Your personal brand and social media

In recent times, much has been written about the notion of one’s personal brand, and how one’s image in the eyes of others can have a profound impact in areas such as recruitment, career progress, personal influence and self-esteem.

Seeking out someone in demand is driven heavily by that person’s personal brand and how we feel about that. This is especially important in the workplace as people reach out for technical or job related advice or for general mentoring. On the social front, personal brand has a big influence on how friendship groups are formed and how different social activities unfold. A person who is not a team player for instance may gain a negative reputation as a result which will have major bearing of how people reach out to them. Their personal brand in this regard could be a real impediment to their work or social inclusion and activity.

Well guess what, participation in social media has now made this issue both more visible and potentially more challenging. On social media, one’s personal brand is on display, and is front and centre for all to see.  It does depend of course on the level of participation. Those who are passive participants will not face much impact on their personal brand compared to those with full participation whose personal brand will be highly visible.

The figure below shows a visual representation of the link between the level of social media involvement and one’s personal brand.

Slide1

The point is that the more active you are on social media the greater will be the impact on personal brand whether positive or negative. Any participation can reveal things about you, but full participation on social media can reveal much about you as a person in terms of interests, beliefs and attitudes. What you contribute by way of articles or opinions can also show your inclinations or tolerance to certain issues. Indeed, you may not intend for some of this to be interpreted in the way it occurs. From the perspective of personal brand, it is all about how others see and interpret what you say as you participate in social media.

The transparency of social media means that activity on social media feeds directly into your personal brand. What is said on social media becomes an integral part of your personal brand, which is fine except it means both the good and the bad. Various filters and restrictions can be placed on who sees what on social media, but it is fair to say that anything said on social media will impact your personal brand in some way. There will be some community that sees what you are saying or the articles you are sharing.. Take recruitment for example. A recent Jobvite survey concluded that 92% of U.S. companies were using social networks and media to find talent in 2012, up from 78% five years. Anything on social media is in play when it comes to the job market, and this has a direct link to your personal brand.

Having witnessed some personal brand challenges on social media in recent times, there are three reminders to carefully consider in this context:

  1. The first and obvious point is that anything and everything you place in social media will have some bearing on personal brand
  2. The second issue is that what is said on social media is very hard to undo or retract
  3. But on the positive front, what your place on social media can be used very much as a positive such as contributing to various conversations connected to your area of expertise.

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How do you use social media?

How people use social media is a frequent conversation that I seem to encounter. Some will say they just “love Facebook” or they are spending a “lot of time on Pinterest” and so on. But there is a broader perspective here beyond which social media sites are used, and I have found it helpful to consider user behaviour in social media along two dimensions.

One is the frequency of use recognizing that some people are casual or infrequent users, and may view social media to be somewhat incidental to their personal or business lives. At the other end of this scale, some people are very heavily involved in the use of social media, and may well be obsessed with it. For these people, it may be that they access social media in some form every hour of every day.

The other dimension relates to the type of use of social media. For some people, it may be they focus only on the personal side such as connections and contacts with friends, the sharing of photos of their travels and so on. Typically, this is more conversational and the main objective is the contact rather than the content. Others however will be more content focused and use social media to access a wide range of information and knowledge on their topics of interest whether it be news and current affairs, history or hobbies. Communities of interest on social media form an important part of information and content sharing. LinkedIn for example has well over 1 million different groups that have the ability to share information and content, and collaborate amongst the group members.

The figure below blends these two dimensions and highlights four major categories of how people use social media.

Slide1

The first of these in the bottom left quadrant is the group we can label as the Social Media Butterflies. This behaviour is focused around personal and social use such as contact and conversations with friends, but with infrequent use. These users may access their social media sites on a very infrequent basis or may also be quite passive in the way they participate. In other words, they may have a burst of activity when they have some spare time or when they go on holidays for example.

Another group is also aligned to personal and social activity, but are high frequency users. These are the Social Media Fire Hoses shown in the bottom right quadrant of the matrix. Their activity on social media is not only highly visible, but is also very intense in terms of frequency and profile. They are heavy users of social media which forms and significant part of their daily lives. They will be active through their smartphones and tablets meaning they can and do participate whenever and wherever they are.

The top left quadrant of the matrix shows the so-called Social Media Pickers who are not frequent users of social media, but who will access particular information and knowledge when they require. Their focus is more on content rather than contact. For instance, they may access the social media sites for certain magazines or journals, or may go exploring for information on areas of interest such as sport.

Finally, the top right quadrant shows the position of the Social Media Sponges. These users are frequently engaged with social media, but with the major focus on accessing and sharing of content. They link themselves to various media sites, journals, thinks tanks, consultancies and so on, and spend considerable time on content by accessing information and knowledge across a range of topics and interests.

But there is no right or wrong positioning here. Everyone will work out their own positioning and balance, and this is likely to change over time. Those exploring social media for the first time may start tentatively as low-frequency users but over time they may find they become high frequency users because of contact with family and friends. Others may have a very different experience.

The pattern may also vary depending on the tools being used. A person may well be a Social Media Butterfly on Facebook and access photos or family contacts from time to time, but at the same time may be a Social Media Sponge on Twitter and follow many business and media sites that provide regular updates on articles of interests.

The richness of social media today provides immense variety for how people use it and to reap the benefits of participating in this fascinating medium.

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A digital paradox

We human beings are very adaptable and resilient especially when it comes to the use of technology. Think back to the introduction of new technologies such as telephony or the personal computer. To add to the picture, technology adoption rates are also getting faster. A recent Flurry Report suggests that adoption rates for smartphones are 10x the adoption rates for PCs in the 1980s, and 3x faster than the recent adoption of social media. Flexibility, ease of use and perceived real benefits are major drivers in this explosion of speed for technology adoption.

Enterprises have also taken to the technology revolution, and we see this in day-to-day activity. Our lives have changed dramatically with features like internet and mobile banking, online shopping and so on. Many enterprises have embraced the technology revolution in so many ways, and provided consumers with much greater utility and convenience.

The report card for enterprises

Yet on closer examination, the report card for enterprises in both government and private sector is not as rosy as it may seem, with digital transformation still needing a long way to go. Many enterprises are still organized in vertical towers that don’t easily communicate yet alone collaborate with each other. Their technology platforms are geared to support this orientation and are inflexible to change and response to the market. Many cultures are still built around traditional organization structures and environment, and capabilities are still shaped by this thinking. These are not just impediments to doing things better and smarter, but are also compromising value that can be added to customers, citizens, employees and shareholders.

Consider the struggle that some retailers have in re-aligning their strategies to be focused around omni-channel than simply multi-channel. Financial services enterprises are still challenged to fully gear themselves both organisationally and culturally to the concept of the customer segment of one. Many service organisations still have a so-called “online” division that is separate from the rest of the enterprise. In many instances, we have a long way to go to embrace the mantra that digital business is the business.

The gap between industry leaders and laggards in digital transformation will grow rapidly over the next decade with major implications for shareholder value. This is a key finding from the recent compelling report from IBM entitled “Reinventing Australian enterprises for the digital economy”.

So what can enterprises do? There are three things that enterprises need to consider differently.

1. Treat digital as the business not just a part of the business

Digital transformation is about the entire enterprise embracing all elements of the value chain – customers, employees, suppliers and stakeholders. It is not about an online division that might be considered a somewhat quaint part of the enterprise. Digital needs to underpin all aspects of the enterprise, and there should be a mindset that embeds this thinking in everything the enterprise does.

2. Frame a different starting point

Typically, there is a natural inclination for enterprises to start with what they have today and apply a “projection” mentality. This is understandable given the information that they have available. But if organisations started with a point in the future (say ten years out) and work backwards, they will see their challenges and opportunities in digital transformation in a totally different frame.

3. Embolden the narrative

In one of my recent blogs, I spoke of the need to create a digital transformation narrative. This is not a plan, but rather a view of what digital transformation would look like for an enterprise in 10-15 years time. This needs to challenge the thinking of the enterprise to make a real difference in this space, and drive a clear departure from incremental thinking.

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Digital transformation – will CEOs ask the right questions?

When the motorcar was new, people watched with amazement initially and many could only yearn to own one. But after several decades, the car became the norm and most people could either own a car or have access to one.  Likewise, when the mobile phone first appeared in the late 1980s, people looked on with amazement, but within a 20-year period, the mobile phone became an essential accessory for a big percentage of the world’s population.

Next wave of change

We are now at the cusp of a similar quantum change, namely the digital transformation of enterprises in both private sector and government. Some of this has been emerging over the past several years, but recent developments have now placed this opportunity front and centre for enterprises. These include the explosive growth of mobile devices, the rise of big data and the rapidly emerging focus of analytics for radically improved decision making. Many enterprises are still looking on with interest, but to stay competitive or to create a sustainable model, enterprises need to act now and elevate digital transformation to a new level of urgency.

Technology itself has made extraordinary strides in the past five years and technology change over the next 10-15 years will have a profound impact for enterprises at many levels. A McKinsey report  earlier this year called “Disruptive technologies: Advances that will transform life, business, and the global economy” highlights some of the developments we can expect. By 2025, the report anticipates that some 2-3 billion more people will have access to the internet, and the automation of knowledge work will drive additional economic value of over $5 trillion. These stunning macro trends will continue to shape and re-shape the global economy

Re-inventing enterprises

But how will this impact various industries and enterprises across the economy at a more local level? In Australia, a report has just been released by IBM / NIEIR titled “Reinventing Australian
Enterprises for the
Digital Economy”. Through economic modeling to 2025, this excellent piece of analysis highlights the impact of digital transformation across the Australian economy, and across seven industry segments in particular.

It shows quite dramatically the difference between enterprises that invest and drive a strong digital transformation agenda versus those in the same industry who stand back from such investment, and take a more measured approach over the next 12 years or so. It highlights that in four industries alone the total market capitalisation gap between these “leaders” and “laggards” is some $270 billion to 2025.

The analysis of “leaders” and “laggards” in this report provides two underlying messages that are critical to enterprises going forward. One is that if enterprises don’t invest in digital transformation now, they will significantly fall behind competitors in the next 12-year period to 2025. But more importantly is the message that if enterprises don’t invest now, it may be difficult if not impossible to catch-up with industry leaders in this space even if they were determined to do so. In other words, the compounding lag with industry leaders may cause long-term damage or possible demise of the lagging enterprise.

CEOs response

CEOs have thought about the digital economy in some form, and they will rightly ask questions of their C-suite executives around the plan to address the digital economy, the timescale required and the best investment profile going forward.

But are these the right questions? Are these sufficient to shape different behaviours around digital transformation, and to inject greater urgency and focus into the debate and subsequent actions for the enterprise? CEOs will need to engage actively in the digital transformation dialogue in their enterprise, and drive three questions in particular:

1. What is the digital transformation narrative for the enterprise?

The narrative is not a plan, but rather an expression of the look and shape of the enterprise in say 2025 underpinned by digital transformation. It would typically be no more than say two pages embracing language and sentiment such as “imagine our enterprise if we reduced our customer churn by 50%” or “…imagine our enterprise if we moved from 5th position in market share to 1st position”. This is about stretching the thinking and taking the conversation to a totally new level, and challenging the existing organisation capabilities. It is envisioning how digital transformation can take the enterprise to a new level of value to customers, employees and stakeholders.

2. What is the cost of not doing digital transformation?

This is at the heart of the competitive landscape. Opportunities lost can be not only costly in a direct sense, but also create a challenge in terms of catching up with competition. How are competitors setup to undertake digital transformation that can change the way the industry competes? It only needs one competitor to change the way business is done, such as Amazon setting up and operating a model that ultimately created terminal problems for groups like Borders.

3. What should the enterprise stop doing?

Enterprises find plenty of initiatives and projects to undertake. Even in difficult economic times, there is usually a long list of initiatives on the table competing for funds, resources and management attention. But how do they line-up against the digital transformation narrative? How do they add real value for customers, employees and stakeholders in the future? If the answer is they don’t add value or it is marginal, they should be stopped. Deciding what not to do is an important management capability so the focus can be on the items that will drive value in line with the digital transformation narrative.

The value around digital transformation needs to be clearly articulated. Enterprises will need to invest, but it is worth heeding a comment from Warren Buffett, namely “Price is what you pay – but value is what you get.”

 

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Is lifelong learning coming of age?

At business school many years ago, a professor of mine stated that learning should not cease when we left the MBA campus for the last time. It seemed a fairly logical and obvious point at the time, and at the end of the programme, we all marched off with our newly found commitment to continue our learning journey.

But back in the real world, it was not quite as simple. The pressure of the corporate world, extensive work travel for some and the day-to-day juggle of work-life balance all seemed to conspire to relegate learning to a back seat. Of course, work and life itself are great teachers in their own right, and the learnings from those experiences are priceless. The school of hard knocks as it is often called does sharpen ones senses and the responses to daily challenges in so many ways.

But there seemed to be a missing ingredient. Somehow, the soufflé was rising but not as much as we had expected. Enter the corporate training and skills development programmes. These events provided a good internal forum for the exploration of ideas, the development of technical skills, and the shaping of more productive networking amongst colleagues from many different places. But by their very nature, they tended to be highly structured and corporate centric, and therefore individual needs were not necessarily the focus. Over time, many of these events have focused more on the development of the so-called softer skills, leaving much technical training to be done using online or remote learning tools. These corporate activities especially around the softer skills will continue to play a key role in the development of critical capabilities in organisations such as leadership and collaboration.

Then came the outside development programmes which were run by business schools or leading management institutes. These brought together people from diverse organisations and backgrounds. Learning through the diversity of experience in a safe external environment was a key driver. These programmes provide a re-fresh from the home organisation, and without doubt help develop different ways of thinking and approaching problems and indeed life itself. Putting these learnings into practice back in the workplace or at home can be a challenge.

But the digital world has in recent times added a rich layer of learning on top of all the above activities. The “student of one” is now alive and well, and the digital age now presents an amazing opportunity for individual development at so many levels. In addition to various formal corporate and other structured programmes, people can now gain access online to a vast number of channels for personal development either by way of books and materials or online courses directly.

The internet has changed the game in personal development. I remember being intrigued (and still am now) at the number of personal development books that adorn whole sections of major bookstores. In years gone by, this probably represented a large proportion of what was available, but the difference now is that it is just the tip of the iceberg. The internet provides not only the choice of books, but also the vast array of online courses and other online reference material. This gives the “student of one” a rich selection of choices, but also over time a growing influence on what is supplied to the market.

One of these digital layers that is rapidly growing is around the MOOCs (Massive Open Online Courses). Last year, I wrote about the MOOCs just as I was finishing one of the 12 week online history courses via Coursera. The growth of MOOCs has been staggering. As an example, Coursera was formally launched in April 2012, and now boasts some 4 million students, 400 courses and 83 university partners. MOOCs generally are continuing to expand in their current form, but are also exploring different business models both to capture fee income and also to provide a more robust accreditation regime for various courses completed.

My professor from years ago has long retired, but he would sit in awe of the opportunities now available for real lifelong learning. In his day, this concept needed a real effort to do it. Now it is the opposite, and requires a real effort not to be scooped up by learning opportunities in so many areas. These opportunities give us a real chance to affirm the sentiment from writer and futurist Alvin Toffler who said,

“The illiterate of the 21st century will not be those who cannot read and write, but those who cannot learn, unlearn, and relearn.” 

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The relevance of organisation design in the digital era

Organisations go through various phases of re-organising themselves. These events are often heralded as helping to get closer to customers or re-alignment of skills or a strategic re-structuring for the future. Communications teams are usually working overtime in these situations to ensure the right messages are shaped and delivered to the organisation and to the market. These events almost always occur as a new CEO is appointed so that the organisation is shaped in the way the new CEO wants to drive it.

There was a time when the organisation structure represented the way the place actually worked. That is, information and authority were both arranged hierarchically, and the flow of communications up and down the line also followed this pattern. The organisation structure was effectively the way of doing business. Flow of information from customers through to various parts of the business and back again could be slow and tortuous.

But information systems changed all that. As big systems came of age 15 or so years ago, no longer did the vertical flow of information dictate how organisations worked. Indeed, big systems meant that more information was available to more people at multiple levels. As a result, organisations changed so that integrating mechanisms across the business, cross-functional teams and the networking organisation became in vogue. The concept of the customer centric organisation emerged.

But the internet and digital era has taken this to an entirely new level, and the pace of change continues to accelerate. Information can now be accessed ubiquitously and from multiple devices from virtually any location. Organisations have become far more connected both within the formal structure and beyond its boundaries. In turn, this has provided real-time and highly visible information about customer service levels and customer sentiment, and performance measures in many areas including suppliers. This widespread connectivity today means that traditional hierarchy is somewhat superseded in the digital era.

What does this mean for the way that organisations are designed, and how does this impact the re-structuring of businesses in today’s world?

 1. Organisation design is not dead

How the organization is shaped and who reports to whom is still a vital feature of any business. This can have a powerful impact for how customers are engaged by the organisation, how decisions are made, how talent is identified and developed, and how “pay and rations” are managed. Reporting lines also play a key role in developing future leaders and creating growth opportunities through promotion and larger responsibilities.

2. Organisation design competes head-on with people connection

The organization of today operates far more around the connection of people across the business than simply the organization structure. Employees are connected not only within their organization at multiple levels, but also with outside suppliers and stakeholders. Most importantly, employees have far more information than ever before about customer service and delivery issues, and can have visibility of sentiments from customers directly via social media or chat rooms.

3. Organisation design must embrace the agility mantra

Many organisations lament the frequency of re-structuring. Indeed, we often hear the complaint that “here we go again, yet another shifting of the deck chairs”. But in reality, frequent organisation changes provide a re-fresh and new opportunities. Provided they are adding to better customer engagement in some way, directly or indirectly, they should be a regular feature of any organisation. Agility of the organisation to absorb and grow through change is an important feature of success.

Whilst organisation design may not be on quite the pedestal it occupied in years gone by, it remains an important part of the mix in the digital era.

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The Customer CEO imperative

Getting closer to customers and the customer-focused organisation are familiar themes, and have been extensively explored and developed over the years. But execution against these themes has not always been successful, and many stories abound of organisations simply not doing enough in this arena. Indeed, many just do not get what it means to be customer-focused.

But recently, I came across a most compelling book from Chuck Wall called the Customer CEO – how to profit from the power of your customers. This book provides a new dimension on how to look at the customer, and more importantly how organisations can practically manage some the challenges and opportunities. The thinking here is that the customer needs to be considered at the top of the organisation, effectively shaping and driving value, and not the other way around. This is about “customer pull”, not “product push”.

Prior to the information era, the power of the customer was somewhat limited. Organisations were able to present their products to the customer, but in the main they had far more knowledge of the product than the customers to whom they were selling.

Today however, the tables have been turned in the most dramatic fashion. Wall takes us through the massive changes that have occurred and which are continuing at an even faster pace. The customer today has information that is far more ubiquitous than ever imagined – and free. Knowledge gleaned from fellow customers, from colleagues or from friends all mean that the real pressure is back onto organisations to deliver differently. The power is truly with the customer. How do organisations respond in this environment, and what does customer focus really mean are key questions faced by the C-suite today.

In his book, Wall takes us through a fascinating journey of the nine powers or core needs of the customer. He highlights each of these with some really interesting case studies where organisations ranging from fast food to industrial machinery have successfully ensured that the customer is really driving the organisation to deliver value. This is a key point right through his book.

At the end of each chapter on the nine powers, Wall has practical advice on what organisations can do to address these issues, and he also has a short diagnostic tool that can be downloaded.

The nine powers of customers are about the powers of people, rather than the broader market. In this context, Wall highlights a great  quote from Stanley Marcus, the former chairman of retailer Neiman Marcus:

“Consumers are statistics, but customers are people”.

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