From Headshift to Post*Shift

This is definitely worth a read.

Lee Bryant and Livio Hughes – the two founders of Headshift, the company that more than a decade ago was looking at the potential for social technologies in business and was sold back in 2009 to Dachis Group – are moving on to start something new. These guys are ahead of the curve in social business, something which is reflected in the name of their new venture: Post*Shift. Their feeling is that the headshift required and reflected by their old company’s name has now happened, so what they’re interested in now is what comes next.

I’d argue that the shift in mentality has yet to take place in most businesses, and it seems that in many ways they agree (or Lee does at least!):

“…we have been banging our heads against the brick walls of corporate structures, culture and politics for too long, trying to change them from the inside, network by network, node by node, when their very structures (HR, IT, Operations, Finance, Marketing) act as a barrier to change. Some are changing, however, and some will change; but many will not and in an ideal world, they will be disrupted or replaced by companies that are – as we used to say – ‘smarter, simpler, social’.”

As you can imagine, as someone who’s been using the phrase ‘socially native businesses’ for a little while now, I was also pleased to see Lee write, “…what if we step back and try to understand how to create new companies – the corporations of the Twenty-First Century – as natively social, digital, human structures right from the start?”

Like I say, these guys are ahead of the curve and it’ll be really interesting to see what comes out of Head*Shift over the coming months and years. I’ve no doubt that they’ll create something as equally ‘sellable’ as Headshift was!

Best of luck guys.

The socially native business

Someone asked me the other day what I thought the key trends in communications and public relations would be over the next few years. In answering the question – an answer which unsurprisingly veered into social business territory – a thought occurred…

For a few years now we’ve talked about ‘digital natives’: the generation of people who have been born and grown up since the internet has started impacting our lives, who have almost never been without the web and mobile technologies and for whom the use of social media is as natural as walking and talking (perhaps more so). This generation is now in the workplace and, more than that, they’re starting their own businesses. I believe that this is giving rise to what I’m now calling ‘socially native’ businesses.

These are organisations for which sharing is entirely natural, happily giving insight through social technologies into every aspect of their organisations, the good, the bad and the ugly. We learn about the spark for the business, the passion of the founders, the frustrations and sheer hard work behind every success, however small. As I say, this is natural to this generation. It isn’t seen as marketing, communication or public relations, it’s just what you do. But in behaving in such a naturally open, transparent and honest way, we can’t help but get caught up in the story ourselves and it becomes brilliant marketing.

My favourite current example of a socially native business is Vulpine, which produces high-quality cycling clothing (and therefore taps into my own personal passion for road cycling). Vulpine was set up by Nick Hussey who (I’m sure he won’t mind me saying…) was probably born just before the internet became pervasive. Literally, from day one, Nick has told the story of Vulpine through social media. I’ve never met Nick, but I do know that he’s an incredibly passionate guy who cares deeply about not only his business by about cycling itself. Check out one of Nick’s first blog posts. Heart on his sleeve stuff. And it hasn’t stopped since (which any followers of Nick on Twitter will appreciate!) Interestingly, as an aside, Nick tweeted the other day about how pleased he was that the Vulpine Twitter account‘s community of followers had just passed his own.From my perspective, the Vulpine ‘brand’ is so intertwined with Nick’s own personality (and team members like Jools) that I don’t differentiate.

Ultimately this means that as a passionate cyclist and therefore potential customer, I’m constantly connected to Vulpine through a really compelling (true) story. I’m desperate for Nick and Vulpine to succeed, and in my own small way (by buying the odd bit of kit and talking to others about the Vulpine story…like through this blog post) I almost hope that I become part of the story too. Nick clearly recognises this, and has blogged himself about why he thinks start-ups are better at marketing than corporates:

Corporate marketing is controlled by fear. The fear of saying something that’ll be disagreed with by those up the line. Something real, passionate, heartfelt, genuine. The fear comes from good people who worry they will lose their jobs in an environment where standardisation and approval is key… And so their marketing becomes, ironically, ineffective, anodyne. An unseen diluted beige wash. All that money and talent leeched away.

I truly believe and hope that as more naturally social people start their own businesses and, indeed, rise through the ranks of established businesses, we’ll see more and more organisations become naturally social themselves, and reap the benefits from being so that Nick and Vulpine continue to do.

And when PR, communications and marketing becomes something natural, when founders and their employees feel empowered to tell their honest and heartfelt stories, is their a role left for the consultants?

Genuine customer communities

I posted a while back about the fallacy of social media community management. The premise being that in the consumer-facing social media environment, groups of fans and followers, however large, very rarely form a genuine community. They’re simply large groups of individuals with a one-on-one relationship with the brand.

While there are genuine consumer communities online – look no further than Mumsnet, for instance, and any number of niche forums – it’s often in the world of business-to-business where active customer communities form and deliver value. A good illustration is this piece on IT company Cognizant’s customer community. It’s definitely worth a read.

Far from chasing member numbers, Cognizant’s focus is on quality of engagement. While plenty of consumer brands will also cite this as a primary goal of their own social media strategies, I wonder how many would take the same step as Cognizant and proactively prune those members who hadn’t engaged within the past 12 months? Very few, I’m guessing. Particularly as to do so on most brand Facebook pages would result in the vast majority of fans being culled.

Social customer service. Start with this.

I’m a big fan of social business agency Nixon McInnes. I think that they’re helping their clients deliver against the promise of social business as much as anyone in the UK. And anyone who’s chatted to me over the past few months or followed me on social media will know how much I liked Culture Shock by Will McInnes. Read it.

Danielle Sheerin, one of the super-smart consultants at Nixon McInnes. has just penned a white paper on social customer service which can be downloaded here. As I mentioned before, I believe that customer service is the function which many organisations should look at first when considering social media. Danielle’s paper is a fantastically practical place to start.

Social business DNA

Enjoyed this piece containing some different views on what makes up the DNA of a social business.

This particular passage struck a chord, in which the article’s author, Vala Afshar, tells how in his book, he and his co-author:

“…described a social business as an environment that feels like a small town; people know your name, doors are open and the lights are on after closing. For us, social business transformation was less about use of technology to improve connectedness, and more about a mindset of collaboration and co-creation of value. Our ability to grow our business and delight customers was a function of (order matters): culture, people, process, and lastly use of technology.”

The first part of which reminded me of my previous post about social business actually being an old-fashioned idea.

Dodgy meat, fuzzy supply chains and concerned consumers

The horsemeat scandal that’s currently a hot potato in the UK (though I’m fairly certain we can feel secure in our spuds) is rightly turning into a public relations disaster for the companies involved. Tesco managed the initial story about its burgers which were found to contain horsemeat pretty well, very quickly shifting responsibility onto the Irish supplier. Findus seems to be suffering rather more. I’m presuming that it probably doesn’t have such a slick and well-prepared communications function.

When the Findus story broke, Sky News had a reporter look at the meat supply chain. It led him from the UK to France…and then to a dead end. It was frightening how quickly the provenance of the meat being supplied for use in processed foods and ready-meals was simply too unclear to track. The meat could have literally come from anywhere. Scary stuff.

Examples such as these are only going to heighten consumers’ interest in where and how the products they consume – food and otherwise – are manufactured and how the raw materials for those products are sourced. Some brands already make a virtue of the ethical and responsible nature of their raw material sourcing, but in the near future this won’t be regarded as a brand differentiator, supply chain transparency will be demanded as a brand essential.

Five qualities of a social business champion

Social Business News has a piece which details the five essential qualities of a social business champion. There’s more detail in the piece itself, but the five qualities are:

  1. Passionate
  2. Innovative
  3. Collaborative
  4. Flexible
  5. Courageous

It strikes me that these might be five qualities you’d look for in many employees, but I guess that doesn’t make them any less valid in a social business context. I do, however, also have a nagging concern that in many of today’s rather risk-averse organisations not all of these qualities will be valued! Perhaps that’s where ‘courageous’ comes in…

Step forward the Chief Social Officer

Might 2013 be the year where we start to see the appearance of a new member of the fabled C-suite, the Chief Social Officer?

I can already (virtually) see eyes rolling at the thought of the ‘social’ buzzword reaching the boardroom…however…

Businesses are experimenting with social technologies piecemeal and in silos: there’s likely to be something going on in marketing and communications, possibly a touch in HR, a dash in customer service and maybe even a smidgen internally. But I’d wager that little of this is terribly well-connected.

This is where our CSO comes in. She’s the one who’s going to not only tie these initiatives together, but who’s going to build a social strategy that aligns to and underpins the business strategy, championing not only the benefits but the critical need to move to being a truly social organisation (in all senses of the word) amongst her boardroom colleagues and the organisation as a whole. And, ultimately, she’ll be the obvious candidate for CEO.

There may already be some CSOs out there. Anyone know of any?

Nike, and why social can’t be outsourced

Here’s a great story to start 2013: Marketing Week reports that Nike has apparently taken its social media management in-house and away from its digital advertising agencies.

Funnily enough, I’ve just finished working with an agency to which a number of brands outsource their social media community management. The experience has cemented in my mind the fact that the management of social media properties, community management (or so-called, much is a fallacy in my view) and a whole host of other stuff cannot and should not be outsourced. It needs to be handled by people immersed 100% in the brand (including physically) day in, day out.

The move by Nike has reportedly been taken after a review by incoming social media director Musa Tariq. Perhaps it’s no surprise; Tariq has recently joined Nike from digital and social media poster child Burberry which, as far as I understand it, rarely uses agencies in relation to any of its social media activity.

I think it marks a trend that we’ll see more and more of in 2013. For the past few years which have largely seen brands experimenting with social media (and increasingly social business) many have been happy to outsource all aspects: strategy, creative, implementation and management. I absolutely still see a role for agencies in strategy and creative – in helping brands understand how new and emerging social techniques and technologies could be employed to benefit their stakeholders’ experience – but in my view the on-going management can only be handled in-house.

Looking at the broader social business implications, I also think that brands will have cause to consider whether other functions which have been outsourced might be better served as in-house functions as they become more social. Principal amongst these is customer service. As we all well know, many consumer-facing organisations have outsourced their customer service function in recent years. To me this is counter-intuitive. For instance, pretty much the only direct, one-on-one contact I have with my bank these days is when I (rarely) call customer service. That’s a prime opportunity to enhance my experience to potential comercial gain, and yet it’s outsourced. There’s no brand enhancement there at all. In fact, if anything, it’s the opposite. Odd.

Anyway, a belated Happy New Year. Looks like it’ll be an interesting one ahead.