Lotusphere 2010: Rawn Shah on social networking for business

From Lotusphere 2010: IBM's Social Software Knowledge Practices Lead Rawn Shah discusses his new book titled Social Networking for Business.


Scott Laningham (scottla@us.ibm.com), developerWorks Podcast Editor, IBM developerWorks

Scott LaninghamScott Laningham, host of developerWorks podcasts, was previously editor of developerWorks newsletters. Prior to IBM, he was an award-winning reporter and director for news programming featured on Public Radio International, a freelance writer for the American Communications Foundation and CBS Radio, and a songwriter/musician.

20 January 2010

developerWorks: Scott Laningham again at Lotusphere 2010 in Orlando, Fla. Also with Todd Watson. Todd ...

Watson: Good afternoon, Lotuspherians.

developerWorks: Having a good day today? Yesterday was hot. How's today going?

Watson: It's rockin' and rollin' again today. There's a lot of action down here on the product showcase, and there's some great sessions that you and I are going to be blogging about later. But right now, we're here to talk to ...

Don't panic


developerWorks: Rawn Shah. Everybody at developerWorks knows that name. How you doing, Rawn?

Shah: Pretty good.

developerWorks: It's been awhile since we talked. And of course, people know about your involvement with the social networking going on at developerWorks. And, of course, that's escalating all the time, but you know, it's been a number of months since we talked. Can you kind of fill us in on what you've been doing?

Shah: Yeah. I now work on social software adoption within IBM®. It's sort of trying to understand what people do with social software in their daily jobs. And we're looking at those beyond the early adopters, so people who don't have time. It's a very different aspect for them than it is for the people who are very eager for the software.

developerWorks: You're getting to do more of that than you were with developerWorks, kind of focusing your attention more completely on it, right?

Shah: Oh, yes. And now we survey IBM globally in all countries, all job roles. You know, we're trying to understand how it affects people differently. By culture and such.

developerWorks: I did want to ask you, your perspective on how much more important social media and tools are today at IBM and for our customers than it was just a year ago. I mean, how rapidly is that changing?

Shah: It's hard to keep up with. That's ... you find something new every single day. Somebody will tell you they bought a new tool, a new method, a new approach, something else they have found out or how it's made their life better. So it's something that ... we need an entire team of people just to keep up with what's going on there.

developerWorks: Todd, you want to jump in?

Watson: Hey, Rawn. We were chatting with Gina Poole [Transcript | Listen], who's the vice president of Marketing 2.0, yesterday and we were on some similar memes, if you will, and one of the things I asked her about I'd really love to hear from you as well in your new role was some of the inhibitors that you're seeing. Even though there is more uptake, there's still some significant inhibitors to adoption because either cultural or other things ... based on your discussions with other IBM folks, customers, etc. What are some of those, and more importantly, what can they do about them to address them, you know, internally through evangelists and so on?

Shah: So the way we look at how adoption is going on is, technically it's based more on what they do. So inhibitors — and there's the ones like structural ones, which are like technical, how to use the tools: There's a lot of training with that material. That's something you can overcome.

Social networking for business

Social Networking for Business: Choosing the Right Tools and Resources to Fit Your Needs brings together patterns and best practices drawn from author Rawn Shah's extensive experience managing worldwide online communities at IBM and participating in social networking on the Internet. Drawing on multiple real-world examples, Shah identifies key success factors associated with launching social networking projects to meet business objectives and guides you through managing the crucial "micro-challenges" you'll face in keeping them vibrant.

But the real inhibitor is more in terms of first of all, local culture. You know, how do they do business there? How do you interact with people there? Sometimes this is not designed or ...

Watson: Are they willing to share information ... ?

Shah: Yeah. This is not ingrained in their system. It impacts some cultures a lot better than the U.S. You know, we tend to think [of] North America and the U.S., maybe very progressive, but no.

Watson: We actually hoard. Right?

Shah: We hoard a lot of information. There are others who are much more progressive than what we are.

Watson: Can you name any? [LAUGHTER]

Shah: Germany, for example.

Watson: Yeah?

Shah: Yeah. Germany and the central European countries are sometimes much more progressive than the U.S. In terms of adoption, when we looked at it for just a sales group, sellers tend to be on the hard, the difficult end of that because they're very busy, they have their tasks. They're always moving around, so they don't necessarily have the time for social software.

So when we looked at it per country that IBM's involved in, Germany was top of the pack every single time.

Watson: Alright, I want my friends in Germany to remember that the next time I'm visiting.

developerWorks: [LAUGHTER] Why is that, Rawn? Is it cultural? Is it just a size thing? I mean — what do you think?

Shah: No. No, I don't think it's a size thing. Cultural, possibly — but I think it had a significant impact because of ... there's strong leadership there. There was a vice president Ralph Demuth who was in Germany and now he's in Asia Pacific, who did a very good job of pushing from tops down ... you know, "You guys have got to get on this" ... and then there are a lot of adopters from the bottom up, too, so there are peers around there telling the folks "We should all be out there using this, be doing this in our daily tasks."

So they were getting reinforcements from both sides, so it was very easy to kind of envelope themselves in the culture. And it's a very excitable population.

Other places, it's still ... you go up and down with the sort of positive reinforcement of the "this is part of our daily job," rather than something new.

And it's not something new. That's one of the things we keep trying to tell people. It's just that some places are a little more, you know, laggards in terms of adoption while others are much more progressive.

My job is measurement ... see who's getting what out of where. We did one study that was looking at the sales process in terms of the entire, you know, working with the customer, how many points, how many tasks in that process are actually social? And I would say, just a rough guess, at least 60 percent of all the steps in there are something you could do with social software. And you'd get a lot more benefit out of it.

So, it is not throwing out the process; you're enhancing the process is what you're working on. You're improving your productivity. You're reducing the amount of time you might spend trying to get information. You know, you're trying to save yourself losing that information from your group.

So that's something managers understand. And saving yourself on time, that for a seller, for example, that means probably more work. You know, more sales calls.

developerWorks: So you said, like you were doing it before, but now we're just not walking down the hall, answering a phone, writing on a pink slip, whatever; but we're not inventing new activity here?

Shah: No, it's just transformation of what they're doing there into something else.

There is a little overhead in the beginning, but once they get used to that step, it becomes much faster and more useful to do so.

Watson: So I know we're going to work our way towards talking a little bit about your new book from Wharton School Publishing called Social Networking for Business: Choosing the Right Tools and Resources to Fit Your Needs, but before we get to that, I think a lot of your experience in community management obviously informed your perspective around social software. But I'm interested in just learning a little bit more about your experience in that realm, especially in your capacity at developerWorks and now, kind of as an evangelist. What are some of the lessons that you've learned around good community management and maybe some of the bad as well because I think a lot more people are realizing that the huge opportunity to bring their constituencies in and participate and tap into that wisdom of crowds, but I think people are looking for some rules of the road.

Shah: Right. So the rules of the road is the hard part, you know. It depends where you come from. Some roles ... and me, I've had many different job roles moving to the role of a community manager ... and that's just a common name. You're not necessarily managing people, that's the first thing to overcome. You're not directing people: "You should do this and this and this. And this is the structure of what we're going to do." You might have that structure, but say, "This is the agenda but, you know, we're going to move from this, so tell me what you guys actually want to work on."

So, you are more a shepherd than anything else. You know, you have an idea of where you want to go, and that's a good thing to have. If you are a community and don't know the direction you want to move, even if you're not all moving the same direction, that means you're basically standing still or everyone's going in random directions somewhere else.

So, getting to know your people; that's another part of it. Whether it's the lead users, whether it's the non-users, it's simply getting to know the people and starting to talk to them on a regular basis.

Watson: Malcolm Gladwell's influencers or people like that who really have an influence over a larger part of maybe a sub-segment of the community?

Shah: Certainly. I mean you have, you know ... if ... [in] Gladwell's terminology you have mavens— people who are very well deep into the subject itself. You have connectors— people who know people who should be in there. You certainly want to talk to them, but they're not the only people.

So when new people come into the system itself, after a certain point, there may be too many people to talk to. But, you know, introduce yourself: "This is kind of what we're doing. Tell me what you are doing." Show an interest and they will show an interest.

developerWorks: I know we want to jump on the book, but one thought: I mean, we are at Lotusphere and I was wondering — what's your perspective on how much this is in some ways maybe impacting the core mission at Lotus or if this is really just about, you know, bringing it more to the forefront of what it was always about in the first place? I mean, obviously, the technology is evolving, but is this really kind of an "I told you so" type of an atmosphere for Lotus. What do you think?

Shah: One thing we're starting to recognize ... there are many different modes of how people experience social computing. You know, the community where you have a topic of interest or an area of practice that you want people ... anyone can come in and join ... that's one model of social experience.

There are other models where you have one-to-one interaction. There are other ones where there is a small group. And we've had this for ... in the Internet, we've had that for decades. In the world we've had that for millenia. You know, a small group coming around and think of that, that's still social production. You have several minds thinking of an idea and trying to come up with a solution.

There are new forms, entirely new forms that wouldn't even be possible without the network, the Web. The mass collaborations. And these are all topics I talk about in my books.

But for example, something like Digg. Just mass news gathering. That's not something that's possible otherwise. Or at least you won't have one editor trying to collect all the stories and putting it all up there AND getting everything.

developerWorks: Right.

Shah: Yeah. You might get the top stories but "AND getting everything." That's the hard part.

Social bookmarking. Entirely about that. One of the motivations there is that you're doing it for yourself. And you might get help from someone else, but there's a social benefit — everyone gets a value out of that.

So, these modes of working with systems — they're all different forms of social computing. You may not ... if you're a social bookmarker, you may not actually know any of the other people there ... you may not even care. If they've provided input and you're finding new resources, you're getting something out of the social system itself.

Watson: I know you had indicated that this book was really written from a business orientation, so one of the things I'm interested in is, to put it in business terms, you know, what are the lost opportunity costs to not embracing social collaboration and networking at an enterprise or business level? What is it that companies might be missing out on because that kind of FUD approach also could open some eyes when some of the more logical things on the other end might not wake those giants up?

Shah: Right. I undoubtedly think that this is going to be the norm for business, maybe not next year, maybe five years from now, but pretty much everyone should be working this way. In terms of if not, you're going to be left behind in the cycle.

The other part of it is that you're simply missing out on what's really going on — whether it's inside your company or outside your company — they're having these discussions. Whether you hear it ... you being the enterprise, the entire organization, not just the leadership ... whether you hear it or not, that opportunity ... every single one of those is a missed opportunity. It's a conversation you could be having: "Oh, I was talking to this customer or something like that." But those two people may not know something to do about it.

On the other hand, somebody across the country knows exactly what they want to do with that, saying, "I wish I had that conversation. I wish I was in there, listening to that." That's the kind of sharing that leads to new business opportunities and such.

developerWorks: Talking about your book, Social Networking for Business: Choosing the Right Tools and Resources to Fit Your Needs, this is the one you were working on back in '06? I mean, you started around that time, you've been out for few years, and of course, Web 2.0 is the phrase then, we don't hear that as much now, we've moved beyond that, but talk about taking ... working over that period of time and what it all means for you.

Shah: It meant that I had to go through about 12 different versions of the book. [LAUGHTER] The book was about 90,000 words and now it's about 45,000 words. Part of it is that I've a technical background, I have a technical background, and when I started out, it was much more technical than it needed to be for a business audience. It's not dumbing down, but it's explaining the things that matter from a business perspective. Personally, that was a lot of nights and weekends and vacation days basically. My son was 1; now he's 3. And my daughter was born in that time. So ... my wife was yelling at me "Where are you?"

[LAUGHTER] You get a little bit of all of that. It evolved over time. The many different versions. But I think what we have now is much more concise and specific. The core ideas that I actually put in there are still the same. They may have expanded some and refined some, but I think it's still the same ideas that apply:

  • You have tasks that you work on. What is the structure of a task? How do you DO the task?
  • You have experience. How do people get together?
  • You have a leadership model. Who directs the direction of the conversation or the direction of the task?
  • You have culture: What are the elements of culture that appear in this situation within a company vs. outside a company? What's the difference between working inside the enterprise vs. working with customers vs. working with the world?

So those are different domains of experience. But again, no, the same notions are really like maybe eight different notions in there, explained out in detail that innovate over the time.

As I see in new technologies, Google Wave came out ... that's a different model there.

But the way that you actually communicate with others and you interact socially with others hasn't quite changed. There are different models that fit them; they're not all the same. And you wouldn't apply [them] in the same ways.

So the most important part is knowing what matters when, when you'd apply [a model] to the situation itself.

Watson: So I'm curious, Rawn, did you use any crowdsourcing in terms of gathering material for the book? Either through examples or anecdotes? Did you kind of put out a call to your extended community just to get some of that real-world feedback?

Shah: Oh, certainly. And this is spread over two years. So, folks that I know in social computing, folks that I know both inside and outside the company; examples from completely different industries; you know, just every single ... this is a book about models of doing things. Every single one has an example of someone actually implementing it somewhere. Distinctly for that aspect that we're talking about.

So that was ... there's probably about 50 different examples in there that I finally really settled on.

Watson: OK. So for those companies who haven't really started down this path, and there are some cause I was even in the Lotus® audience looking at the number of hands that didn't go up on certain questions around Lotus Connections etc., so I think people are still looking for those compelling reasons. Could you give them like a top three or top five as to why they should really take those initial steps?

Shah: Before I even say that, you know, in the words of Douglas Adams, "Don't panic!" [LAUGHTER] Relax. People will tell you many different things.

But you have to do that in terms of, just,

  • First of all like I said earlier, for keeping up with competition.
  • Second of all, rediscovering the value and the information that exists in your system, whether it's your company, whether it's your partners, things of that nature.
  • Third of all, relationships. Companies are about relationships. You know, unless you sell to no one or partner with no one or work with no one (which would be a very, very odd company), it's all about how you interact with other people. This is just moving into a different mode of those relationships, those interactions.

So it really is trying to do something old in a new way. Something really, really old. I mean, we're talking from ancient tribes, 10,000 years ago. We have the same metaphors there; we're just having new ways of implementing them.

Watson: Ladies and germs, that is some actionable insight, live at Lotusphere 2010.

developerWorks: Absolutely. Rawn Shah, thanks for joining us. Appreciate it, man.

Shah: All right. Thank you, Scott and Todd.

developerWorks: I'm Scott Laningham at Lotusphere 2010 with Todd Watson. Talk to you soon.



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