Everything you ever wanted to know about social media

Hazardous substances warning sign

 PUBLIC SAFETY WARNING: readers affected by bright, flashing cynicism are advised to wear safety glasses while reading this post (p.s. this post was processed in an office containing nuts) 

Tin of white paint


Reading social media blogs has become a bit like buying white paint … there are countless variations on the theme of white but, essentially, they’re all white. 

So, in the spirit of saving readers valuable time and endless amounts of frustration, below is my white-with-a-hint-of-white, one-size-fits-all, vanilla, all-purpose guide to social media blog posts … the SharePoint 2010 of blog posts, if you will (i.e. it promises everything but you know it’ll fall short): 

  • Why your company does/does not <<delete as appropriate>> need a social media strategy – it doesn’t; except when it does
  • Can you calculate the ROI of social media? – you can’t; except when you can … but I have no idea how, despite the fact that I’m writing my sixteenth blog post on the subject
  • Can you use Facebook as a company intranet? – of course not … it’s an absurd suggestion
  • Why companies which ban employees from accessing Facebook and social sites from work are idiots – because they’re idiots
  • Do companies need social media guidelines for employees? – yes
  • <<insert word>> <<insert word>> <<insert word>> Facebook <<insert word>> <<insert word>> Twitter? – no; or maybe yes
  • …. continue ad nauseam – no!

So there you have it … you can now relax and get back to work happy in the knowledge that you’re fully up-to-speed with the latest social media thinking … 🙂 

[p.p.s sorry for not blogging more frequently, but I find I’ve got nothing to say … now where did I put my medication?!] 

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Recreate or integrate … that is the question?

As we’ve busily rolled out one social media tool after another within BT, one question has got bigger and bigger in my mind and has become increasingly troublesome … what’s the right balance between recreating stuff on our intranet that already exists on the internet, and just integrating tools from the internet into our intranet toolkit for employees through our permeable firewall.

Not sure how well I articulated that?? Here’s an example … someone in BT has produced an internal version of Twitter … the question is, do we need an internal version of Twitter or can we just use the real thing … as indeed my team currently is? Why would anyone want to tweet in two places? Also, the great thing about having a Twitter network is that it incorporates people from around the globe with whom you have common interests and ideas. A closed, corporate, twitter-replica would surely be a shadow of the real thing in terms of value to the individual as it would only have a very limited gene pool from which to create interesting and vibrant networks. Trying to integrate an internal and external version would be very confusing and could lead to employees posting internal stuff to external networks …

This question became very troublesome for me after we launched our internal enterprise social network a few weeks ago. It was a long time in gestation and is a great tool with lots of similar functionality to Facebook like status updates, message board (or wall), contacts (friends) etc. However, the glaring question is why would someone who uses Facebook (or indeed any one of the many other social networking sites) want to use an internal, closed version of the same thing with a limited gene pool of knowledge and ideas from which to draw. Indeed, even if someone wanted to use the internal version, how would they do so without duplicating activity on both or losing value/possible opportunities by only doing it on one and not the other …

Since we launched our internal blogging platform, I have had an internal blog as well as this external one. My internal blog has two posts on it …

The balance between recreating and integrating I think is going to be what makes or breaks our internal social media tools in the future. We need to give it some serious thought … I need to give it some serious thought. I don’t think we’ve got the balance right yet …

Enterprise social networking has landed in BT

Last weekend we launched our internal enterprise social network … my profile page is below (still a bit empty as I haven’t had a chance to play with it yet).

BT enterprise social network

So what’s on offer on this page?:

  • top left is the normal friends functionality … only we call them contacts because it would never do to have friends at work 😉 … this also displays a newsfeed of your contacts’ current activities or status (you can edit your status at the top of the page)
  • below that is My personal FAQ which is a place that you, or others, can pose questions that you would like answers for … searchable, of course
  • top right is social bookmarking … although mine is currently empty
  • below that is a newsfeed of activity on my profile page
  • out of sight below the fold is wall or message board functionality.

All good stuff – but what I REALLY like are the two sections (also just below the fold in the central column) called skills and interests. When you type in a new skill or interest, if someone else has already typed in that skill or interest, you are offered that option in a drop down menu. If you select that interest from the drop-down, the system connects you to the other person with the same skill and creates a group page on which you can collaborate … lush! … as my 7yr old son says.

We’re looking at integrating Twitter and blog posts etc. to ensure the page fully reflects all your social activity. It’s very exciting and I can’t wait to have a play! 🙂

Twitter and TV …

An interesting post on the BBC dot.life blog about the use of Twitter during the annual Eurovision Song Contest – it always amazes me each year that this is still going! Anyway, what’s interesting to me about this post is that it graphically illustrates the power of social media tools. It strikes me that people who don’t understand the value that social media tools can deliver normally have this opinion because they look at each tool individually and think that they are an end in themselves … for example, they think that geeky kids just sit on Facebook all day in dimly-lit bedrooms with ‘imaginery’ online friends rather than having lives … the reality is that young people use Facebook to organise their physical lives making it a means to an end rather than an end in itself.

Likewise, you could look at Twitter and think that it’s the most pointless piece of trivial functionality ever created … and, in isolation, maybe it is. The point is, the power of Twitter – and the rest of the growing band of social media tools – is in the way they can be used together to facilitate conversations, create connections, fuel innovative thought and creativity etc. etc. Each one is of limited use on its own and, if you take the mistaken view that each one is an end in itself, then it’s not surprising you might conclude that they are a complete waste of time.

To unleash the true power of social media tools you need to use them together – together with each other, and together with existing channels to create new, richer experiences …

Give them a voice and they might just use it ….

Here’s an interesting dilemma … as a forward looking organisation you let your employees have access to blogs and social networks because you want them to join the conversation.

On a social utility service, like Facebook, some disgruntled customers set up a ‘hate’ group about your organisation. In among the rants appear some negative comments from one or two of your own employees! What do you do??

On the one hand, you invited them to join the conversation in the first place and they’re just expressing their views … on the other, they’re damaging your brand. Leaving them to continue making negative comments feels uncomfortable … leaning on them through their line managers feels like censorship. Accepted social media ‘wisdom’ says you should engage ‘in the channel in which the comments were made’ to try to turn things around … but do you really want to get into a ‘dialogue’ with a mixture of disgruntled customers and employees??

What would you do …?

Another rant against Facebook …

An interesting anti-Facebook (FB) rant in the Guardian today from Tom Hodgkinson. I have expressed some reservations about this phenomenally successful social networking tool and what motivates people to use it previously on this blog, and I have some sympathy with some of his views. However, I fundamentally disagree with some of his points.

‘Why should my relationships be mediated through the imagination of a bunch of supergeeks in California?’ says Tom. No more reason than having your relationships mediated through alcoholic stupor induced by faceless brewery executives in the Far East – i.e. the pub – Tom’s preferred mediation method!

He makes big play of the ‘politics’ of the invisible men behind FB – should we care? Do we care about the ‘politics’ of those who provide products and services that we find useful in other walks of life? Who knows or cares about the politics of the people behind Amazon or eBay? They serve us so we use them – if they strop serving us, we stop using them. Given recent ‘lost data disc’ incidents in the UK – I’m more concerned about the competence rather than the politics of those who hold my data! I notice Tom has contributed to Murdoch papers in the past … enough said.

He pays particular attention to the FB privacy policy – with a spurious link to the CIA. In the same edition of the Guardian, there is an article about the FBI wanting instant access to identity data held by the UK govt – surely something significantly more worrying as providing this information is mandatory – you control what you publish in FB – BIG difference! Anyway, I see no conspiracy behind the FB privacy policy either – looks bog-standard for a tool of this type to me.

Tom seems to think that the only way for FB is up and that it does not balance tentatively on the fickle tight-rope of user favour … my view is that FB could collapse within a couple of months and might well do so in the future if we, the users, switch allegiances elsewhere. The ‘power’ in this relationship is with us, the users – not the suits behind the scenes (e.g. beacon advertising debacle). However, we shouldn’t relinquish that power through complacency …

Tom seems to hold the view that electronic connection is worthless compared with ‘real’ connections. The question is: have social-network-facilitated interactions replaced real ones or are they new interactions – if the latter then they surely can only be a good thing. He also fails to understand that millions of people use FB to organise ‘real’ interactions in ‘real’ places – ‘Far from connecting us, FB actually isolates us at our work stations’ – sorry Tom … for many FB is a means to an end, not an end in itself – this statement merely illustrates that Tom is not an active FB user!

The thrust of this article smacks of the age-old British disease … build-em-up, knock-em-down – with a conspiracy theory thrown in for good measure … an article which starts: ‘I despise Facebook’ is hardly going to be a balanced view on anything – unfortunately, this type of unbalanced rant is increasingly common in newspapers these days as they can no longer compete with the web for news.

Lest we should forget … Tom supports, through his articles, the newspaper industry … surely one of the most nepotistic and self-serving industries in existence owned by and serving the agendas of some decidedly dodgy characters …

To use Tom’s words: ‘Why on God’s earth would I … waste money on newspapers full of yesterday’s news and ill-informed comment?’

What is an ‘intranet’?

What we mean by the word ‘intranet’ has evolved from a bunch of web pages hosted inside a company firewall to … to … to what exactly??

I was reading a post from Paul Miller on the Intranet Benchmarking Forum blog about Facebook ‘… not cutting it as an intranet’ and it got me thinking. At BT we define the intranet as:

‘… ALL the on-line information an individual generates and consumes and the services they use through the screen of whatever electronic device they need to perform their role for the organisation. This includes e-mail but excludes the applications that run on the various electronic devices used to access on-line information (e.g. the PC desktop real estate).’

(BT Intranet Strategy 2007-8)

The idea behind such a broad ranging definition is that when a BT person turns on their PC, they should be offered an integrated, seamless on-line experience – essentially, they don’t care what is or isn’t part of your intranet (depending upon the definition you choose to adopt), nor who manages what bit of your on-line estate … it is all the same to them and should meet the same standards of design, information management, usability etc.


However, what our definition fails to take into account are tools on the internet, like Facebook, which our employees can legitimately use for their work and, as such, could be classified as components of our ‘intranet’ … or at least form part of our employees’ intranet experience.


Given the above … here are some characteristics of what an intranet means to me.


An intranet is:

  • a concept rather than an object … or possibly an experience rather than an object
  • not bound by a firewall
  • not a static ‘space’ but a dynamic ‘footprint’ incorporating the tools and services I need to do my job
  • specific to my needs at a given point in time
  • accessible to the people with whom I need to share and collaborate, regardless of who or where they are and who pays their salary.


I think our Intranet Manager isn’t going to be best pleased with that definition … 🙂

Where do I start?

I’m often asked this question; ‘I want to introduce social media tools on my intranet but I have no idea where to start – what’s your advice on taking the first tentative steps?’

The first thing I would do is try to find other people within your organisation who already use social media tools on the internet – probably in their free time. A quick search of Facebook or Technorati will normally turn up some names (as an aside, there is a BT Facebook group with over 8000 people in it – all of whom have joined the group voluntarily … if that’s not a cry for greater collaboration, nothing is!).

Once you have identified some existing users of these tools, invite them to join an informal group or ‘task force’ to discuss how you might be able to use some of the most popular/useful tools behind your firewall. Why not set up a closed group on Facebook itself and invite your colleagues to join it and have informal discussions about the topic on a tool with which they are probably already familiar … ‘walk the talk’ as consultants like to say! It’s a good idea to try to identify the most senior or influential person you can who is already a user … direct your findings and recommendations through them.

Starting out along this road on your own is pretty tough … harnessing the enthusiasm of the enthusiastic makes it a much less lonely trip. Social media is a ‘bottom-up’ phenomena … gather together some co-conspirators and let the revolution begin!

What makes one zombie attack meaningful and another meaningless?

In an earlier post I expressed a concern that Facebook seemed to be getting a bit out of control and wondered what motivated people to continue adding more and more applications to their profiles resulting in a deluge of pokes, superwall/funwall posts, zombie attacks, reviews blah blah raining down on all of us … I see that Hugh Macleod on Gaping Void echoes those concerns today.

I think Facebook is fantastic but wonder if the core functionality that I love so much is being swamped by increasingly trivial and annoying applications that will dilute the core value of the site to the point of turning people away from it. For me, one of the great advantages of Facebook over MySpace is the ‘neatness’ of it … the chaos of MySpace is a complete turn-off for me. Unfortunately, the Facebook experience is becoming increasingly chaotic by the day. I hate the fact that I can’t view or read a message that someone has sent me using an application without actually adding it to my profile. I hate the fact that I feel I am snubbing my ‘friends’ by not reading the stuff they send me because I don’t want my profile to become 300 metres long by adding every application  my friends choose to use (… I know I could add them and delete them afterwards but, frankly, I can’t be bothered).

On the other hand, I can see that Facebook is all about human interaction, which is supposedly what makes humans happy, and that all these applications are creating opportunities for more and different types of interactions between friends.

The problem for me is that my Facebook ‘interactions’ are at a tipping point between being ‘meaningful’ and becoming ‘meaningless’. I don’t want to be cut-off from my friends because I’m too boring to read and respond to zombie attacks … but I do want to interact with them in more ‘meaningful’ ways.

There’s a whole new complex set of social conventions emerging in the social networking space which I’m struggling to understand … I hope I find my feet before I’ve alienated all my friends!

Facebook the new bogeyman …

Why has the media got it in for Facebook? Yet another completely misleading article appears today in the Daily Telegraph under the headline: ‘Wasteful Facebook Addicts Face the Sack‘. The article claims:

“It found that more than 1,700 people working for 65 public institutions have been dismissed or disciplined for internet or email misuse in the past three years. ”

… and then goes on to say:

“Common offences include excessive internet use, viewing inappropriate material online such as pornography and forwarding offensive emails to friends.”

I’m struggling to find any reference to people being disciplined or sacked for abusing Facebook or other social networking sites in this article?? Internet and e-mail abuse is hardly new or big news … it pre-dates Facebook and social media tools and I’m willing to bet the vast majority of people who get sacked do so for viewing porn.

If newspapers wrote about the ‘news’ rather than distorting the facts to meet their own agendas, perhaps people might take them a little more seriously!

Internet and e-mail abuse won’t go away if Facebook is turned off … access to e-mail and the internet at work needs to be managed through clear policies and by encouraging personal responsibility and accountability … morning rant over!!

POST EDITED: 23-11-07:

Stop Blocking logo

I meant to  add a link to the Stop Blocking site.