10 Steps for Social Competitive Intelligence

10StepsToSocialCompetitiveIntelligenceHere is a quick, real life example for how to estimate your competitor’s event marketing budget and get a hint as to when they’re going to launch a new product or service in 10 steps:

1)      List your key competitors. You know your market and the main players in your space so make a list.

2)      List key industry events.  You also know your industry has several “main events” each year.  These might be conferences, meet-ups, or trade shows. List those events.

3)      Most big events from the past several years have their own Twitter hashtag, Facebook page, Pinterest Page and even conversation threads in relevant LinkedIn Groups.  Make a note of those.

4)      Search SlideShare.net, Scribd and other presentation / document sharing sites for presentations from your competitors at those events.  See our list of “sources and signals” for a great starter of places to visit for social competitive intelligence research.

5)      Make a note of how many presentations your competitors had at each event and the number of different presenters they had delivering those keynote and breakout sessions.

6)      Make a note of whether or not there is a “visit booth #12345” in the presentations.

7)      Now you’ve got your data, start the synthesis.

  • Estimate a cost of $500 – $1000 per presenter per conference.
  • Estimate a cost of $10,000 per small booth at a trade show and up to $100,000 for large conference sponsorship.
  • Remember that you’re not trying to re-create your competitor’s budget, rather you’re trying to determine if they’re ramping up to a big announcement or simply staying in maintenance mode or struggling to stay above water.
  • Did they have more presentations, more staff, bigger booth, new sponsorships this year than they have in years past?
  • Who is tweeting with the event hashtag from your competitor?  Who is re-tweeting them?  Who are they re-tweeting?  What are they saying on their Facebook Page?  What are they saying on the event’s Facebook page?

8)      Combine the data you’ve overlaid to produce the intelligence.  Is your competitor ramping up their spending?  Is the increased spending significant for them?  If they’re a small or medium sized company or a large company that has been struggling recently, a big marketing spend is a significant flag for upcoming activity.  Remember that employees will tweet, post and blog about items they know and that they think will help the company.  So a competitor’s retweet of a keynote speaker’s point may hold much more competitive significance than mere interest.

9)      What should you do about it?  Is there a way you can pre-empt your competitor’s announcements?  Is there a bandwagon that you should be on as well?  Do you need to take a legal action?  Speed up your own R&D? Or maybe just continue to pay attention?

10)   Compile the key points, synthesis and recommendations into an easy to digest report, dashboard or brief.  Make sure that every point you make is backed up by hard data that you found.  If you say your competitor is ramping up for a big product launch because of increased budget spends on conferences and increased chatter then make sure you can show that there was actually an increase over previous years. Strive for Actionable Intelligence and you will bring traditional CI into the new reality of social business.

Social Competitive Intelligence

BloomThink does Social Competitive Intelligence
Creative Commons Attribution by Flickr user kortunov

Traditional Competitive Intelligence is in a rut.  Books, websites, whitepapers and presentations all echo the same techniques and priorities that defined the practice 10 years ago.  Research public filings, read credentialed analyst reports, talk to employees and former employees if you can, be careful of blogs they might not be trustworthy.  Social media?  Be extra careful of that too.

Traditional CI process and practice has largely missed out on more than a decade of change in the way businesses and employees communicate. The reality is that we are producing more information more quickly than at any other time in history.  According to Google we produce as much information every two days as we did in all of history up to 2003!  Some of this information is machine data and metadata.  Much of it is user generated content.  These are things like Tweets, Instagram photo uploads, Facebook or LinkedIn status updates as well as blogs, web pages and shared presentations.

The problem is not that the traditional CI focus on interviewing employees and reading web pages was wrong.  Rather, the venue has changed.  Instead of needing to track down employees to get juicy details, the CI professional simply needs to listen to the public conversations that are already going on through social media channels like LinkedIn, Facebook, Twitter, Glassdoor and numerous other socially enabled sites.  This is called Social Competitive Intelligence.

Of course there is an art to the practice as well.  Where in years past the traditional CI pro needed skills in finding and persuading employees to talk, the new Social CI pro requires superpowers to filter and categorize the flood of information we’re all producing.  The new CI pro requires less sleuthing ability and more synthesis power; the ability to bring different facts together to form a complete picture.

Part of this synthesis means combining social competitive intelligence with traditional CI as well as traditional business intelligence.  Both traditional CI and traditional BI do an amazing job of helping organizations understand what is happening. But it is Social Competitive Intelligence that provides the market, competitive and social media context in which business operates. When you correlate BI, traditional CI and Social CI insights, you understand the “why” of performance along with the “what” of your BI analytics.

Understanding the “why” is vital if you’re going to ever achieve the end of any CI or BI practice: figuring out what to do next.  Data is not insight.   Getting more data has never been the goal.  Deriving insight from data is what makes intelligence actionable.  The goal of any all CI practice is Actionable Intelligence.

Actionable Intelligence spots trends before they take you by surprise. Actionable Intelligence spots gaps in the market that mean opportunity for new products and offerings.  Actionable Intelligence gets you out front of competition and moves your business from a reactionary to a proactive starting point.

14 Social Recommendations for Travel Destinations

BloomThink Can Help travel destinations must do better with social media
Creative Commons: Attribution by Flickr user apparena

Travel website Tnooz and the European Travel Commission recently ran an article with a laundry list of social media recommendations for travel destinations.  They scored the top travel locations and found that, in aggregate, they stink at social media.  This is surprising since most people love to holiday in exotic and exciting locations, have a good time when they’re there, and like to tell others how great their vacation was.  The list is a good start, but provides nothing in the way of how to do it.  So BloomThink has picked up the ball and has the recommendations AND some ideas of how travel destinations, boards of tourism, chambers of commerce and attractions can get started today.

There are some examples of companies doing it right.  Carnival Cruises is one example.  They are very engaged with their customers (and wanna-be-customers).  BloomThink has outlined what they have done right in our report “Wish You Were Here: Social Consumer Engagement in the Cruise Industry” (Free PDF Download)


1) Concentrate on the inspire-before-during-after phases of travel for consumers

People love to share their positive experiences.  We love to share photos of ourselves in amazing locations.  These inspire and recommend locations to others in our social networks.  So if all that content is out there and already being created, tap into it!  If travelers are already posting photos at your locations, help them connect that content to your social presence while they’re there!  We are people who are willing to take an action if it is immediate and convenient.  So  Invite them to upload their photos on your Pinterest board while they’re at the beach.   Tell them the Twitter hash tag to use and invite them to post or tag you on Facebook while at your hotel or restaurant or city!  This focus on the easy transaction during travel builds up content that will inspire others before they travel.  Additional capabilities like searching for and repinning/reposting/retweeting photos and videos of others at your location help to amplify the experiences of your customers.  For some additional investment, create time bound microsites where visitors (especially leisure travelers) can view professional photos your staff takes of them.  This brings them back to your social “properties” and adds another opportunity for engagement and maybe purchase.

2) Create more interactivity

Interactivity is vital.  Each opportunity to interact is also an opportunity to transact.  Invite people at your location to comment, rate, upload funny photos of themselves, vote on the photos of others.  Gamify experiences at locations by providing items like badges or coupons or collectibles at each room or area on a property.  Don’t tie everything to a purchase.  Deliver some value and fun just for being there.

3) Include trip planners and itineraries and make them more visible for users

If you want people to explore everything your destination has to offer, create a trip planner for your travelers.  You know your location the best so you know what kinds of food, drinks, entertainment and conveniences go together.  Invite people to explore and participate by creating lists of items that go together.  These can be as simple as downloadable PDFs or as sophisticated as apps.  But definitely keep it mobile.  People will keep their phones and tablets with them, not their laptops. Plus it creates more opportunity for interactivity and that all-important engagement during their stay with you.

4) Support SMEs and “manage by jealousy” by encouraging the best to do better.

Do you have “regulars”?  Promote them.  Ask them to create some of those trip planner lists.  Get their testimonials and views.  If they’re regular, they like your location, brand and experience.  Help them spread their own word.  New customers and travelers are more likely to believe and trust them than you.

5) Create clusters of innovative users and support them

Similar to number 4 above, tap into groups of super users for insight and advocacy.  Host a “regulars only” event.  Give them specials and thank-yous over and above loyalty points or a free drink.  Make their experience remarkable and they will remark about it.  But don’t pander.  If users feel you are pandering to them their good will can quickly change into displeasure in a group setting.  People don’t like being manipulated.  They like feeling important and having their needs and desires met.  So do it.  Create a custom Twitter hashtag for groups at your location.  Encourage them to tweet about it with their own hash tag.  Then aggregate the tweets for them on a custom micro-site.  You deliver a special value to them for almost no cost.  They get a memorable experience that is tied to you.  Does your destination have a special family section or event?  Make sure families know about it and then ensure that their entire experience is tailored to that need.  Remember, businesses look at line items.  Groups look at the whole experience.  Adjust your perspective accordingly.

6) Produce themed microsites and use social media to address niche markets

We’ve already talked about social media.  Microsites are one page sites that are about one topic.  There are a ton of free micro site creation utilities available.  It’s also not difficult to create and host one yourself.  From about.me and check this to tumblr to wordpress and blogger there are many ways to quickly and easily set up one-topic sites that are easy-up, easy-down.  Just like a restaurant has a “specials” menu to showcase seasonal, special occasion or promoted items, your destination’s social and web presence can do the same.

7) Implement news feed of social media channels

The importance of social “listening” is huge.  Social listening is the intentional paying attention to the constant stream of updates, status reports, images and feedback that is happening all around you.  Key listening techniques include looking for your brand name, hash tags (even the <your name>FAIL tag!) and location.  But it also means listening to items related to your destination.  Cruise companies need to be looking not just for their brand name but also for people talking about sailing, cruising or even vacation.  Got a club in downtown?  Look for people tweeting about going out tonight in your town area.  Tweet them back with an incentive to come to your club.   When people do talk about your location, make sure that you amplify their message.  If it is positive, include it in an automatic feed on your website, or on a big screen at your location.  If it’s negative, respond with a “we’re on it!” style message and then make sure you get on it!  There are a ton of free and pay tools that can help automate this process.  But remember that automation alone is not the answer.

8) Integrate strategic marketing/online marketing/social media/PR

Too many organizations think that social marketing and traditional marketing are separate entities.  Not only must social practice be coordinated with traditional MarCom but when done intentionally, they can mutually reinforce each other.  Nothing is worse than a social marketing group completely missing the boat when it comes to traditional marketing.  From disasters like the Quantas PR Twitter nightmare not too long ago to the tragic social media missteps during the Aurora shootings, your destination cannot afford to mess this up.

9) Utilize user generated content as a major strategy to inspire prospective travelers

We’ve already mentioned how to make it easier for current travelers to share their experiences of your destination via images, instagram, videos, ratings and reviews.  But the reason this is so important doesn’t stop at creating a memorable experience for your traveler.  Prospective travelers are researching your destination (and competitive ones like it).  Study after study shows that people trust the comments and ratings and images of other customers much more than they trust the word of your brand.  They even trust the word of a stranger over your word.  This is because of the perception that, no matter what, you’re going to spin and airbrush everything to your favor.  Other consumers, they reason, would be a bit more honest if something isn’t quite up to par.  So when you enable and empower current users to tweet, like, check in, explore, collect and share you are providing more and more credible evidence of your desirability.

10) Take advantage of geo-tagging and prepare for location based services

Honestly, it’s to late to “prepare for location based services.”  They’re here.  Nearly all cell phone cameras (and certainly all higher end digital cameras) embed geo tagging information into photos.  The ubiquity of cell phone navigation means that whether through GPS or tower triangulation, consumers can tell where they are and where they want to go and how to get there  at any given moment.  If your destination is not listed, then your customers are missing out on your location.  If there is one area for investment it is interpretation and understanding of location based content.  It can be as simple as “where is the nearest bathroom” in your giant arena or “how to get back to the exact place on the beach in Cancun where you first proposed”.  At least start by listing your destination  – at an appropriate level of detail – in popular services like Google, Foursquare and Yelp.

11) Develop video and multimedia content and drive websites with visually attractive multimedia

Multimedia is where the interaction is at.  Right now pictures are prime.  According to Factbrowser, “people are most likely to engage with branded content on social media that contains pictures (44%), status updates (40%) and videos (37%) source”  The hyper ubiquity of cell phone cameras means not only does everyone have a digital camera / video recorder, but also they probably have one with them right now.  The popularity of YouTube (nearly 20% of allhttp traffic) means that we simply love to look.  We love pictures and videos that show WINs as much as FAILs.  The extreme popularity of Pinterest demonstrates the power of the picture.  So spend some of that marketing budget on some professionally produced but whimsical photo and video collateral.  Many good pros charge about $1000 per finished minute of video.  Think of that as 2 high quality video spots.  Then amplify this rich content through social and traditional channels.  Listen to the social feedback.  Ask people what they think.  Track their feelings then use that as input for your next rich media spend.

12) Integrate virtual reality applications, 360-degree tours or webcams to increase transparency of tourism product

This is a corollary of number 11 above.  While VR applications are in their infancy, you can go a long way to answer the “What Would It Be Like If I Was There” question with applications like these.  360 degree tours are important because they are more honest than a one shot picture.  They show all the corners rather than only the best angle.  Augment traditional marketing collateral with QR codes.  These codes are scanned by mobile devices and augment the current experience.  They show the beach at sunset, or during a party.  They bring up a picture of the item on the menu with wine pairing ideas as well.  In all, these kinds of applications will take a little more time and money to develop but not much.  But they will deliver a much deeper and richer experience for your current and prospective customers.

13) Improve current technologies and applications constantly to maintain standard

Technology is always changing and developing.  It is true that in order to achieve an ROI on one technology investment, you must stick with that platform for  a little while.  But also realize that the market and the consumer doesn’t care about your ROI.  They don’t care at all. So if you have 1 year left on your Garmin platform before it pays for itself, but you’re losing audience and market share because they’ve all moved to iPhones and Android phones with their free mapping.  It simply doesn’t matter.  You must be where your audience is.  Don’t let IT forget that all important point.  Make the best out of what you have but do not try and force your audience into an old or clunky interaction simply because you’re too tight.  It will be much harder to rebuild your audience after they’ve left you than it is to maintain and grow your audience because you’re meeting their expectations.

14) Develop consumers as advocates/ambassadors of a destination brand

Remember that customers and travelers are all interested in positive experiences.  When an experience is positive they like to share it.  But make it easy to share.  Sure, we’ll all share our experiences with our immediate family and maybe friends.  But if you want them to really get out there and share it, do some of the work for them!  Make it click button easy.  To this extent, a must have book is The Conversation Company by Steven Van Belleghem.  I’m still reviewing it but so far it is the best, most practical guide to building advocates and ambassadors of a brand that I have ever read.

So there you have it.  14 social recommendations with practical how-to steps to achieve them.  Engage BloomThink in the form here for help creating this strategy for YOUR business.

Let me know your thoughts in the comments below.

How To Build A Killer Community – The Experts’ Roundtable

There are many kinds of customer communities, from fans on Facebook, to private communities that congregate on company forums.  But what makes people join up?  What keeps them coming back?  How can you start getting your customer community engaged?

We asked five highly credentialed experts about this.  They have practical advice and some profound insights on what makes amazing customer communities.  Peggy brings a brass-tacks practicality to her vision.  Cheryl has real-world examples backing up everything she says.  John brings a strategic approach to the conversation.  Tom is the most philosophical about the whole topic and has profound insight.  Justin brings a wealth of experience to bear and delivers solid advice.

Customer communities don’t just happen. What are the essential ingredients for the growth, then care and feeding of customer communities? 

All of the experts agree is that having practical, immediately useful content like How-To and answers to common but challenging questions of the community.  They also point out that what matters means what matters to the audience, not the company that hosts and manages the community. The goal is creating and delivering value to the audience.  The idea is that the audience goes to where their needs are met.  If you provide more value, they stick around to participate with each other and with you.

 Peggy Winton of AIIM Weighs in with BloomThink on how to build a killer communityPeggy Winton, CMO AIIM International: To attract community members, the community must offer value; valuable education and valuable peer engagement. The more prescriptive the content the better. Folks are looking for assistance in doing their jobs/completing projects that used to be done by someone else. To the extent that the community content and peer contributions can help them get their faster, that’s a winning ingredient. As much as we’d like to think that communities can self-manage, there has to be an owner responsible for maintaining the integrity of the community with a regular and committed cadre of contributors. At AIIM, we call those people “Ambassadors”. 

Cheryl Lesser of the Intranet Benchmark Forum Weighs in with BloomThink on how to build a killer communityCheryl Lesser, Intranet Consultant working with the Intranet Benchmarking Forum: Before a community session we make an effort to ensure the right participants are in attendance. We choose a hot topic (one that’s getting a lot of play in our forums and such). Then we invite at least one “expert” and one “learner.” This is key for setting the stage for a good back-and-forth. We ask the learners to send in their questions ahead of time to make sure the expert is prepared. Also we put the questions on a slide — having them as a visual often prompts the other participants to ask questions of their own.

John Brunswick of Oracle Weighs in with BloomThink on how to build a killer communityJohn Brunswick, Enterprise Collaboration Architect working with Oracle: The foundation of the community must be anchored around a strict focus on the needs of the community users, not the organization hosting the community.  This focus guides the creation of the community in a way that fosters the relationship between the community participants and organization – delivering real value to the members.  In order to maintain and build the relationship, open communication is essential as the community grows and evolves, elevating the significance of transparency, sincerity and responsiveness.  As communication has advanced, it is important to also understand that the engagement of members may now also take place outside of the actual community, through various social networks.  The investment of quality community management effort is not trivial, but the benefits of the bonds created within the community can create a wealth of value for the organization and participants.

Tom Motzel of Tesserae  Weighs in with BloomThink on how to build a killer communityTom Motzel, Owner Tesserae Talent Strategies: Authenticity, Interaction, Contribution and Fun. Let me explain.  First, authenticity – To build a community, you must be as passionate about the ’cause’ as those you hope to attract.  It’s important that your ‘community curator’ has passion before social media expertise.  Second, interaction – Individuals join communities to interact with real people who share their passion. Third, contribution – Members want to learn from and contribute to others.  If a community does not make YOU feel like an important member, you won’t stick around. Finally, fun – Engaging with online communities needs to feel more like going out with college friends than going to a meeting with colleagues.

Justin Schuster of Lithium Tech Weighs in with BloomThink on how to build a killer communityJustin Schuster, VP Product Marketing at Lithium Technology: There’s no one silver bullet for driving community growth. Healthy communities require a combination of traditional push marketing tactics as well as pull marketing strategies like search engine optimization and gamification. Leading brands are starting to embed links to community content in replies to posts on Twitter, Facebook, a Google+, which helps to scale direct response programs and increase community vibrancy. 


What are the major differences, challenges or opportunities between B2B customer communities and B2C customer communities?

Our experts found products and novelty matter most for B2C communities whereas practices and effectiveness predominate in B2B communities.  They agreed that the airing of dirty laundry is a risk and that gaffes become much more public.  But they agreed that these can also help with goals of transparency and authenticity, when authentically handled.

Peggy Winton of AIIM Weighs in with BloomThink on how to build a killer communityPeggy: Most B2C communities are focused around products; the conversations are mainly customer reviews or tips on better utilization. Given the growing power of the consumer, these communities have challenges in that they can become major “gripe sessions”. It is critical to appoint a CLO (Chief Listening Officer) who can provide non-defensive responses to complaints. In the B2B world, the content tends to be more about concepts and practices. The challenge there is that it’s not often sexy. As stated above, the key is to provide very practical and relevant information according to members’ roles and responsibilities.

John Brunswick agrees.  He writes:

John Brunswick of Oracle Weighs in with BloomThink on how to build a killer communityJohn: From a B2B standpoint, the design of a community experience may be less ambiguous than in the B2C space.  As a broad generalization, most B2B communities are established to allow people to resolve issues or engage in a process.  Their effectiveness could be measured on the basis of these factors.  B2C experiences are generally much richer around general exploration within the community and user generated content creation.  This is because members are engaging at will, versus participating in order to arrive at a specific outcome.  As most B2C communities are largely inclusive, they also may have to contend with very public customer service issues.  This poses a challenge to management of the community, but also presents an opportunity to highlight the approach of an organization to resolving negative issues, that may ultimately work in their favor.

Cheryl takes a pragmatic approach.

Cheryl Lesser of the Intranet Benchmark Forum Weighs in with BloomThink on how to build a killer communityCheryl: We have found that it is important to remind participants from time to time that we’re looking for interaction. Something as simple as identifying roles and titles helps.  That way, people know who is on the customer side and who is on the company side.  It seems simple but, doing this repeatedly helps to encourage participation.

Tom points out some significant advantages of B2B customer communities and challenges faced by B2C communities.

Tom Motzel of Tesserae  Weighs in with BloomThink on how to build a killer communityTomB2B Communities have the advantage of being more intimate.  These are likely people that you can talk to and interact with on a regular basis.  A more symbiotic relationship that likely rewards contribution and involvement.  B2C communities are more difficult to maintain because participation reflects an ‘infatuation’ with product or service.  How long does any individual stay committed to any particular product before something better (or life’s changing landscape) replaces it?  B2B communities generally contribute to our ‘industrious’ needs…our ‘bottom line’.  B2C communities generally offer more of an entertainment value…satisfying, but fleeting.

And Justin notes that B2B communities are often faster while B2C communities are often larger:

Justin Schuster of Lithium Tech Weighs in with BloomThink on how to build a killer communityJustin:  B2B communities typically have fewer participants than B2C communities, but they can be just as vital for a major brand. We often see collaboration across marketing and customer care teams emerge faster in B2B communities, particularly where brands are working to deliver an integrated customer experience. 


Any discussion of customer communities would be incomplete without acknowledging the amazing changes that the software landscape has undergone.  From news groups of the early web to Facebook pages to tailored and integrated CRM systems, the evolution of community software has been profound. So how much help does community software actually deliver to a community manager?

Our experts agreed that a successful community quickly outpaces the manual abilities of any individual manager, and that the software should be an enabler for the community rather than something that gets in the way of conversation, sharing and engagement.

Peggy Winton of AIIM Weighs in with BloomThink on how to build a killer communityPeggy: For a vibrant and dynamic community, you’ve got to be able to scale or the manual processes will never get managed. However, these tools come in all shapes and sizes. Usually, the members themselves are non-the-wiser about the backend tools. In my experience, they are much more interested in the content than the bells & whistles, particularly since 80% of them will NOT regularly contribute to content or conversation.


Cheryl Lesser of the Intranet Benchmark Forum Weighs in with BloomThink on how to build a killer communityCherylCommunity management software should foster channels of conversation rather than erecting barriers between the “audience” and the “moderator”.  For example, when we’re engaged in a real-time event in our community, we’re in the background, messaging participants, asking them if they have anything to share. Instead of doing a message blast, or a “sticky thread” (like “Feel free to join the conversation!”) we always tailor the message with the names of specific participants, names of companies, and any background info we have about them. For example: “Hi Sue, would you be willing to share your experiences/insights about your recent SharePoint upgrade at Acme?”  This bridges the divide and almost makes the technology fade into the background; which is a wonderful thing for vibrant community participation.

John Brunswick of Oracle Weighs in with BloomThink on how to build a killer communityJohn: Software can help supply structure, comprised of common community capabilities, for community managers to extend experiences to their members. As communication capabilities have evolved, user experience patterns similar to the Facebook Wall, Dropbox like file sharing, and discussion forums, are often readily identified by users.  By combining these patterns into a prepackaged solution, this can allow community managers to spend time focusing on the overall experience, content and communications that will be relevant for their members.  At Plumtree (software focused exclusively on portals), the mantra of “No Empty Portals” existed to remind us that as great as supporting software can be – success is all about making experiences relevant and valuable to our users.

Tom Motzel of Tesserae  Weighs in with BloomThink on how to build a killer communityTom: Community Software can be a powerful game changer, but only when you have an authentic community of passionate people who are aligned around a well-defined vision and mission.  Outside of those circumstances, it’s just another communication gateway that generally fractures our continuity as we desperately try to keep up with new tools.



Justin Schuster of Lithium Tech Weighs in with BloomThink on how to build a killer communityJustin: Of course we believe the software is critical, and the right tools can mean a world of difference when it comes to making the community blend seamlessly with your website, driving vibrancy, and proving ROI. The right services expertise is equally important, however, and there are many best practices that can make the difference between success and failure. This is why Lithium offers a range of services and even offers a certification program for community managers.


In the end our experts agreed that it takes as much imagination as anything to cultivate a great customer community.  Community managers cannot be human versions of software.  Their greatest strength is precisely their humanity, mistakes, misspellings and all.  But it is precisely this humanizing effect that great community managers have which keeps customers coming back.  They can find answers almost anywhere on the internet.  But a customer community is both a place where they can be heard as well as find answers and feel valued as a peer on a similar journey by those wonderful community managers.

So what is your recipe for building a killer customer community?  Share your thoughts below!

Managing Employee Engagement When You Have No Employees

Work is what you do, not where you go
Creative Commons Attribution by Flickr user   Thomas Leuthard

Contract workers, contingent workforce and “solopreneurs” are on the rise. It is not just by a little bit.  The combination of a slow economy, technology that lets people work from anywhere and a structural shift in the understanding that work is something you do and not just some place you go is driving changes in the workforce.

Here’s the situation: People are leaving BigCo Inc. because they are lacking engagement.  Those same people are starting MyCo LLC. because they desire the freedom to engage professionally on their terms.

Hard to believe?  A key motivation for highly skilled workers to give their own business a go is their experience as salary men and women.  A recent Harvard Business Review article cited research that states, “74% of respondents cited a lack of employer engagement as their principal reason for leaving (emphasis added).”

Communication is at the core of engagement.  Therefore it should be no surprise that the massive increase in social media technology is found at the core of worker engagement discussions.  Whether document sharing, real-time chat, email or online communities the recommendations abound.  But it should be noted that no employer getting left behind by a do-it-yourselfer lacks email or a website.  The implication is that those types of technologies, alone, do not make for more or better engagement.

This is because engagement is first about the human being and only then about the technology.  Scholarly research in this area abounds (see the cite at the end of this article).  Most arrive at the conclusion that the three pillars of engagement are:
1.       A combination of rewards
2.       Involvement in major activities
3.       Active participation in decision making

One company doing it right is Field Nation. Field Nation was built as a place where independent contractors and big business could engage with each other on more than just the hourly rate and start date.  Take a look at how they address each of the 3 scholarly engagement pillars in real life.

Field Nation actively invites users to rate and review each other.  That kind of recommendation and review elevates a user or small business profile in the system which leads to new opportunity. Other rewards are monetary or thank-you related where Field Nation rewards their users (contractors and businesses alike) for participation, interaction and referrals.  The important piece is that rewards are meaningful to the users.  Meaningful rewards are rarely trade-show schwag.  Companies looking to engage their contract workforce in a meaningful way need to go beyond giving them a mug and get down to rewards that matter to the contractor.

When you run MyCo LLC., “major activities” are completely different than they are for BigCo Inc.  Major activities for independent and small businesses are much more about connecting with other independents and small businesses.  The ability to meet up either physically at an event like AIIM Minnesota’s Thirsty Thursday or virtually in one of Field Nation’s hundreds of community groups is an important way to stay in touch.  These kinds of groups provide better interaction than most corporate intranets because they have a higher critical mass of users and a broader diversity of insight and experience.  Meanwhile they’re filtered a bit more than similar public groups on sites like LinkedIn or SlashDot. The feel in these groups is much different than the caricature BigCo Inc. “recycling team” or “Hawaiian shirt day” which are (rightfully) universally reviled.

Finally, an active role in decision making is predicated on meaningful participation.  A corporate suggestion box that never sees suggestions acted on or sees only the most banal recommendations implemented is a drain on engagement.  Fortunately, contractors and consultants are hired for their expertise.  They are there for their skill.  This means they already have the ear of their employer.  But nothing is more demoralizing for an employee than to believe that their experience, expertise and thoughtfulness don’t matter. At Field Nation users are engaged in the most meaningful decision possible – take this job or not. At BigCo Inc. employees are still restricted by org chart hierarchy and “that’s not your job” mentality.  There are notable exceptions, and they should be held up as examples.  But the exceptions prove the rule which is still that 74% of people who leave BigCo do so because of a lack of engagement.

Companies are losing more employees and using more independents than before.  Engagement is the key to keeping them if they’re yours; or keeping them happy and productive if they’re their own.

Citations: Factors Persuading Employee Engagement and Linkage of EE to Personal & Organizational Performance, Rashid, Asad, Ashraf, Interdisciplinary Journal of Contemporary Research in Business, September 2011, vol 3, no 5.


Why Your Company Wont Adopt Social Business Technology

BloomThink - Legacy Technology
Creative Commons Attribution by Flickr user   Pavel Lunkin

There are those who claim “email is dead”, “search is dead”, “ECM is dead”  and so on.  I’ve been guilty of that too.  We’re right but it doesn’t matter.  Technology is always superseded by better, faster, more disruptive technology.  But few businesses are in the business of spending money on the latest and greatest tech.

risk matrix
Image via Diversity.net.nz from Ben Kepes’ post http://diversity.net.nz/sure-dropbox-is-potentially-insecure-but-does-it-matter/2013/01/21/

We can decry the risks of not adopting.  We can outline the worst-case scenarios for not moving.  But the presence of risk, alone, does not motivate action.  Many of us drive to work in a car every day.  Yet there is a .02% chance we’ll be involved in a fatal car accident (PDF).  The risk is there.  It is real.  It is insignificant to most of us and doesn’t prevent us from engaging in “business as usual”.  We tend to operate in a risk evaluation matrix like the one to the right.

In all likelihood,  the risk of not adopting new tech and the business practices that come along with it is too low to warrant changing from established “traditional” business practice. In the absence of certain harm for not adopting, the “old proven ways” are seen as preferred. They can even be acknowledged as sub-optimal without such an acknowledgement triggering some sort of process improvement or remediation activity.

That is why obtaining “executive buy-in” and finding a champion is so important in these, the early days of social business (yes, we’re still in the early days of social business).

Look at places where there was rapid adoption of new technology and business process. I can think of one: Sarbanes-Oxley software. In the wake of Enron & Worldcom, the risks of *not* adopting SOX technology and workflow and audit practices was seen as too great a risk with harms all too certain for non-compliance (even accidental).

When looking at it from the side of the advocate, the invested, the social business champion, we can (rightfully) decry the lack of progress, the opportunity missed and the potential wasted in failing to change culture, practice and technology to leverage all the wonders new social tech has to offer. But the business community is reticent to change behavior unless the risks of not changing are too high and immediate to ignore OR the benefits are so immediate and great as to outweigh the inevitable pain of retooling, retraining and re-engineering process.

So we continue to work to demonstrate massive and immediate value.  We work to mitigate the pain of retooling.  We offer up best practices like this flow chart (PDF) and this step by step guide (PDF) to assist with retraining. So we work to demonstrate massive and immediate value. We work to mitigate the pain of retooling. We offer up blogs and best practices like this to assist with the retraining.

Meanwhile, we can take heart that we’re on the right path.  Business will progress at the pace of business and sometimes fortune favors the bold.  But, by definition, the bold are few.  So keep at it.  Social business has definite and demonstrable value.  Keep grinding.  The change will come.

Social Competitive Intelligence

competitive intelligence in the age of social  by bloomthink
Creative Commons: Attribution by Flickr user davitydave

The flip side of all the advances is social media marketing is a substantial increase in competitive intelligence capability.

First 3 facts for foundation:

1) It should be clear by now that social media is not a technology fad.  It’s not just about Facebook or Twitter.  Otherwise we’d see those technologies leading the social adoption in locations around the world.  Yet we see services like VKontakte in Russia and QZone in China and a host of other social media services and sites proliferating around the world.  Instead, it is about a way of communicating as human beings.  We respond to and engage with each other in ways facilitated by the technology.  That’s why we see so many different flavors of the same kind of services popping up all over the world.

2) Social media technology adoption in business is accelerating. In 2008 just 23% of businesses had adopted social technologies in some way.  In 2011 that number was 50%.  This year it is even higher.  The top two reasons for the adoption are to meet user / customer expectations and to be more innovative.

3) Users want 4 things: To share product information, To share news – especially the ‘scoop’ – new or unique news that few know at the time, To co-create products, services & experiences along side companies (Doritos commercials for the Superbowl are a great example – it was big business for Frito-Lay), and finally users want to have their opinion and feedback matter.

So put those all together and what do you get?  Social media technology taps into the ways we communicate as human beings.  Humans also communicate at work therefore the boundary between business user and personal user has blurred.  Users (whether at work or at play) want and expect to share product information, have an appetite for new news, have a desire to be involved and want their opinions to matter.

This has created an ecosystem in which users expect news & product info from companies, consumers want to “help” to “weigh in” to be in the loop.  If companies “reward” them with info they will be respond and be appreciated.  This is social media marketing – Pushing out information for adoption and amplification by users.

But we also operate in an attention economy where attention is traded for information.  This economy is bi-directional as any economy must be.  So if I, a user, provide you, a company with information,  especially new or unique information, I expect to be rewarded with your attention.   This is Social Media Intelligence – Gathering in information and signal from many sources; made all the easier because the sources want to be heard.

Social media lets us cast an extremely wide net to find someone or some business who will give us attention and reaffirm that we (or at least our tip, insight or scoop) matter! This gets back to some extremely basic human characteristics – namely the meeting of core Maslovian needs reinforced in a very Pavolvian manner!

Combine the features of this social business ecosystem – where users are hungry for engagement and businesses are hungry for unique information – and you have a nearly perfect synergy of supply and demand.

Applied to marketing, “engaged” users, brand “advocates” and consumer “insight”.  These are truly wonderful advances in marketing and consumer experience management.

But turn that marketing coin over and apply the same sophisticated information gathering, trend spotting and information derivation to your competitors (or imagine them turning it on you).  You have the framework, technology and process to delve deep into competitive intelligence.

  • You can find out who are your competitor’s clients and employees by correlating Facebook and LinkedIn.
  • You can find out what conferences and topics your competitors are interested in by tracking conferences they attend and announce on Twitter.
  • You can see who are influential by tracking who follows and RTs certain company staff.
  • You can see what topics, keywords and SEO that your competition is using by looking at their Facebook performance and their SEO performance with google tools.
  • You can create topic and trend maps by using simple linguistic analysis tools on their blog posts, forum comments and even traditional press releases.
  • You can spot issues and challenges or delays by looking at the questions a competitors technicians post on forums, complaints employees post on sites like glassdoor, monster or indeed.
  • You can even get great information from conference presentations posted online at sides like SlideShare.net or on corporate blogs.

Once you have gathered all this content, Big Data tools and BI tools help tease out patterns and trends from the structured data you’ve collected. Meanwhile, experienced staff create profiles of specific users for close monitoring.  While approaching individuals directly and asking for confidential information is likely against the law, many industry specific news sites (e.g. Gizmodo for tech news) have “tip us” functions where users can anonymously offer up juicy tidbits of information.  Keeping a watch on sites like that for your industry is vital.

This is not pie-in-the-sky theorizing either.  Massive law firm Patton Boggs said this earlier this year,

Since January, we’ve used a business and social intelligence platform for issue spotting, trend analysis, and monitoring clients. The program scans blogs and Twitter feeds to identify issues our clients may be facing and uncover possible problems before they hit the mainstream media and news outlets…It’s allowed us to get ahead of potential problems and to proactively pose solutions before our clients may even know these problems exist.

They are using these procedures to spot issues and deliver solutions before clients are aware of the issues.  Now imagine they’re not monitoring clients, they’re monitoring competitors.

So how can you adopt a defensive threat assessment posture to help protect your own intellectual property?

Ask yourself this:  “With everything you know about your area of expertise, about the market and about what’s coming; if you found the information you just posted except it was from your competitor would you be sad or glad?” 

Engage BloomThink to craft a social competitive intelligence program you can use to help you get ahead and a social business plan that allows you to advance your brand and awareness in the market without giving up what makes you special.