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 site:euansemple.com