Enterprise 2.0 Boston 2012 Keynotes, Part 1: Social Media and Mobility

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Enterprise 2.0 Boston 2012 Day 2 kicked off with a series of very strong social media keynotes: Wells Fargo‘s Nathan Bricklin, Nike‘s Richard Foo, American Airlines’ Phillip Easter, FedEx’s Bryan Barringer, and Lithium Technologies’ Michael Wu.

Wells Fargo is a company of some 265,000 employees and 80 lines of business. Yet the company manages, according to Wells Fargo’s Nathan Bricklin (@socialbrick), to have a very collaborative culture: “We think Together”. The company decided nevertheless to turn to a social business strategy to extend their personal networks to be able to do things in new ways.  In his keynote address, Nathan Bricklin passed on several key learnings from their immersion into social media strategy.

Social business strategy is no different than other business strategies in at least one respect – social business strategy cannot be made in isolation. No other business strategy is made independently, and Mr. Bricklin believes that social media strategy should be no different.

Mr. Bricklin makes another key point when he says that social networking success depends on your willingness to let the network evolve organically. This bears serious thought. A part of every talk on social media focuses on identifying the influencers, training employees, and driving adoption. There is an element of “management” in every talk on social media. Mr. Bricklin seems to be making the point that success also depends on giving the network a certain amount of trust to develop in its own unfettered way.

On the topic of collaboration, Mr. Bricklin said that part of collaboration is removing unnecessary collaboration, which is counter-intuitive for someone (like himself, he confessed) who believes in over-sharing. “Too much information is like no information” is a terrific insight, and an area that I, for one, would enjoy hearing more people address.

Richard Foo, Collaboration Director for Nike, talked about their use of social media to help them do work differently. It is interesting to think about Nike, started on a handshake, and now with some 38,000 people employees and obviously a leader in its business, wanting more innovation in how they do things. Using Cisco’s newly enhanced and renamed Cisco WebEx® Social (formerly known as Cisco Quad™), Nike is using social media strategy to help employees stay connected in order to “inspire ideas and ignite innovation”.

This link between ideas and innovation has always seemed to me to be the essence of social media, and one of the very key reasons for undertaking a social business strategy. Companies so often talk about social business strategy as a platform for connecting people up; the real story is about the resulting swell of new and better ideas, accelerated innovation, and unconstrained potential. “It’s not about being fast – it’s about being faster.” With Nike’s immersion into social business strategy, this axiom takes on additional relevance beyond the obvious sports context.

I could nitpick with Mr. Foo on his reference to “idea and innovation management”. Social media invites a new way of thinking about realizing the full potential of a company’s employees. Leadership in social media and social business needs more focus on idea and innovation sharing, rather than applying management processes to these areas.

American Airlines’ Phillip Easter provided an entertaining look, as part of the co-located Mobile Connect conference, at how the airline is harnessing mobility to provide more and better service to customers. Their strategy goes beyond equipping more planes every year with Wifi, to providing new mobile capabilities for customers to interact with American Airlines. The airline prides itself on making its mobile capabilities ubiquitous, including now, we learn on the Barnes and Noble Nook, and Kindle Fire. (I did not, alas, win the 50,000 frequent flier miles awarded during the show for recalling this fact.)

Bryan Barringer (Manager, Enterprise Collaboration Implementation, FedEx) addressed FedEx’s approach to gamification.  This is the concept with a name that you have every right to despise, but which is sweeping its way through the business world.  FedEx’s goal, at its heart, Bryan emphasizes, is to get people to share their knowledge. The FedEx strategy, upon closer examination, seems to be multifaceted with several strategy elements, including encouraging ongoing employee training, and recognizing and rewarding employee accomplishments as well.

The FedEx strategy seems ambitious in the breadth of its focus. Mr. Barringer (@bbarringer523) focused, however, on the knowledge sharing part of the strategy. Even here, the goal seems ambitious. Mr. Barrington’s slides refer repeatedly to a “new mental model”, and the adoption of this new mental model as a “key success factor. The problem he describes is as old as business: how to manage or redirect the basic human instinct to enhance one’s self-esteem and validate one’s value to the organization by safeguarding one’s own accumulated knowledge as personal intellectual property.

FedEx is seeking to address this with a gamification strategy that provides recognition for participation in such social activities as blogging, micro-blogging, tagging, making connections, and providing ratings / feedback. Mr. Barringer may be right that gamification is as much about psychology and the mental model as anything else. It will be interesting to see if gamification provides the best tools for encouraging more knowledge sharing within FedEx.

Lithium Technologies’ Michael Wu (@mich8elwu) delivered a thoroughly absorbing tutorial on the science and intricacies of social network analytics. He walked the audience through the basics of what a social network is, how to create a social graph, and social network analysis, and a model for influence propagation – and performed a live experiment on the audience.

In applying social network analytics to any social graph, the challenge becomes interpreting the data to accurately identify who is influencing whom. Michael Wu and Lithium talk about credibility, bandwidth, content relevance, timing, channel alignment, and target confidence as the critical factors defining influence. Michael drove his points home with a fascinating demo of these principles using a social graph generated in real time from the audience’s twitter stream.

If you think that social networks are LinkedIn and Facebook, Michael Wu’s presentation is an eye-opening introduction to the science that social network analysis has become.