social media for the risk-averse organisation

21 07 2011

Introducing social media into a risk-averse organisation can be challenging. So much of what is reported in mainstream media about social media is negative – paedophiles grooming children, online bullying, sexting, brand sabotage. Why on earth would any sane organisation get involved?

The usual reasons proposed by staff relate to marketing and communication. Social media is a great way to reach out to people, spread your message – go to where your audience is instead of waiting for them to come to you (push communication is always more effective than pull). But this argument does not address the fundamental issue of risk. The conversation needs to be changed.

The real reason why risk-averse organisations need a social media strategy – and note the terminology has changed there – is to address risk. There is significant risk in NOT being involved in social media. The conversation will happen whether you are involved or not. Better to at least monitor and respond if appropriate than live in ignorance while your brand is being flamed. Social media does not stay online – it affects behaviour, as seen in recent middle east uprisings, and drives “old media” – newspapers, television and radio – with reporters sourcing and researching stories based on social media movements.

However – back to the change in terminology – it does need to be a social media strategy. Social media in all its forms is communication mainlined. There is no editor to go through. Anyone can do it – all it takes is a computer and a modem. Whatever you say – good bad, silly or unintelligible, libellous – will be out there for all to see.

So what are some of the aspects and risks that your strategy needs to consider?

• Be clear about what are you trying to achieve with your involvement in social media. This might be obvious for a sales-based organisations but less so for others. Know what you want and expect from this activity. Choose which social media you get involved in based on your goals.

• Don’t think one-way communication works in Web 2.0 and beyond. If you don’t give people the opportunity to converse with you, at best you become irrelevant. At worst, you send the message that you aren’t interested in their opinions. They will notice, and they will comment elsewhere, where you have less control and less awareness.

• Social media needs to be monitored and responded to quickly. If there is a negative or incorrect comment, you need to respond. If you get back in two days time or next week you might find it is 100 comments, or 20,000 tweets. There is a cost associated with live monitoring.

• What do you do if someone leaves a negative comment? You can’t please everyone, so it will happen. Ignore it and you look like you don’t care – it might inflame the issue. Delete it and it’s censorship. Answer it – could result in a good or a bad result. You need to have made the decision about what to do before it happens – not policy on the run.

• Be aware that if someone posts something that is incorrect, illegal or libellous on your social media or website and you leave it up there, you may be liable for it. All the laws that affect your business in real life also work in cyberspace. And you don’t have to have been the one who wrote it, if you allow it to stay out there, you are in the frame. Recent court cases regarding false advertising demonstrate this.

• Monitor other social media forms that you aren’t using. Just because you aren’t there doesn’t mean you aren’t being discussed.

• Don’t give the social media strategy and monitoring to the office junior “because they understand social media”. You also need someone who understands your business, the political and commercial sensitivities your work in and has authority to speak to the media on behalf of the organisation. This person does however have to understand how the various forms work though.

• How are you going to measure the outcomes? When everything else in the organisation is accountable against KPIs, it is important to ensure that your social media strategy is as well.

• For organisations subject to document retention legislation – how are you going to meet this requirement for your social media conversations? How will you index and cross-reference them?

Social media – as part of a planned and managed communication strategy – can achieve organisational goals. But conservative organisations are right to be cautious about how they enter the field and how they manage it.

For some entertaining and somewhat horrifying examples of corporate social media gone wrong, click here.

When organisations turn cannibal

21 07 2011

Many years ago I worked for a boss who fits all the criteria for “psychopath in the workplace”. He, and the place I worked, shall remain nameless for the purpose of this blog! (Disclaimer: If one of my former bosses is reading this and worried it is them – the fact you are worried means it is not you.)

This man ran a small organisation with four different operational arms. I can only suspect he was worried about his managers getting together and overthrowing him (much as he had done to the previous CEO) because the culture he encouraged was for each of the managers to attack the other managers’ units as a way of deflecting attention and negative focus from their own. To say that the organisational culture in this workplace was toxic is an understatement. When a manager came through your office you hid whatever you were doing and said nothing of any value to them at all. Non-cooperation was the order of the day. Staff turnover was endemic – people couldn’t get out of there fast enough.

Years later I had risen through the ranks and happened to work alongside one of the “other” managers from this workplace. Her view on the experience was illuminating. She did what she had to do to survive and to keep her staff safe – as we all did. Imagine how effective the organisation could have been if everyone had been focussed on achieving organisational goals instead of cannibalising each other.

So a recent Forbes India article about leadership intrigued me. There were of course the usual “bad” manager types (Sociopaths, Opportunists and Chameleons) but one of the “positive” leadership types – Achiever – also had some cautionary tales attached to it.

The Achiever, according to the article, is highly prized for reaching goals and achieving outcomes. However, they tend to have a shorter term, insular view of their goals. An example given was shutting down investment in R&D as a cost-saving measure. Very effective in the short-term, but ham-strings the organisation in the medium to long-term.

Another example is where the achiever is competing against internal competitors. They do things that benefit their unit (and disadvantage other units) without understanding or perhaps caring about the broader organisation. Short term personal gain – their unit is working well, they may look good – but causing problems for the organisation.

Management book “Think One Team” uses the example of a jelly bean company (one of my former staff called the book “Jelly Bean Dreaming”) to illustrate how silos that compete against each other and don’t have an organisation-wide view actually work against the company.

While silos exist for a reason – the coalition of like services into units makes sense organisationally – silos that don’t see themselves as achieving for the whole organisation, or worse, compete with each other and actively disadvantage each other, equal a dysfunctional organisation.


18 07 2011

When I started on Social Media, I was very careful about personal information. I didn’t add my hometown to my Facebook page or to TripAdvisor. I carefully avoided anything geographically identifying, or particularly, identifying of my children. When I left the house or went on holidays I carefully refrained from posting comments or photos until I returned home – in case I was advertising that my house was empty.

I worried about identity theft and carefully googled myself to see what information was out there. (Sidebar – I was somewhat alarmed to find an obituary for myself – then realised it was an 82 year old woman in the US with the same triple barrelled name.)

I marvelled at the difference between my Gen X friends – all as paranoid as me – and my Gen Y friends who put it all out there. My Gen X friends, like me, know everyone on their Facebook Friends list, even if some of them were school friends from 25 years ago. Some of my Gen Y friends have over 2000 friends. How is that even possible?

And then came the “check-in” app. Or as I like to call it, Stalker-App. In case I ever need to know where someone is – they check in. They check in when they are in bed (and then their address is clearly visible on the map, helpfully GPS positioned by Facebook). They check in when they are out – and where. Sometimes they also check in their friends. And yes, it has become a competition to see who can check in from the most exotic places and who has the best social life.

Where privacy is concerned, this seems to have become the great leveller. And the thin edge of the wedge. Suddenly everyone is checking in somewhere. (Perhaps we should be enjoying ourselves wherever we are instead of busily tapping it into our iphone or ipad.) And once you’ve started posting personal information and the world doesn’t end (or at least no-one has stolen your identity or targeted you in some other way), why stop? You get so much more feedback.

Suddenly, my entire career path is up on LinkedIn. Is this a good idea? Who knows?! I was told the other day at a social media conference that people get jobs through LinkedIn. No-one I know, I have to say. I know many people who were checked out by recruiters, looking up information on LinkedIn and Facebook. But I don’t know anyone who actually got head-hunted as a result of their LinkedIn profile. I wonder if this is an across-the-board trend, or is it just for people working in social media?

If I google myself now I can find all sorts of personal information about myself, most of it posted by me. Much of it is from chatting to people I feel like I know. But it is all out there forever.

In an age where we mistrust others, lock ourselves away behind bolted doors and gates, lecture our children on stranger danger – is social media the reaction to the isolation we feel?

How do you feel about the amount of personal information about yourself available on the net? Have you had a job offer from LinkedIn? Tell me about it!

Freak Show

16 07 2011

Vintage Freak Show poster: credit: x-ray delta one

Circuses used to feature Freak Shows. Those born with disfiguring deformities or maimed through accident or disease found a way to make a living by exhibiting themselves and their lives to the paying public. I don’t think records exist as to what sort of living they made, but given that many other jobs would have been barred to them at the time, it was probably better than starving. Who knows, perhaps they enjoyed the interactions, being the centre of attention.

Did you think as a society we had moved on from turning the misfortunes of others into a spectator sport?

Starting with a generally celebrity-driven format, the Phil Donahue Show (1967-1996) and later Oprah pioneered the “average Joe and Josephine” stories as interesting to others. We peered into the lives of others, asked probing questions and watched from afar as they cried. We began to believe that the private lives of others could be served up as entertainment for vicarious thrills. But we wanted more drama. We wanted their private lives to be like soap operas.

And so entered the evil twin. Starting with Jerry Springer Show, where family and relationship disputes between dysfunctional, wildly emotional and occasionally violent people were paraded, with Jerry as the lion tamer prodding and poking them into a frenzy. Some of the stories seemed so unbelievably bizarre and complex that viewers speculated that they were made up, with actors playing the parts. Others were just sad. Perhaps this is the latter day version Roman entertainments, where we watch people tear each other apart for our amusement.

And then there is Reality TV where groups of people are placed in artificial situations under high pressure, isolated from their families and friends, deprived of sleep (a form of torture under the Geneva Convention) and asked to do highly stressful tasks such as memorise a song and perform it for a live audience, cook a meal for a visiting celebrity chef with three bizarre ingredients they have never seen before, or compete in some sort of humorous obstacle course hobbled by fancy dress.

According to author Jon Ronson, the insanity we see on Jerry Springer, and the later reincarnations of Reality TV, is not accidental. Of all the people who write into these shows offering up their stories and begging to be given air-time (a sign of insanity to start with), the producers (or at least the one he spoke to) actually picked who would get onto the show based on the level of madness they exhibited. Like Goldilocks and the three bears, they picked their way through the diagnoses to select those madnesses that could be served up for entertainment. Psychotic illness – too much. Mild depression – not enough. Personality disorders – now we’re talking.

What damage is done by placing people with diagnosed mental illness into artificially manipulated high pressure situations and then tormenting them until they crack? Some go on to become minor celebrities, sure. But others may be damaged permanently.

In 1995 the Jenny Jones Show lured a man onto their show to find out who had a secret crush on him. When it was revealed on the show that his secret admirer was a male friend, not a female as he had been led to believe, he appeared to deal with it with a sense of humour. Three days following the taping of the show, he bought a gun, went to the home of his secret admirer – and shot him dead. Surprisingly, the show was not cancelled although that particular episode was not aired. Turns out he had a history of mental illness and drug & alcohol addiction – he was convicted of murder in the second degree and is now serving a 25-50 year prison term. The Show won a suit brought against them by the victim’s family for wrongful death.

One wonders how the contestants fit back into their lives when the TV cameras are gone and all they are left with is the memories of what they confessed or did publicly on TV.

Do we want to be a society that considers watching people disintegrate to be entertaining?

(This blog was inspired by Jon Ronson’s latest book, The Psychopath Test: A journey through the madness industry. Fascinating book that kept me up all night reading, well worth it. Jon can be seen on Youtube explaining a little more about the premise of the book. To purchase the book from Amazon, please click here:The Psychopath Test: A Journey Through the Madness Industry

Roaring….with laughter

15 07 2011

I am told I have a loud laugh. When I go on holidays, that is what the office notices – it’s suddenly quiet. (I like to flatter myself that they miss other things as well, but somehow this is what is commented on.)

I laugh at lots of things. Often, I laugh at myself. I laugh at my reactions to various things that happen around the office – “wins”, setbacks, frustrations, mistakes and miscommunications. I laugh if something is amusing. I laugh if something takes me by surprise. I laugh in staff meetings when we report back on some of the funny things that happen in our workdays, some of the strange problems I get to deal with (currently I have a sunken boat I need to get raised – so far out of my prior field experience, it seems bizarre to contemplate). I laugh at the differences in perceptions between myself and others – we all come from our own point of view and the difference between those perspectives is often enormous.

All in all, humour works very well for me. I hope the office understands that they can talk to me about pretty much anything. If I explode it will be with laughter, and then we can sit down and work our way through the problem. Laughter is the best medicine, as they say.

I now have a PA who (as well as having an excellent can-do attitude and being very talented) has a very loud laugh and laughs often. We have become a very noisy end of the office. I don’t think that is a bad thing. The sound of laughter, even if you aren’t in on the joke, sets a pleasant tone, cutting through tensions and underlining that you can enjoy your time at work, even when you are under pressure. People want to be here and they want to work here. Why would you want to work somewhere where everyone is miserable?

We use humour in our staff newsletters. As well as valuing incidental humour such as in staff profiles (which they write themselves), we also have jokes and brain-teasers interspersed with the more serious aspects of the newsletter. Hopefully that not only sets the tone for the entire newsletter, but keeps people reading.

I should be clear that none of the laughter is mean. We aren’t laughing at others, and we have an appropriate seriousness with the sad and bad things we sometimes have to deal with in the human services field. We occasionally laugh at our reaction to others and to events, but not at people, clients or staff. The laughter is underpinned by a compassionate view of the world.

And so a study from the University of Kent that found that positive reframing using humour also had beneficial effects on satisfaction comes as no surprise. Positive morale is good for developing a self-motivated cohesive team. But it is also a quality issue. Positive morale is linked to good judgement – decision making.

So maybe one of the most important things I can do at work is develop a positive team morale. As well as making it a more pleasant place for staff, it is so much more enjoyable for me to go to work there as well.

when the animals rule…

14 07 2011

So a fish has now been photographed using a tool to bash open a shellfish. We humans are in trouble.

Personally, I have been waiting for the day that the animals took over. I swear our dog is so clever and domineering, if he had opposable thumbs he would be ruling the house by now. He can unmake beds and turn them into dog-nests. He can open doors. He is particularly good at hitting unwary visitors in the back of the knees to make them buckle (consider yourself warned).

However the honour of ruling our house currently sits with the rabbit. The rabbit is a new addition to the menagerie. He lives indoors in a hutch and gets given the run of our tiled area twice a day. Yes, he is house trained. More-so than the children are anyway.

Now you would think in a house of two dogs and a rabbit, the pecking order would be pretty well established. In the wild, dogs hunt and eat rabbits. Apparently no-one has let our animals know this. The rabbit chases the dogs away from the dog food, and proceeds to eat it. (I need to talk to the vet about whether rabbits should be carnivores – it certainly wasn’t on the list of instructions we were given.) The rabbit rounds the dogs up. All in all, the rabbit treats the dogs with the disdain that they deserve. Call themselves dogs? Gotta be joking.

To be fair however, the rabbit also has the humans trained. When he wants attention – food, a run, etc, he thumps on his hutch floor. Repeatedly. No matter what time of day or night. It is very hard to sleep through a rabbit thumping every ten seconds after about ten minutes.

However, I digress. If animals are smart enough to open doors and use tools – what next? This was supposed to be one of the major defining characteristics between higher order apes (such as us) and other animals. Who’s to say they can’t communicate.

I don’t want you to be paranoid or anything….but maybe they are plotting a take-over. They couldn’t make any more of a mess than we have.

Singing in my head

11 07 2011

for reasons of patient confidentiality, this is not the actual stroke choir) photo credit: laihiu

Last week I went to the first performance of a choir. This choir was a little different from most choirs – they couldn’t speak. Each of them had lost the ability to speak to some degree through stroke or brain injury. But they could sing.

One man stood at the front and sang American Pie. His normal speech is unintelligible, but he sang this familiar classic clearly. The choir and the audience joined in the chorus.

The audience was, for the most part, family and friends. Small children, wives, adult children – some hadn’t heard their loved one speak in years, and yet there they were singing.

A staple of the self-help gurus is the saying “you are only using 10% of your brain capacity”. Clearly this is untrue, it’s a sales pitch – but we are only just beginning to understand the possibilities that brain science might bring.

The old view of the brain was that it was hardwired. A fixed neuronal circuitry which, like an electrical circuit, if broken, remained broken. If a circuit was broken, then you lost that function. Now there is a better understanding of brain plasticity. When one section of the brain is unable to perform, another area may be able to take over the same function.

Similarly, people who have lost the ability to speak, may still be able to sing. Speech is controlled by the left side of the brain, whereas singing is shared by both hemispheres. The functions seem the same – the ability to communicate through enunciation of words. But because different areas of the brain are involved, if the speech centre is damaged through trauma, they may still be able to sing. And through practice, some may be able to slow their singing so that it comes out of their mouth as speech. The inspiration for the Adelaide choir, a Melbourne woman called Wendy Lyons, calls it “singing in your head”.

At the very least, the choir participants are enjoying a social outing. They also get breathing training, posture training, which can affect their health, sense of taste and wellbeing, all through a therapy session which is actually fun, and in which they want to participate.

And occasionally, a miracle occurs.

Retune Choir is a joint venture by Talkback SA, Stroke SA and Hampstead Rehabilitation Centre. Proudly supported by the City of Port Adelaide Enfield.

Ode to the Psychic Fruit Fly

10 07 2011

Ah, the multi-talented fruit fly, staple of genetics experiments the world over…..

Now poised to take over the role of the recently departed and sadly lamented “Paul”, the psychic German Octopus, font of predictive knowledge for soccer games (although of course, being German, he would have known them as football, not soccer).

At this stage the Fruit Flies have an almost amazing ability to predict the outcome of matches incorrectly….which, as the winner of several footy-tipping wooden spoons, I contend is surely a talent. Also, as fruit flies have six legs and Paul presumably had eight, they are probably at a mathematical disadvantage. Which may or may not be relevant.

If we discover that fruit flies are in fact psychic, will that undo years of research? Maybe they knew what we wanted them to do all along…..Were they just humouring us? Will we have to reconsider how the genetic pool continues to replicate itself in recombinant forms?

Many thanks to Improbable Research for bringing this little ray of metaphysical hope to an otherwise dull logical world.

PS – OK, I accept Ode was probably false advertising. A glass of wine was possibly involved in the writing of this post.

The impact of Marshmallows on the DS generation

10 07 2011

In 1972 Professor Walter Mischel at Stanford University devised a novel way to torment small children.

It should be noted that tormenting small children was not the aim of the study. The aim was to see what techniques some children used to overcome temptation and the differences to those used by children who surrendered to temptation. It was only when it was followed up years later when the children were teenagers that the impact of this ability to delay gratification on the rest of their lives began to become clear.

The study went something like this. A small child, aged approximately 3 to 5 years of age was led into a room where there were a number of treats on display. These included the eponymous marshmallow. The child was allowed to select one treat. At the point at which they were about to consume the treat, the researcher offered them a deal.

One marshmallow now. Or, wait a few minutes and have two marshmallows when the researcher came back. There was a third option – if you chose to wait then changed your mind, you could ring a bell, the researcher would return but you only got one marshmallow. Approximately 30% of children were able to wait and get two marshmallows.

The Marshmallow Experiment is probably well-known to anyone who has done Intro Psych. When followed up as teenagers, those who were able to delay gratification had higher grades. Even later on, those who were unable to delay gratification were more likely to use drugs or be overweight. The ability to wait to get a better reward rather than gobbling up quick and easy rewards now seemed to be a fundamental precursor to success.

Delayed gratification was seem as aligned to long term goals and perseverance – study to get a degree, save to buy a house, start a business. All of these things require a long-term view of life, to understand why it is worth persevering with something that is not immediately rewarding.

So how does this impact on the DS generation? OK, so to start with I am not anti-DS games. I would never have survived long car-trips with my children without plugging them into Mario-kart and Pokemon. And I am quite a fan of the Tomb-raider Series for Playstation (although Lara Croft’s impossible figure and flexibility puts Barbie to shame in terms of physical impossibility).

But if you are going to learn something new, you practice. And what my children are practicing on DS / Playstation / Xbox / Wii etc is a warped version of Newton’s third law of motion – every action receives an immediate reaction. Neuroscientist Baroness Susan Greenfield warns that the impact of screen-culture is to develop shorter attention spans, reliance on instant gratification and self-centredness. And this is what children’s growing, developing, learning brains are being trained to.

The other thing they are learning is that entertainment comes from external input. They have no tolerance for boredom. My response “It’s good to be bored – it makes your brain work to entertain you” was recently echoed in an Advertiser article, which is now, to my children’s disgust, laminated and stuck to the fridge door. If it’s printed in a newspaper, it must be right, right? The children remain unconvinced.

As well as my annoying sayings, the second front in the fight-back – less welcome – is “No-Screen Sunday”. From first thing in the morning until 5pm at night, there are no screens on. No TV, no computers, no DS. The only exception is for homework.

At first, of course, I was the meanest mother in the world (I have explained that “mean” is part of the job description but they look at me blankly). But gradually, they have actually started playing together, reading, riding their bikes. Doing things that involve live human interaction and/or physical movement on their part. Maybe I am channelling my 1970’s childhood, but it seems like a good thing.

There’s no getting away from screen culture. It is here to stay. Many jobs are dependent on screens, study now requires computer literacy for researching, writing and submitting. My current study and much of my last two degrees were conducted online. It is a major form of entertainment and a source of information.

But No Screen Sunday just goes to show, there is life after all.

PS: The New Yorker printed an amusing story about one child who worked out where the other treats were being stored, broke into it and helped himself. According to most of the “Success” coaches who coach thinking differently and not being limited by externally imposed rules, this child should be the most successful of all. Or perhaps a criminal. Turns out he works in the creative arts industry. Maybe a different type of thinking is good for a different type of success.

If you liked this posting you might also like Where are they now?

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9 07 2011

A recent Wall Street Journal article entitled “The Insidious Evils of ‘Like’ Culture” talked about the effect that this infectious facet of Facebook has had on western culture.

The thumbs-up sign, as hijacked by Facebook, is now a universally recognised, if somewhat vague, i-symbol.

As a Facebook afficionado, I am certainly a fan of the “like” button. On my ipad Facebook function, where I can’t “like” other people’s comments, I frequently type in *Like*. I feel a need to spread the love and connect.

But what does *Like* mean? I am a subscriber to several news services Facebook Pages, and have seen examples where people have “liked” some pretty horrible stories. In this shorthand culture, it is hard to know, but I tend to give them the benefit of the doubt and assume they weren’t thinking too deeply about what they were “liking”. It was more a registration that they had read it. I hope.

So maybe it’s less about liking something (although it does still have that function). Maybe it’s shorthand for an acknowledgement, a recognition or on some level, agreement with the sentiments, or at least some aspect, of the post. At its most basic level, it is almost a popularity measure – which are the sentiments that gather the most agreement?

And it was this aspect that the Wall Street Journal Article was concerned with: the effect the popularity contest aspect was having on culture and on our ability to think.

Do we, craving acceptance, edit and re-edit our online messages like Pavlovian dogs, repeatedly regurgitating those aspects of our lives that are positively reinforced, and editing out the less acceptable bits? And, layering onto that our 30-second concentration span, does this mean any thought which takes more than 30 seconds to digest and hence doesn’t collect a series of *likes*, is edited out of our online personalities – and possibly our real lives as well?

How does this build a culture of intellectual thought? Or are we pandering to the lowest common denominator. In a world where ability to delay gratification is linked to success in most areas of life….how is this instant popularity contest affecting what we are exposed to through our online interactions. With Facebook now the most visited site and accounting for more internet traffic than pornography (apparently its true!), it is a significant indicator and driver of our culture. More than a neutral channel, the way Facebook works is changing the way we access information and the way information is presented to us.

And if its all down to a popularity contest…..then we’re in trouble.

Please *like* this blog!

Wall Street Journal July 2, 2011
The Insidious Evils of ‘Like” Culture (Neil Strauss)


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