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How To Win On Social Networks
In the scenario, as described in my previous post, how does an enterprise participate in the social networking world? Today, there are tools available to gauge the mood of people and understand their opinions on products, services and brands. Today one can:
1) Advertise on the social network.
2) Gather feedback on their products, services and brand by virtue of their conduct in the real world, and
3) Post industry news and messages you want the world to know and read.
Can enterprises move beyond these three existing possibilities and conduct business in the social network space as they do in the world of brick and mortar? How different will this be to the present e-commerce model?
The difference between the traditional e-commerce and commerce in a social network will be inviting active participation of social network members in the enterprise business without the constraints of operating under the shadow of an enterprise's people-process-system umbrella.
I think there is an opportunity here and a few key ingredients are needed to attempt this.
1) There needs to exist a group of people within an enterprise who should be able to lead their lives as social network inhabitants do. You need to feel and think like them to successfully emote and transact with them; A group that does not necessarily operate under the shadow of people-process-system umbrella.
2) Social media is full of data on lifestyle patterns of people, their moods, their needs, their family etc. While a small portion of this is direct data, most of the data needs to be interpreted and inferred from what is happening on these networks. Enterprises need to develop social intelligence tools that will help them understand these.
3) The people-process-system engine will need some re-architecting, re-engineering or may be even replacement to take on the task at hand. This is tough and easier said than done.
4) Social intelligence output needs to be funnelled into the wheel of people-process-system to deliver personalized offerings to the social network inhabitants. A very important part of this delivery is not just the flexibility of the people-process-system wheel but the user experience delivered through touch points such as traditional web on desktop/laptop, mobile devices and tablets.
I foresee a user experience technology layer emerging in IT architecture to meet this challenge. The social network being a connected world, word gets around at lightning speed on opinions around the experience, which begins with the user interface.
5) The part that all CIOs and IT teams are good at - the back end, needs considerable re-architecting for the purpose. Systems need to be flexible. With each initiative, there will be change requests at a much higher frequency than before. This will happen till the time IT teams go up the learning curve on dealing with the dynamics of social networks and the effects of its demands on the backend systems and infrastructure. CIOs need to create a separate layer of technology, overlaying the current architecture to address this issue.
Apps will need wrappers to both gain visibility and provide access from social networking sites, and factor in multiple touch points such as mobile and tablets. For the lack of a better word, at present, I call this the user experience technology layer.
I am working on one such project and will hopefully have more insights with the benefit of hindsight after I finish. I hope my project sponsor is not reading this, as I admit that I hope to have more learning from failure on this rather than amateur's luck!!
Integrating the output of social intelligence, into the user experience technology layer, apps, service and the people-process-system wheel will deliver meaningful results. I avoid the term success. Meaningful results include availability of enough data and intelligence on reasons of failure, to enable a more effective retry.
More often than not, systems are not catered for such an endeavour. They are mostly architect-ed for a first time right scenario. Hence, you see the heart-burns when large projects go bad. For conducting business on social networks, the people-system-process machine needs to be primarily architect-ed for intelligence output on what went wrong or what could have been done better.
On a social network, relevance of a particular people-process-system structure will need to change with the changing mood and theme on these networks. You cannot sell insurance or a toaster the same way you did while the network was rejoicing the holiday season as opposed to the network debating intensely a people movement revolting a government policy or an issue. The user experience technology layer will have to sense these changes real time (powered by social intelligence) and offer a completely different user experience on top of the underlying fulfilment model.
My thought process on what actually constitutes this user technology layer and how does this integrate and inter-relate to the other layers of the architecture are still evolving and at the moment are very specific to the project at hand. I hope to generalize this layer to the best of my capabilities in the coming months and test its validity.
In my view, the differentiating factor between a transaction capable portal and business- enabled-transaction-fulfilment-capable social network primarily rests with the way enterprises engage with consumers. The user technology layer can enable this. Once this happens, maybe there will be very little justification to incur costs on maintaining and managing a corporate portal as opposed to being present on various social networks.
Can CIOs in India lead the change as businesses start to explore ways of participation in the social networking space? If there is anyone who is completely entangled in the present day avatar of people-process-system, it is the CIO and the business operations. They are measured on process inefficiencies and cost savings.
Any technology implementation is more weighed against the possibility of contribution to bottom line. There are very little systemic incentives in place in corporates that can nudge a CIO or a COO in a direction enabling to operate outside of the current people-process-system corporate plan. It will take considerable sense of character and influencing ability to be able to sell such a thought to the management and board in India.