Tuesday, July 8

Thinking About Socialprise: Geoff Livingston

Have you ever joined two different forums on the same topic and had different experiences? Most people have, but few ever consider the reason.

Both forums create their own unique cultures, which is largely dependent on preexisting but unwritten guidelines within those forums. You know, the communication that takes place there.

In most cases, it’s defined by the participants. In some cases, it’s defined by volunteer moderators. And in a few cases, it’s defined by the developers who interact with the population. But what most people do not realize is that the forum owners, even if they do not know it, have a choice.

Communication defines cultures, online and off.

It’s not just forums. Walk into two convenience stores with the same name, and you might have two different experiences. Walk into some coffee shops with the same name, and they feel somewhat the same. It has nothing to do with proximity, and everything to do with the communication structure.

Geoff Livingston touches on this in his newest white paper on social enterprises, which is very close to being right. The next step goes well beyond implementing two-way communication models across multiple departments.

The suggested shift swings too far.

It seems to me that the only real challenge is some people apply too much prevailing social media think, which was largely driven by Shel Israel and Doc Searls, on a model that was meant to be two-way communication, but not customer-driven one-way communication. As Livingston points out...

… “Shel believes that companies need their people to act as individuals on behalf of the corporate entity in socialized worlds. Because of the very nature of social media, it will be much harder for companies to diffuse their messages as an entity.”

… “In the “Cluetrain Manifesto,” Doc Searls said there’s no market for messages. Ten years later this still holds true. Canned messages meant to manipulate customers into buying bad product are disregarded.”

Because these ideas are only half right, it’s driven some to conclude that the customers always need to drive the company. And a lack of messages will surely help drive a company in that direction.

Can messaging work in the world of two-way communication?

It’s essential that they do. No, I do not mean “canned messages meant to manipulate customers into buying bad product are disregarded.” But messages that provide a context for the culture they hope to create are vital to a vibrant company. When it’s done right, it’s natural — not necessarily top down, but always from the inside out.

If more companies realized that they can have the best of both worlds — authentic two-way communication between top management, departments, and the company and its customers as well as a manageable (not controllable) message that helps define the company — then social media might not seem so unmanageable. At times, it can seem like a free for all, but it does not have to be.

The challenge isn’t so much controlling the message. It’s defining “what” or, more precisely, “who” the company is to its employees and customers. If a company can get what I call its core message right then the rest is much easier. As authentic messages move from the inside out, it can help create a culture for the company internally and externally.

With such a center — a properly (and accurately) defined company — then the rest is always easier. Ironically, most companies, even Fortune 500 companies, don’t really have one. In fact, it’s one of the very reasons the top five toughest interview questions remain “what does your company do?” and “why should anyone care?”

Don’t believe it? Go around the office today and individually ask several employees those two questions. At most companies, you’ll find as many different answers as the number of employees asked.

Socialprise, as Livingston has adopted it, is worth taking a look at. Yet, until companies have a working definition of “what” or “who” they are, the concept falls flat (but not because the concept is flawed). Why? Because it’s not just the conversation or the engagement alone. It’s also about the context in which they occur.


Geoff_Livingston on 7/9/08, 6:30 AM said...

Thanks, Rich. I'm glad you liked the white paper. Totally agree that a company without a message or identity will not become a "socialprise."

I think research in actual companies would be highly revealing. I'd love to do another book on this, but with quantitative and qualitative data.

Rich on 7/9/08, 3:08 PM said...

Hey Geoff,

I really did. It's still on my desktop for a tenth over.

When you are ready on your next book, let me know. I happy to help in whatever way I can because I truly believe in the work you are doing.

I think some of the dots are starting to connect for some that only have a slice of the communication landscape (eg. public relations, marketing, etc.) and have faith that eventually professionals will understand more about why things work the way they do.

All the best,

Valeria Maltoni on 7/9/08, 6:04 PM said...


I live it every day. It's real. My challenge is not enough time and resources to cover it all. It does start with the assessment and idea of who we are - think about it, even individuals need to start there.

Another insight I'd like to offer is that position inside organizations are usually filled by requisition, not by context.

Rich on 7/10/08, 11:05 AM said...


That is so very true, but it so doesn't have to be that way.



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