An Open, Social Practice

ifyoutalkedtopeople - gapingvoidAwhile ago Steve Bendt and I put some of what we thought we knew about social technology and how it could influence marketing into a slideshow. We called it "An Open, Social Approach." It was principles, kind of airy stuff without a ton of practice, based on what we thought we'd learned from building BSN (BlueShirt Nation) and Giftag and some other stuff. Now, about nine months later, we have a growing body of practical implementations at Best Buy we can compare and contrast with the principles laid out back then.

Barry Judge reviews the principles and their practice as part of the experiment and John Bernier gives a review of the experience of managing the project and finally Lars Forsberg recaps the whole development experience behind @twelpforce and Best Buy Connect.

You can also watch the practice unfold daily at IdeaX, The Best Buy Idea Exchange.

From where I'm standing it looks like the principles translate pretty nicely into practice. But I'd like to ask you all to help compare and contrast the principles versus the practice - I'm only one point of view afterall.

Expertise in a Tough Economy

National Portrait Gallery London

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It helps to be an expert in something. Pick something you’re in to or uh, ‘Passionate’ as they say; management, communication, finance. Something. And commit to it. Read everything you can about the subject, join a group, write down your thoughts. Steal ideas. Try stuff.  Fail fast. Learn fast. It’s the Myth of Genius that you’re born brilliant. So you can give that one up now. Sir Isaac Newton wasn’t just being modest when he said, “If I have seen further than others, it is by standing upon the shoulders of giants.”  You’re going to have to work at it.

Actually, it might be better to think of yourself as a student of something (as long you don’t go around telling people, “I’m a student of blah blah blah” because that sounds douchey and turns people off) instead of thinking of yourself as an expert, at least in the beginning. This does two things. First, it puts you in the right frame of mind for solving problems because you’re open to learning and two, it actually does make you kind of an expert. You’d be amazed how little you have to know about something to know more about it than the guy sitting next to you.

It’s a well-worn phrase for a reason but, luck is a matter of being prepared when the need arises. I ended up being a social technology expert at Best Buy not because I’m so good-looking (which doesn’t hurt)  or particularly charming (I’m not) but but because I knew more than anyone else in the room when the subject came up - which wasn’t much.  Plus I was in to it - don’t forget to be ‘Passionate.’ If you’re not an expert in something you’ll never be prepared for anything even if you are in to it. In fact being an expert in something prepares you for more than just what you know about. Expertise is mostly a side effect of paying attention. If you get good at paying attention (even when you’re not ‘Passionate’ about the subject matter) you’ll pick up analogs and correlaries and other related stuff. This is especially true if you’re exposed to ‘inside baseball’ conversations - the minutiae and arcana of a particular subject matter that insiders trade with each other. It’s also a side-effect of being curious and if you’re curious you’re likely good at knowing how to find answers. And if you’re good at knowing how to find answers you can get there much faster than than that guy sitting next to you. Especially when you’re in to it. Whatever it is.

Relevance in a Tough Economy

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Here’s an idea; solve a business problem. Try it. It’ll get you focused. This usually means you have to do meetings where they talk about business problems - these are usually some boring-ass meetings encrusted with nasty, impenetrable speadsheets and Power Point decks. Quite often these decks are meant to obfuscate the problem because a) the author has no idea what the problem is or b) they have identified a problem but either don’t know it or don’t want to tell anyone they found it because doing so is either impolitic or means more work - “Great job Stevens, now solve it.” But you are the kind of person who is all about solving problems so here’s what you do.

Solve one problem at a time. Often problems will be linked to make them appear bigger than they are because more often than not, people don’t really want to solve problems. Especially big hairy ones. A solution means risk; risk to a current, cushy and predictable position or risk to a current business model.  So once you’ve been able to identify what might be a problem you need to pull it apart and simplify it. Funsize it. One of the easiest ways to do this is to ask if the problem is a customer problem - it usually isn’t or at least it isn’t phrased as such. Problems, if they’re explicitly stated at all, are usually stated thusly: “Sales are shrinking.” Or worse, they’re stated as an objective “Increase sales.” You can’t do shit with either of those. Why are sales shrinking? State it as a customer problem: “I can’t find the product I need because.” The point is that you have a much better chance at being able to come up with a solution if you can scrub a problem clean and state it as a customer problem usually beginning with; “I hate...” “I can’t...” “I need...” etc. Worth repeating: If you’re not solving a customer or user or audience problem, you’re just playing with yourself. The outcome may feel good for awhile but it doesn’t really change anything.

Social Technology in a Tough Economy

My social Network on Flickr, Facebook, Twitter...

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Here’s how it goes. When times get tough people get a bunker mentality. Lots of de-risking behavior.  Cover up. Cut costs. Consolidate. Anything that looks like it might not work out is set aside. Any exposure to dependencies, internal or external is scrutinized and minimized. Most anything ‘new’ gets a bullet. New products, ways of doing things and new ideas in general are eschewed in favor of the familiar.  Everyone is thinking this way, you and your customers.  No new spending. No new initiatives.  New? No.  Whatever companies or brands were making or doing before the downturn looks and feels highly experimental. Anything ‘experimental’ or ‘unproven’ makes a natural target in a down market. And for a lot of companies, social media or social technology will fall into the category of new.

So this is bad news for social tech / social media. Right? Not really. Although businesses may walk away from it, customers will embrace it. When shit gets sideways what do you do? Who do you call? I’m driving along on my way to work. I hit a patch of ice and woop, woop, woop, I’m in the ditch. What’s the first thing I do after I stop swearing? Maybe I call my wife. Or a friend. Or maybe I get the number of a tow service. Or maybe I talk to the guy nice enough to stop and see if I’m okay. Each of these is a social activity.

Customers aren’t walking away from Facebook or Twitter or Google Groups because times are tough. They’re embracing them. So what do you do?

First thing: Open up
You’re competing for trust. Not attention. Not dollars. Not even share. Right now it’s trust. It is the coin of the realm in a shit economy. One of the quickest ways to earn trust is to be as transparent as possible. Start blogging. Start tweeting. Be honest, especially when you really get the urge to spin something. “I don’t know” “I can’t say” and “I was mistaken” are all better than the most finely crafted PR response.

Share everything you know. At least everything you can. The only things that should be locked are the things that are private. The personal equivalent would be your medicine chest, your file cabinet - where you keep bank statements, tax returns, etc., and your underwear drawer. You know, private stuff. A great way for a lot of companies to do this is to open their API’s.  Application Programming Interface. It basically lets others connect to you by connecting to your data.

Second thing: Try lots of small things

The time of big ideas is over. A big idea is just an idea with a big budget. Not a lot of those to go around these days. Even worse, a big idea leaves no room for any other ideas. And the fewer ideas you have the less likely it is you’ll have a good one.

The next time someone says, “What if we...” your answer should be, “Cool. What’s the cheapest, fastest way we can try that?” There’s almost nothing that can’t be modeled, mocked up or hacked together quickly and cheaply. If you do it right, the first nine attempts will fail. If the tenth fails, move on. But keep trying. A quick note here; ‘small things’ are meant to be tried in low-criticality environments. They are also best tried by small groups of people (like four) who are passionate about the idea.  Otherwise, instead of quick, cheap failures, you get big, expensive, drawn-out failures.

Third thing: Be patient

Not only will you not get the hang of social media overnight, but your customers and maybe even your employees won’t believe it at first. It takes commitment. It takes time. Besides, what else are you going to spend? Money?

An open, social approach

Steve Bendt and I are trying to get straight how what we've learned over the last three years in the world of social technology (bsn , giftag , etc ) can be put to use across more broadly. We've been fiddling around with some thoughts, trying to get it to make sense for our employer - Best Buy. Below is a slide share of where we are topline - each slide has specifics that will be attached.

View SlideShare presentation or Upload your own.
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