Thursday, September 22, 2011

The crowd vs. My crowd - Get clear on the difference

As a person who is working to find a way to shackle the bucking bronco that is social media, I spend my time immersed with what I call The Crowd.  At NetBase, we spend our time trying to capture and understand the erratic tide of social media by using Natural Language Processing to accurately understand both the emotion (positive or negative feelings) and the passion (intensity of that emotion because all sentiment is not create equal...I like it versus I love it are different).  We spend our time working to harness the message from the ultimate crowd; the 420 petabytes per year (a stat I have quoted which is all the books ever written in any language across times 3600).  To me, for the sake of this blog post, is the The Crowd.  Why?  Because this big data set is controlled by a crowd of billions who are posting trillions of  pieces of information.  If you can understand what it is saying with accuracy you have tapped the collective voice of the world.  Imagine if you could look at a topic of global warming from a macro perspective and first understand the key issues and then slowly dig down into how that message changes from region to region, from country to country and then step back and look for commonalities across global demographics.  It would be tapping The Crowd.

That being said, the purpose of this blog post is to highlight the difference between The Crowd (as one person has defined it here) and My Crowd.  Thinking about the power of crowds, one thing continues to strike me is interesting.  The concept of operational definitions, which is something that I often talk about as a key principle of innovation.  In the case of My Crowd, I am talking about pulling segments of the The Crowd together for a means or purpose.  And as this pertains to social media, I am seeing a lot of subtle differences that will help change the game in this respect.  Much can be made from the application of new technologies, processes and thinking methodologies.  Perhaps one of the most interesting these days (from a social media perspective) can be summed up by parsing things into the The Crowd versus My Crowd.  And if we take it a step further, we can even say think about things that create The Crowd versus utilize The Crowd.  This would also make sense for My Crowd as well.

With a framework like this, one can begin to think about how to apply many of the new social media tools out there.  By first understanding what the feeders and filters are you can then think more concretely about how they fit you business (never mind which ones drive the right cultural alignment with how you or your organization like to do things).

The reason for this theoretical concept to create a framework to talk about some of the tools/services that I encounter and how they fit in.  I have often talk a lot about Spigit and BrighIdea, the innovation platform companies that help internal organizations innovate.  To me these are two organizations that are critical to leverage ones' own human resources.  Where do they fit?  If you think about them, they are focused on developing MY CROWD from an internal perspective.  They have chosen to tackle the very important social media issue of how do I get my own people to collaborate and create effectively?  Why is this a challenge?  Because while you aligned with the desires and goals of management (the enterprise) by leveraging your people in a collaborative way (THE ME's and THE WE's), you are fighting differences in human nature and the cultural battles that ensue inside.  You are building MY CROWD infrastructure that should enable MY CROWD to eventually leverage THE CROWD.  And yes, the ideation platform concept is also about THE CREATION of ideas from MY CROWD.  This idea is powerful, but until it plugs into the EXTERNAL MY CROWD it is more limited.

Another form of MY CROWD that is EXTERNALLY focused is the company Pureprofile.  This organization is well designed because it works to have regular consumer OPT in to create a very robust and global MY CROWD.  While this MY CROWD is externally focused (the greater web) it is MY CROWD because it is limited to the number of folks that opt in.  As it grows, however, one could envision it becoming THE CROWD.  And as a CROWD in general, PureProfile is leveraging people to create a way for organizations to UTILIZE an external MY CROWD.

As I stated earlier, NetBase, Radian 6, Crimson Hexagon and all the other social media analytics filters are really and truly trying to leverage THE CROWD.  Is this the perfect solution?  NO.  It is merely another method of UTILIZING THE CROWD to understand.

The point is this.  Every organization needs some help to figure out how to make sense of social media.  Whether you believe in natural language processing, text analytics, human developed insight when trying to UTILIZE THE CROWD or you think that the microtask workers of Odesk or the people in the Pureprofile database can be YOUR CROWD to give real time help or information, it is important to first think strategically how to use this EVERCROWDED (pun totally intended) resource.

I get beat up for being to conceptual most of the time, but as my profile has taught me that I need a construct to take action. In fact, I have found that creating a conceptual framework is the secret to working smarter, because you hit the right nails at the right time.  While many feel getting lots of boxes checked on a list is what is best measured, I believe the opposite.  I think that concepts are the foundation of truly smart action and the difference between strategic success and tactical failure.

Yes the marketplace is fast, but with limited resources in an mile a minute marketplace, social media as I have said before is the wild west.  Those who understand how everything fits can act with a purpose that drives the culture change that is needed to stay focused, check the RIGHT boxes, and win on the marketplace.

So do you want to utilize THE CROWD OR MY CROWD or are you trying to CREATE THE CROWD OR MY CROWD?  Get will help you take action and UNCROWD your mind.

Thursday, September 15, 2011

Social Media Analytics - The net catches the fish that are there...

There is ongoing debate about the value of social media as well as how it can be used to quantify consumer  behavior.

I think we can all agree on the following:

1.  Social media is a huge data set (duh)
2.  Social media is having an impact across the business landscape and has effected companies' business
3.  Social media data is less expensive to harness (and IF you can harness it) because it is freely available
4.  Social media is changing how people communicate and share their thoughts
5.  Social media is causing instantaneous expression of consumer sentiment in real time
6.  Social media in some form is probably here to stay

Although all these things are true, the lack of best practices for utilizing social media in a meaningful way in your business continues to slow its uptake in corporations.  And while this is a culture thing (change I can believe in), it is also about bridging the current methods to the new ones that do not exist.  I would also mention that people are still struggling with how the data is collected in a apples to apples way to give them confidence that they can quantify their data.  And if they cannot quantify or control the variables in their work, it is a struggle to think about this data in a scalable and consistent manner. 

This post is mostly about turning how you think about data collection on its head as well giving some tips to consider when integrating social media into your work flow.

Data Collection:  I have been thinking about the following analogy to help people realize that social media data as a source has some very interesting nuances that make it valid in a different way than traditional data.  For traditional data collection and metric development, most researchers give validity and confidence to these methods (survey research, focus groups, ethnographies) because they control who they are talking to.  I have spoken with researchers and they make a fair point that they can trust the results because through their design they know they are talking to the right people to answer the questions they develop. This is makes is right.  I have no argument there.  That being said, I have said here a number a times (and I have worked on and been part of traditional means of market research or consumer interaction) there is tons of bias when directly interacting with consumers.  In addition, sample size is smaller (even though time has shown it can be pretty accurate) and therefore questionable.  And lastly, many of these methods take time and planning to execute and therefore cost more and have much greater opportunity costs because of the time you lose in a world that has changed. 

The fish analogy I like to think about for traditional research is this:  Traditional research is like going to the fish market and handing picking one type of fish, buying a certain number say 12, to see how they differ physically, by smell, by taste when you decide to cook them.

As for social media...I use this analogy.  Instead of picking the best fish and they are all the same, social media is about simply throwing nets into the ocean and seeing how many fish end up in your net.  You don't know how many you will get or what types might be in there, but the real value can be found in by simply catching FRESH fish in a net rather than waiting for them to make their way from the ocean to the fish market. If you can throw 8 nets over the side, you can do it quickly and will be able to directly compare each catch to learn about the difference.  Simply put, you introduce another type of control into your data collection when you use social media.  What this gives you is speed, lower cost (I go one place to catch fish as opposed to walking the whole fish market to find just 8 fish) and potentially the ability to capture knowledge about fish you would ever look at during your study.  If you think about control differently when collecting social media data you suddenly have a new level of control in your data set that was never there before.  The controlled randomness is something that could be considered an advantage.

Some tips to help you see the power of this bridge...

1. Create bridged ratios - Is there a standardized number in your business that you collect that could be merged with buzz, sentiment or passion counts?  Think about it.  If you know that your business grows when your same store sales grow a particular way, you could easily create a ratio of your efforts as it relates to social media to allow you to track if your social media efforts correlate with your traditional and accepted measures

2. Go Broad - Because your have a less control of the demographics of your collected data, you should think about ways to broaden your search to see if there is correlation.  For instance, if your eight nets are looking at your competitors there is real meaning in seeing the buzz or sentiment count differences between you and your competitors.  This difference is important because you method of catching fish is the same.  The differences are real if you create strong definitions when you collect your data.

3.  Trust the lower bias - While it can be hard to know if there is skew in your data online, there is for certain way less bias if you can get pure consumer data into your net.  And because you are simply catching fish that are in your net, you are not looking at them beforehand when you catch them.  Your selection process includes no filter other then the size of the holes you net.  Social media's advantage is lower bias, utilize it to your advantage.

4.  Leverage the speed in your mind - We know the data is instantaneous.  I see it when I give a talk how I am being tweeted about as I do it.  There is no question it is faster, but the you need to trust the value of that to begin thinking about how to bring this into your process.  I trust the speed, I see the advantage of the speed so just go with it.

Just to show you that I don't believe that traditional methods will go by the wayside, I will fast forward in my mind a few years.  In a few years, I see a pipe with social media data being plugged into a company (think of you brand as the data flowing through the pipe).  The end of this pipe has a filter. When the data flows through the pipe it is plugged into a screen.  As the data flows through the filter onto the screen, a company will see numbers instantaneously changing as the data affects the brand.  Essentially, I am talking about real time metrics flowing onto a screen to help you understand what is being said about your brand in the social media sphere.  As we are able on ANY topic to understand instantaneously what is being said and how people feel about it the reversal will start.

What I mean by the reversal is this.  When instant data becomes the norm, the need to slow down will grow again.  At what point when something happens is the change relevant.  Is it 3 hours? 5 hours? 2 days?  At this point the need for older data analysis methodologies will become extremely important and relevant.  We will need to quantify the cause and effect because total optimization while possible in a real time business, will most likely create new business errors that we can't yet see.

The future of how social media will be relevant is exciting, but as with all change will still require further change.  There is no perfect solution on a future state that improves upon the current state.  But that future state eventually is the current state and therefore we must adapt again.

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

The GRIT panel...a chance to see what people believe

I just returned from Orlando tonight after going to the AMA conference.  Before I start, I want to thank my colleague Lenny Murphy @lennyism for including me on a panel there for his GRIT report.  This report is a look at what the market research community is doing and believe will impact them in the coming year.  As part of the "pre-launch" I had the privilege of sitting on a panel to discuss this report.

Frankly, it was a real pleasure. But what I thought was most interesting is something I have spoken about in the past.  The reality of culture change.  My colleagues on the panel did a great job of framing what they thought was important in the coming future in the market research industry.  What I struggled with (and not their thoughts or comments...they made some great ones), is often how functional based groups are often haggling about what change means for them.  Change is something that is inevitable and many people are risk adverse when it comes to accepting it while others are not.  That being said, I believe that seeing change, accepting it and adopting it are three different things.  What I saw today as I looked again at the data of how providers and clients feel change is coming to the market research industry is that there is misalignment.  They don't see the same things.  This is not bad, but a reality when experts get together.

At one point during this panel I was asked to comment about what I thought about this misalignment and what it meant.  And frankly, as I hesitated to answer a bit (because I don't see myself as a market research expert...merely an innovator who is championing a change in their industry), I put my culture hat on and stated that I wanted to see the differences that would ensue when these questions were asked to the functions that were not involved in the survey.  What would marketing think, or sales, or PR or R&D for that matter?  What new market research technologies do they believe are going to make an impact?  To me, if an functional group wants to ask itself questions about how they can find change they can believe in shouldn't they ask their consumers?  Shouldn't they triangulate their own collection of data to get a fuller look at what they see when they look in the mirror?  Lenny even acknowledged when I made my point that the the other functions would contribute further delta to the findings (which is what I believed when I asked the question).

This question and this observation continue to make the point I always make here.  The people within the culture drive the change.  Fear is the mind killer and being afraid of what is obviously coming (and in this case technological advances in how consumer behavior is measured (and not just social media)) is what needs to be thought through more holistically.  When people cannot do things the traditional way; they adapt.  For instance, how many 3rd world countries put phone lines in now?  They don't. They put up cell towers and people use the towers.  In the retail food industry, where I worked, many retailers couldn't afford traditional focus groups and ethnographies, they simply use e-panels and other new technologies.  Why?  Because they have too.  Those married to the past who refuse to learn from it are just a MySpace away from ignoring Facebook.

Don't believe can call my pager...

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

NLP: The bridge between gut and data

I recently met with a customer who said to me that one of her great goals in her career to quantify something that drives her crazy because it seemed almost impossible to do so.  She shared with me that it drives her crazy when the Ad Agency continuously try to dismiss the sound quantifiable based data predictions she develops as a market researcher by simply saying..."My gut feels this is just the right thing to do".

In fact this type of "hand waving" by business people drove me to get my MBA in the first place.  As a scientist, I was appalled to learn how my marketing folks guesstimated many of their business decisions with basic financial modeling.  As a scientist, I was taught to carefully manage variables to ensure the right controls were removed in order to get the right data.

So how does NLP (natural language processing) come in.  Well, NLP is used in social media analytics to help one understand the emotion expressed in language.  Because you break down the sentence like you did in middle school english class, you can more accurately characterize their thoughts and feelings.

Because this is true, doesn't this mean that you should be able to more accurately quantify "gut".  If a person who is doing an advertisement wants to talk about love and kittens because they think it is a great way to market valentine's day, NLP would allow you to search on Valentine's day in conjunction with kittens to determine how often they are mentioned.  In addition, it would also help you understand when they are mentioned how people feel positive and negatively and how intense this positive or negative emotion would be.  Essentially it creates accurate counts of the emotion expressed about two topics that happened to be mentioned.  And oh yeah, because it is social media data you are simply pulling in data that is already there.  There is not set up or screening.  There is no prompting.  There is simply the act of casting your net how to see how much fish are caught and what type.  And when you catch the fish, you can also see how they are feeling. 

This NLP "filter" and the ability to capture emotion would allow you to begin to create quantitative numbers around the emotions of a topic that "you believe" is a big idea.

GUT is filtered by capturing data around relevant terms that can give you emotion to allow you to QUANTIFY that expression you believe is valuable.

Yep...NLP can turn GUT into data...think about does it make you feel?

Wednesday, September 7, 2011

Social Media - Ignoring the Possiblities

A question?  How are you tracking your social media P&L?

Do you even have one?  Are you wondering what I am talking about?  The answer is this, the social media P&L is all about your social media brand awareness.  And by social media brand awareness, I am talking about making sure that you have good understanding about what people are saying about your brand online.

The reality is this, and I have said this before, social media is becoming impossible to ignore because of two very important reasons:

1.  You market research wears no clothes - People are talking about everything online as we speak.  They are also talking about your brand. In addition, people are reading about what they are saying about your brand.  And because people are reading it, they are being influenced and you might not even know it.  And having a crapload of likes on your facebook fan page does not cover everythingt that is being said online.  Why?  Because when you go to buy a new refrigerator and you want to buy Samsung do you go to the Samsung Facebook Fan Page to find out what people think about refrigerators?  No you don't because your Facebook fanpage is a bunch of your core consumers passionately saying how much they love it.  There isn't a ton of objectivity there.

2.  The suggestion box is now public - Much in the same vain, consumers are making suggestions and essentially gushing insights every second online.  That being said, people still insist on spending hundreds of thousands of dollars trying to figure out the next big thing and most of the time are only talking to their "target consumers".  I get this strategy, but at the same time, isn't the concept of target consumer slowly becoming obsolete because everyone is out there in a consumer free-for-all acting like MEO's because they must be heard...I mean...the suggestion box is now fully public.

So how should you think about this concept?  Think about being able to UNDERSTAND some key attributes of your brand.  Of course you want to know the following:

1. What is the buzz around my brand?
2. How does my buzz compare to others in the category?
3. What is the overall sentiment for my brand?  Do people speak positively or negatively?
4. Can I measure the intensity of that liking for my brand?
5. What are some key things people like or dislike about my brand?

Even with this very basic information one can begin to get a clear picture about what social media says about your brand.  And more importantly, you will gain insight from a NEW data source.  Many people are spending entirely too much time debating whether or not social media is a decent place to collect data.  Stop the is!  But...and a big to think about how it can work for you.  At a minimum, you should be thinking about how it can augment your work.  Even if it isn't your core consumer and even if you think the data is skewed, couldn't it save you money to study social media before you do a focus group or ethnography?

The point is this.  The companies who can identify how to best operaitonalize social media by bringing concepts like a social media P&L into their work flow, will win in the mid-term.  Notice I say mid-term.  I spend all my day working with very large companies helping them understand and still convincing them about the value of this new BIG DATA set.  The reality is adoption is dependent upon the vision of the leaders.  And today, many folks spend far too much time worrying about making  a mistake rather than paying to do a really great experiment.

Start simple.  Start with a quarter look at your brand versus its competitors.  You can always go from there.  Getting a way to have an overview with social media data will help you decide a few things.  For one, it can help you decide whether the data set is merely an augmentation of what you do.  And second, you might realize you can save a boatload of money because it is accurate and worthwhile as a new way of doing things that might replace slower and more expensive methods.

Either way, social media is change...and change is my business and business is good.

Friday, September 2, 2011

Cultural Conundrums - a Generational Perspective

At one point in my career if you can believe it I managed the diversity program as an Innovation Leader.  I always remember my good friend Phyllis E. asked me upon meeting me for the first time, "Can I ask you a question...what the heck does diversity have to do with innovation????".  I had met Phyllis (a 40 something year old african american woman who has become a great friend since this question) for about 5 minutes (in fact my beer hadn't even arrived) when this question was given to me. 

My response...I looked back with a smile and said, "I have little to no idea, but we are sure as heck going to find out..."

Since that day, my journey into the generational differences had begun.  Very quickly (in fact moments after my beer arrived) I began to ponder the answer to this question in a meaningful way.  My boss at the time (newly minted I might add) Frank C., had given me responsibility for this across an organization of 20,000, with the idea that diversity today is about diversity of thought as much as it is about the protected classes (I always forget this list). 

I always loved this concept as was evident in my post about innovation platforms and understanding how people innovate.  How people innovate is clearly about diversity of thought.

That being said, I have two millennials in my house, I am smack in the middle of Gen X, and I have had the pleasure of working with Gen Y's and mentoring them too (as well as having baby boomers and the generation older than them as well...that name escapes me).

As much as how people do things different, what skills they have in their educational tool box, the concept of generational diversity is also a factor that must be considered when creating an innovation culture based upon trust.

I recently had a great adventure with my Gen Y buddy when I got to go out with a bunch of his friends in NYC.  It was wild.  I am 40 year old suburban living California with two kids who has been married before internet dating was even conceived.  I am a Gen Xer who is very able to appreciate some of the hallmarks of Gen Y culture (work/life balance, freedom to operate) but I also have much Boomer ethic in me (do what it takes to get the job done, no one will hand it to you, working hard is where success comes from), but like I always say, until you are face to face with the differences you cannot appreciate what it is truly like to deal with them. And oh yeah, I am married to a woman from South America which means I have a hybrid-Hispanic/American culture in my it a real melting pot.

I guess the point of this post is to highlight that all generations needs to get greater awareness of the other in order to make a more seamless work culture.  The only thing I had in common with this youthful troop (besides Stan who is a first generation American and demonstrates other traits not seen in true-blooded Gen Y's) is that we all work in social media.  I work in the creation of the infrastructure on the west coast in silicon valley...they work on the east cost marketing its value to the consumers who create its ebb and flow.  You would think there would be much to discuss.

But I would say it started as a awkward cultural cluster you know what.  As a Gen X going to a socializing event, it is perfectly normal to expect to share your professional experience, talk shop and even trade cards looking for some commonality of business interests.  For us, crossing those boundaries is normal and regular.  For Gen Y, they want to separate work and life, but at the same time want you to know what they do in their work while they are enjoying their life, so it is a bit confusing that they claim not to be defined by their careers although they wear their achievements like a badge.  This sounds negative, but it is not.  I am merely highlighting what I believe is a difference in generational culture.

Secondly, I was raised to be more interested in learning about others as I was sharing about myself.  It is proper manners to ask first about someone else, with an expectation of being asked as well.  I continue to be fascinated that the percentage of Gen Y folks who will follow telling you about themselves with a question is about 25%.  I would say 1 in 4 ask you back.  Now this is something I think is a shame.  I certainly respect a Gen Y's view on life.  I love the work/life balance thing.  I love the trust me and I will get the job done (even in my experience their ability to "push" themselves to achieve the things they envision is hit or miss).  I also love their confidence in their abilities (even though I still believe there is a think line between confidence, arrogance and ego).  But as a Gen Xer who I am sure was similar in many ways when I was in my 20's I will share this...

I have learned in the last five years a very important lesson I would share with anyone.  The epiphany is this.  Find people older than you who are your peers, but also have been where you are.  They are like time travelers.  They know things about what you are going through AND you are peers in thought.  If you lower your narcissistic tendencies for a moment (sorry Gen Y...this is you I am talking to...although there is plenty of that across generations), something wonderful can happen.  You can accelerate your learning curve because they can help you see into your future.  What skills you need to learn, how to avoid mistakes they have made and where you might be going even if you are not sure.

The best example of this involved a recent breakfast I had with two of my innovation elders.  One I have known on and off for five years, John Joss (a real scholar, a real gentleman, and a real visionary) the other is H whom I will call H as we are still getting to know each other.

After returning to the Bay Area last year, John reached out to me because quite frankly we were innovation kindred spirits (people who travel along the innovation time line so to speak) to have lunch.  Eating together after not seeing each other for 3 years was a real joy.  We caught up, we talked and he shared with me some adventures he wanted me to be involved in.  Part of the meeting included meeting with H (his buddy who he thought we would have much to discuss).  I agreed and we set up the breakfast I am referring to.

One morning, before a meeting, I met John and H in the Ferry building in SF.  John shows up wearing a leather motorcycle suit with sun glasses and his hair slicked back (John is 78 an is a true inspiration in this regards...because he doesn't see age) and H shows up wearing classic silicon valley attire (jeans baby!).  We proceed to have breakfast together and talk about innovation and what opportunities my current company might have with H's market research firm.  But as I am sitting there I get that time traveler sense.  H and I are connecting very strongly from the standpoint of creativity, culture change and helping people see how to be different.  H owns his own business and has for 25 years because he doesn't like what big company culture has to offer.  He has a smile as he listens to my story of how I ended up sitting in the seat across from him.  If I dismiss H, because I know more, I have my proverbial shit together etc, I miss the opportunity to SEE into my future.

H sits there laughing gently staring at me because I can see he has been in my shoes struggling with the future that I look towards and he has already lived.  I ask him..."you can see where I heading can't you?"  He wisely looks at me and says..."yes, you are nearly there, but it will take some more time".  I won't go into the specifics, but the gist is that by meeting a thought peer with experience I am now able to recognize when it is time to shut up and ask a lot of question to learn rather than assume I know it all  because it is different now.  As a middle aged guy, I know technology changes, which changes how we relate to the world, but the emotional and mental tribulations we go through in life are merely similar flavors. Instead of being key lime today it was lime in the past, but it is still lime and it is still citrus.  I mean blue lake beans are just friggin green beans if you know what I mean.

What does this have to do with diversity and culture.  I believe to drive better cultural symmetry in our personal and professional lives, we have to get real, stop leaning our generational morays and simply try to learn all the time from everyone.  In my night out with Gen Y, I stepped into some cultural mines that made me feel like most of them where thinking who is this slightly overweight balding middle age guy and what is he doing here.  What they didn't take the time to ask or learn is they may have had a time traveler in their midst who could be a great peer that could help them understand the mine field they are currently wandering through as they try to find themselves.

It is why even though I live 3000 miles away from Stan, that he will always have my support and help.  Why?  Because when I was an executive at a company of 20,000 people he had the guts to walk into my office look me in the eye and ask for my help, because I seemed the least full of shit leader he had come across and he wanted to learn.  Good move Stan.  This is the type of humility missing from our generational timeline that exists in a fast paced world that is now overrun by social media.

In fact, I was able to open up an opportunity for Stan to get a job...why? because as I said he recognized the opportunity to befriend a time traveler...and that is where true learning starts and narcissism ends.

think about it.

Thursday, September 1, 2011

Time versus Information - The Acquisition Cycle

There are many questions about when to use social media, what do I do with it when I have the information and can I trust it.  In my time working in innovation, I have learned that one of the principles that make an innovator successful is the concept of encountering the desperate.

What does this mean?

Encountering the desperate simply means that if you are trying to make something new happens, one of the best partners to collaborate with is the "desperate".  This is a person that is in a bind and will be more flexible as it pertains to taking on a new idea.  They are usually wanting to minimize their risk but need to try something risky to make it happen.

In fact, one of the key relationship as it pertains to social media is the idea of time versus information.  Essentially, Social Media is a good solution when I don't have the time to get that information.  And a great use case of this scenario is during the acquisition cycle. 

A few years ago when I worked with parts of the organization who lead the acquisition of new business, I observed something very interesting.  When it came to buying new businesses, most of the due diligence focused on quantifying the value of the business but a great deal of it did not focus on gathering key consumer insights.  In fact, I was shocked to learning during these experiences that many executives of very large companies gather little to no information consumer insights on the company they are acquiring, relying more on canned information, personally collected data (they try it themselves and their gut).  This brings up a great example of people making HUGE decision where they don't have enough time to get the information.

Why social media then?

Speed - we all know social media information is happening all the time.  Because collecting consumer insight is very fast, ones ability to get primary data where there is little makes it a great way to help a company make a more informed decision.

Unbiased - If a company is trying to decide whether it wants to invest a ton of money into a new business, social media's unbiased nature (the data is what it is) makes it a great method for collecting consumer insight.

Competitive Analysis - Because you can look at all your competition easily, quickly and cheaply you can get a much better consumer competitive analysis than ever before.  This makes the data richer and more complete when before this time there was no way to collect anything meaningful.

Did I successfully prove my point?

A number of years ago, I did get the chance to apply social media during the process of making an acquisition.  During this project, the social media data WAS the method by which the consumer insights were developed and I was told by the key stakeholder who trusted me using this process, that while it was why the decision was made, the executive team did feel much better about taking the leap knowing that when they didn't have time to get the information they were able to get the social media picture.

Oh yeah...that was 2007.  4 years before this huge thing called social media hit the streets.  Is this a way to stroke my ego because I was using it so long ago...actually no!  It is more about the fact that when you encounter the desperate and there is not time to get the information you can drive change...AND that is what I am interested in helping people see....

Beyond the Innovation Collaboration Platform

I am back...after two months of home remodeling and moving...I have time to write again...

Last week, I had the pleasure of being invited as an innovation thought leader to Bright Idea's Birds of a Feather innovation collaboration event at Kraft Foods.  I wanted to thank the Bright Idea folks for including in what was a very interesting event.

The main goal of being there was to discuss and share collaboration stories from across the organization around how the growing collaboration platforms, like Bright Idea, are being utilized by the organization.  Hat's off to Matt Greeley for making not about sales, but collaboration and networking.

Having this pure goal gives great credibility to their efforts to help organizations develop meaningful collaboration solutions.  And to get 100 people there is impressive.

As someone who loves the principles of trust, transparency and collaboration and sees them as the foundation of great innovation, I really want to also give credit to my colleagues at Spigit as well in this post.  I have had the opportunity to spend time with both organizations (Bright Idea and Spigit) and I continue to believe and want to praise both companies for their efforts to move beyond the 2000's principle of open innovation towards the next frontier of leveraging your own people for great things.  Does this mean that open innovation is an concept with low value...NO!  What I continue to believe and have seen in my experience on the front lines and in talking to people in the space is that if you can't change the culture of the company you will never see the greatness of open innovation flow across the enterprise.  Why?   Because if the there is only one WE (group) working and believing in this principle then it is hard to get the other WE's (departments) focusing on it and making it live. 

At the BOF meeting in Chicago I was pleased to see a great many people spending time talking about how collaboration platforms are growing in their power in a grassroots sort of way.  Meaning that many executives are getting the authority to brand the idea, bring it to the rest of the organization and are being tasked to operationalize it.  It seems that those who understand the concept is growing...the question is now about approach.

What gives me great hope however, is how both Spigit and Bright Idea are both breaking through the cultural barriers of collaboration by systemitizing a platform that can give innovation an operational methodology by which companies can leverage their folks.

In fact, in Chicago, the presentations were excellent in that they gave a wide look at the different industries that are all tackling how to make the platform live.  In fact, I saw presentations from distributors, to construction to CPG.  This is an awesome moment for innovation collaboration.

Now to my true point here...

There is still something missing........

Now we have a means to help people collaborate to create across long distances.

We also have means within the platform that make sure the good ideas don't simply die because both companies are thinking about the funding and project management process beyond the idea.


By this I mean...we all create, product, interact and learn differently.  By our very nature, there are people who love to develop concepts that produce frameworks, while there are others who are masters at de-risking incremental ideas that can be made actionable.  What is missing from the current platforms is the inclusion of the internal human elements that make people innovate.

Currently we have great internal open innovation systems that give the company a way to operationalize the creation, buy in and execution of new ideas.  What we don't have is a way to bring the right people at the right time to different types of engagements internally.  If I want to create huge breakthrough ideas who should I turn to. If I then want people to take those big ideas and figure out which one is the most feasible I probably need someone different.  What if I want to solve that problem previously described for a process engineering problem?  that might require a different set of people to bring to the party.  Internal open innovation needs another layer of depth to make it even more efficient.

The simple answer to this question...

below is the "totem" of two different types of innovators

What this is is the ISPI.  It was created by Bob Rosenfeld of Idea Connection Systems and it is something I very much believe in when it comes to innovation.  What it highlights essentially is that we are all programed to innovate differently.  In fact, these two charts are only a piece of the entire picture (there is more to both totems) but for the sake of argument to be made here around innovation platforms.  What is obvious is this...these two people do not like to innovate the same way.  One is better at creating incremental innovation, de-risking ideas and will be outstanding at documenting the process they came up to solving the problem on paper.  The other is fashioned for creating huge game-changing ideas, will not worry about the details when creating any idea and will do a great job during brainstorming of taking in all the information being presented and thinking about it and using it to produce an idea that will test what people are saying.  They are really different.  Now layer on the fact that one could be a finance person and the other could be from R&D.  If you bring that into the discussion (and it doesn't matter how you put it together) you would want that expertise for different things no? 

What I am trying to say is there is a deeper layer and methods out there to help these outstanding platforms push it to the next level.  To help it make even more sense as companies try to get value from great tools.  Today, they bring structure where there isn't any.  In the future who knows, could these tools bring a scalpel to the problems at hand?

I think is how you get align what I consider the three key pieces of an innovation culture...

the tools are really helping bring the goals of the enterprise (I want ideas) together with mobilizing the We (those who play), but they need to account for the ME's skills a bit more.

Just some food for thought and thank you Bright Idea for including me in what was a great experience.