyone can put comments in documents at the right place, instead of long email threads. The strong version management feature helps you discuss and converge quickly.

Ad hoc/ ongoing functional collaboration: happens when many people (100+) in one or more related functions (e.g., engineering, sales, finance) collaborate in that business context to get a specific task done as-needed, without confined to a well-defined project. Example - a new hire needs help with filing expenses or a sales person wants to understand the revenue recognition implications of a deal. This is a harder network problem than projects, as there’s value only if there are a minimum number of valuable participants. Moreover, many discussions might not be relevant, risking low-value information overload. To succeed, there should still be enough motivation/ self-interest for people to come back to the site – whether to contribute or listen/ ‘lurk’.

Coming from SuccessFactors, Jam has a strong focus on making collaboration in HCM talent management context extremely easy by integration with performance management, learning, recruiting, and onboarding processes. General purpose collaboration tools fail to establish a compelling ‘beachhead’ use case, but Jam has a strong advantage here.

Q&A platform across functions or the entire company: Examples are developer communities asking for architecture advice or sales searching for an expert product person for a demo.  SAP Community Network (SDN) has built such a great public platform. However, this is a hard problem for an internal social tool, due to the network building challenge and the ‘noise’/ irrelevant content, as the group size expands (1000’s in a large company). Safety becomes an issue as well. For example, if a customer service rep finds major problems in a product, or a sales person disagrees with the regional pricing strategy, asking for resolution openly becomes tricky. Moreover, contributors get limited short-term value, since intra-company reputation today has less direct career upside (unlike an external forum like SDN) and the motivation to come back and engage could diminish.

Hence, an additional useful feature could be a Google+ Circles-like filter to reduce the information overload. If I can segment incoming feeds or outgoing notifications by people - my team, org unit, topic-expert people etc -, I am much more likely to come back to monitor/ engage in those relevant sub-networks, beyond project-collaboration.

Enterprise collaboration is certainly different from consumer social networks. Finding the right tool and building an adoption strategy focused on the problem you are trying to solve is critical for mass adoption. SuccessFactors Jam gives the tools for you to identify the right social enterprise use case and solve with the right adoption strategy.

Detailed Jam overview (YouTube video)