is Email a necessary or Unnecessary evil? (interview with IBM’s Luis Suarez)

email - luis suarez

I have been a long time fan of Luis Suarez whom I was supposed to meet at the Enterprise 2.0 summit except that my clients decided otherwise. Fortunately, I was able to reach out to Luis and send him, ironically, my questions via email.

That’s my point precisely. Email is one of those necessary evils. A system which is broken but difficult to break away from. At least, this is my perception. I have managed, over the years, to cut through the clutter… yet, I have never managed to do away with email completely.

Even worse, whenever I spread the good news that one doesn’t have to use email and that other solutions exist, there is always at least one person in the room who takes it personally and gets very very cross. It happened to me again last Monday after a lecture at HEC, while we were all having lunch. There was only one person around the table who seemed very angry with me but it got me thinking. Why would people be so in love with e-mail. Is it because this is the only online system which is close enough to the old world and mimics – vaguely – traditional letter writing?

Well, I don’t know. So I turned to Suarez instead, a man who is supposed to have turned off his mail reader completely … except for my questions. Good man!

photo by Londonbloggers

Doing away with email: Interview with Luis Suarez

1. You have been heralded as a no-email evangelist. How and why did you decide to do that?

I initially started this journey of Life Without eMail over six years ago (On February 2008) and, mainly, for three different reasons:

1. Over the course of time you realise that e-mail is not really a good collaboration and knowledge sharing tool. Quite the opposite. It’s today’s productivity killer, not necessarily because of the system itself, but more than anything else because of how we have abused it over the course of time resulting in all sorts of political games, bullying, managing up (or down), and overall unnecessary stress seeing how plenty of people keep using it as a way to protect and hoard their knowledge vs. helping one another.

antimuseum.com-inhouse-4480

2. The second reason why I stopped using e-mail was because over the course of the last few years I have been having hundreds, if not thousands, of interactions with younger generations of knowledge workers, whether they are working already or before entering the workplace, and all along I realised that we were using all sorts of various different collaboration tools, except e-mail and we got the job done, just as effectively, so I thought if they could pull it off together, why couldn’t we, right?

3. The last reason as to why I started this movement over six years ago was essentially to demonstrate, as a social business evangelist, that there is a work life without e-mail. That, nowadays, we do have more appropriate and relevant collaborative and knowledge sharing tools that help us get our jobs done much more efficiently and effectively. Time and time again, plenty of people came to me indicating, as a show stopper, that they couldn’t do social networking at work because they just didn’t have the time and when asking additional questions about why that is happening I realised how they were all saying a large chunk of today’s interactions are happening through e-mail as a time sink, which is why I decided to challenge the status quo of e-mail in the enterprise and, instead, prove and demonstrate, day in day out, that you can eventually have a very productive work life using social technologies versus just e-mail.

2. Wired pointed out that you had reduced email volume by 98%, does that mean that now you only receive 2 million emails a year?

Well, before I started this movement of Life Without eMail I used to get about 30 to 40 e-mails per day. Over the course of the years, that amount has gone down substantially till it reached that 98% of e-mail reduction to the point where I was getting two e-mails per day a couple of years back, averaging about 15 per week, which, I guess, is not too bad after all. The interesting part is that I have not reduced my interactions with others though, quite the opposite, they have increased a great deal, so the main difference is that the vast majority of those conversations are now happening through open, public social networking tools allowing for knowledge to flow freely helping people make better decisions with that information.

3. Honestly, who can really get rid of email. I can’t imagine telling my clients I don’t want to communicate with them in that way?!

You would be surprised about the large amount of people (Customers as well!) who are most willing to reduce their e-mail Inboxes in order to collaborate and share the knowledge across much more openly and transparently through social technologies. It’s that inertia that’s killing us, that is, the one where we don’t challenge the status quo and we all keep resorting to e-mail because “Everyone uses it, so why change?” Well, exactly because of that!

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Verizon: using crowdsourcing to get products right – or wrong

A few weeks ago in San Francisco, I attended the fiftieth Blogwell presentation since the beginning. Laurie Shook is portfolio leader at Verizon, a leading US telecom operator. She is a product marketer who uses social media, not a social media expert and she even describes herself as a “marketeer with a passion for Social Media” on her LinkedIn profile.

Verizon’s Idea exchange was developed in July 2010, as a place for customers to exchange ideas about services and things that customers would like Verizon to do. The platform provides means for ranking ideas. It is “semi-anonymous” Laurie said and “gives the idea to people that they can speak freely” she added. In a nutshell, it is n opportunity for Verizon clients to express themselves and “it’s also a great opportunity for marketers” Laurie said.

HD TV high on the agenda

“Many customers comment on HD TV and mostly on TV programs. “They said for instance that they’d like to see certain channels in HD or hide channels which they aren’t subscribed to and Verizon subsequently implemented that option” she said.

verizon-laurieshook

There are all kinds of ideas on that platform though and some of them are content related. Customers vote and propose ideas and sometimes they even propose to vote against ideas which they oppose.

913 ideas received 280+ launched

Laurie went on describing a business case study:  the “IMG 1.9” plan; IMG is the abbreviation for “interactive media guide”. “There is one release a year, it’s a lot of work and once we’re done, we involve 100 customers before launching it” Laurie said. “Last summer [2011], we extended the HD channel guide, hid unsubscribed channels, added DVR chapter selection and made the channel guide softer and easier on the eyes. That was based on feedback : ‘made fonts bigger, change the background etc.’”

Yet, even though a majority “loved the ideas”, things weren’t so easy since there also were other users who were “very vocal and critical”. Some didn’t hesitate to post comments such as “you really screwed up your tv guide” Laurie said.

what do you do with negative feedback?

The next question is familiar to any marketer in charge of communities. “what do you do with that kind of feedback?” Should you ignore it, or make it a priority? Laurie’s answer makes perfect sense:

“You don’t respond immediately. Sometimes, people are pissed off with change and you have to wait for the dust to settle. Acknowledge the status and wait. However, the post became popular, and even the most popular on the platform” Laurie went on.

facilitation tips from Verizon

She admitted to not finding this very pleasant but you have to bite the bullet and you also have to respond she said. Here are her recommendations:

  1. “Cool you jets before responding” (remain cold-blooded, there is no need to heat up and start an online battle)
  2. “It’s best not to respond immediately and to respond with the medium” (i.e. Idea Exchange rather than choose another tool)
  3. “a personalised response is necessary” such as “I’m sorry you are not of the same mind … and we will work to make you happy again”

are early innovators biased?

“Maybe it was an execution issue or a community bias, whereby people who join forums are early innovators and do not represent customers. Maybe the rank and file TV viewers aren’t represented?” Laurie went on “but when that guy commented, we had more people joining”. Laurie suggested that there was some sort of Hawthorne effect in reverse and that conclusions had to be drawn from that experiment with regard to crowdsourcing and how much hindsight you should introduce when conducting such projects.

on the positive side

Beyond this bias, there are some positive conclusions to be drawn from that experiment Laurie added. Here is what she thinks has worked for Verizon:

  1. faster customer feedback (before Idea exchange  there were disconnects but you didn’t know why or how or how much. “With direct feedback, you know immediately and you understand much better” she added)
  2. nuances of customer opinions are highlighted
  3. there is an incentive for more focus on customer priorities
  4. there are customer expectations of “Internet time” and this forces a large organisation to do things more quickly

Laurie added that “this example is strictly consumer-orientated, and that Verizon business is working with customer advisory boards, in a much more face-to-face format”.

(4/10) My top 10 tips for implementing social media

note: this is the unabridged version of a post originally published at http://bnet.co.uk of which I am a regular contributor

continued from part one, this article will be published in 10 instalments

Four: facilitate, facilitate, facilitate

In order to create a new effective collaborative website, facilitation has to happen at all times, and especially at the beginning of the initiative. Collaborative websites do require that a large volume of information be created upfront in order to attract new visitors before generating collaboration (caution! This content has to be real and not just formal). You will then have to respond to suggestions or comments as soon as they have been added. The Web is about real-time. If the user-producer feels that his suggestions have not been taken seriously, or too late, then he or she will be discouraged and will never come back, or might be tempted to badmouth you on social media platforms. Spontaneity equates to social media politeness because it shows the interest that your organisation is bestowing upon the user-producer.

Blogwell #3 presentation by Nokia’s Molly Schonthal

Blogwell in NYC (photo by Yann Gourvennec)  
Blogwell in NYC (photo by Yann Gourvennec)

The second blogwell presentation at Blogwell #3 which took place on April 29 in NYC, was that of Molly Schonthal from Nokia, who is in charge of social media for the Finnish cell phone manufacturer in the US, and also one of our representatives of the blog Council.

Molly’s presentation was truly outstanding, there were so many questions and answers at the end of the presentation that I’ve had a hard time trying to keep track of them all, but a good many of them will be transcribed in this post anyway.

The presentation was entitled “from broadcast to social media”. And it started with references to Tara Hunt’s latest book, “the Whuffie factor”, on which we have already had an opportunity to comment on this very blog (click here for an interview of Tara Hunt about her new book).

Molly insisted on the fact that “what is difficult for a big company is ‘listening’, participating openly and respectfully.” It might in fact sound to be an obvious thing to do, but it’s not always for a large organisation, for it is so easy to be concentrated on one’s internal organisational issues and forget about one’s clients. So what are the changes as a big organisation is facing when trying to engage in different kinds of relationships with its customers and ecosystem?

1.  One has to think, Molly says, not in terms of technological adoption, but of “psychological adoption”. Web 2.0, she says, is not difficult from a technical point of view, and it can be set up in a matter of seconds. But working with communities can take a lot longer than that.

2.  Her second point is just about that, when she says that “building networks take time”. And, “it does not follow the principles of normal press relations”. She even coined the phrase “social release” which she opposed to press release. What it takes is actually creating messages that are relevant to influencers. And to stop and listen and engage. And she also insisted upon the fact that collaboration is about “cross functional interactions which are at the heart of success”.

What Molly and Nokia’s teams have been able to achieve in the field of social media is just awesome. Here are just a few examples which I have been able to catch up on the catch on the fly:

  1. Nokia encouraged the widespread adoption of 2.0 tools internally,
  2. Nokia developed what they called an “infopedia” internally. This is some sort of Wikipedia, but it is internal. It was actually instrumental in getting Nokia employees to understand what a wiki is what a blog is etc.,
  3. Nokia also created a blog hub: all internal blog content was focussed in one place that is to say that access is granted to what employees are talking about, sharing thoughts and ideas,
  4. An internal webTV was also created, which is some sort of youtube which enables employees to upload, invent and discuss,
  5. externally, blogs have also been rolled out, therefore enabling conversations about Nokia products. They also created a platform called “blogbites”, which enables them to generate three-minute podcasts from existing text.”

Engaging with influencers is also a very important item on the Nokia agenda, and they are engaging with them on events, such as SXSW09.

Molly also insisted on what she called the blogger test centre tour which actually consisted in sending bloggers to two different countries. The stories were published in leading blogs such as Gizmodo, Techcrunch, the BBC etc. A 500,000 audience reach was achieved for that event in 2 geographical areas (the UK and Australia).

As a conclusion Molly insisted upon the fact that one had to allow company culture to evolve, beyond “PowerPoint slides with bullets in them”. (Reminiscent of an article I published a long time ago with the help of Giancarlo, and which was entitled PowerPointitis)

questions and answers

1. how are you selecting bloggers for your events?

Few people can be admitted in the test centre. Loads of explanations about temperatures were given (Nokia phones had to resist all kinds of temperatures, perform the lowest to the highest). The Nokia lab folks were also very excited about the idea and about the ability to interact with real people. The way that Nokia organised this was very straightforward. All Nokia had to do was to “invite them and be nice with them”.

2. measurements?

It is very hard to track results back to sales, Molly says. They do do some monitoring at Nokia, and then look at the number of people and followers (Nokia has more than 500 followers on twitter). Another question was, “how did you convince managers?” Molly responded to that: “our company understands the value of social media”, which is great support what she and her teams are doing at Nokia across the world for social media. She also insisted that social media produces soft numbers, which do not have to be linked to sales automatically.

3. what is the hardest thing?

The most difficult thing according to Molly Schonthal is to “listen well all the time”. It is hard to get an e-mail from a blogger/influencer, she says, because it always has to be taken as an emergency. “One has to stop,” she adds, it’s a “personal challenge”. Raising expectations is an issue (a phrase which I heard often times pronounced during this blogwell session). Planning is also a major issue: “one has to avoid formatting” she adds (mainly on twitter)

4. what are your worries about accountability?

Molly says that Nokia never “discloses private information, earnings, confidential information etc.” But that in the long run, some “of that could happen with maturity” and that “Nokia’s people and managers are not hindered by fear”. (I take this opportunity to link back to the minutes of a previous blogwell session in San Jose which was facilitated by Ken Kaplan from Intel about fear and social media)

5. how do you handle comments?

“You cannot say you’re open and honest and stop people from saying things” Molly rightfully points out. So, you will have to assume that some of the comments won’t always be coming your way and you’ll have to take it like a man.

6. what is the difference between press and social media release?

Molly says that social media release comes with some video plus a bunch of pictures and multimedia files to download and text which is more appropriate for blogs. It is true that more and more packages such as these are made available on the market by agencies on behalf of big businesses.

8. what about smaller bloggers?

There is more than one approach, Molly says, and we hope to do it again with more folks.

9. responding to external comments?

Molly says that you have to ask yourself two questions:

The Blog Council | Here are a few trustworthy corporate blogs

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Blog Council members working hard under Andy Sernovitz's supervision

Corporate blogging isn’t easy… And Forrester analyst Josh Bernoff published an interesting report about why people don’t trust most company blogs. In fact, looking closer at Josh’s comments, it’s not corportae blogs but corporate speak that clients don’t trust.

But this is no news to us. We’ve been going on about that for donkeys’ years. So now is the time that corporations react differently and start real conversations with their ecosystems (in b2b, it’s not just about clients, an average 21 persons are taking part in any one b2b decision in large 1000+ employee companies according to a Marketing Sherpa study).

So, what are the corporate blogs which can be trusted? Here’s the Blog Council’s take on the phenomenon, and guess what?! The Orange Business Live blog is one of them. Cheers to our writers!

The Blog Council | Here are a few trustworthy corporate blogs

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Here are some other examples of trustworthy blogs, too (and yes, they are all Blog Council members):