Having just returned from Lotusphere in Orlando, Florida and just about shaken off jet lag, I have started to reflect on what was certainly for me the best ever Lotusphere.
Apart from the glitz, glamour and energy around, I was surprised by the number of people I knew. Most of them I had never met in person, but I was familiar with because of their online presence in Twitter, LinkedIn, Facebook and the IBM community sites we all hang around in. Often I would introduce myself to someone who’s name I recognised from their name badge, who would then say “Ah, Alan – @alanghamilton“ – My twitter handle was the thing they recognised me from (they wouldn’t say the @, I just added it in a shameless self-promotion attempt).
Apart from being a good ice breaker, people already “knew” me. We would immediately continue discussing a topic we had exchanged electronically. This was great and helped make me feel less of a “party of one” as these events can often do.
In a social context all this is to be expected, but in a social business, think how much more cohesive an electronic community such as this could make an organisation? People with common problems or interests might never meet each other in person because they are separated by geography, divisional structure or company can collaborate on topics of mutual interest simply by PARTICIPATING in communities, broadcasting what they are doing, and posing questions to others.
In a large organisation you frankly don’t know who is out there who might simply have the answer or experience you’re looking for. A system of engagement, like IBM Connections, often turns into a system of record (i.e. the place where things are stored and referred to) by people participating and using the social business tool as a reference point.
Most of us, however, work in small companies. So small, in most cases, that we all know who our colleagues are and broadly what they know and don’t know. In such situations you might think that social business solutions are not really much value. But that’s where you’d be wrong.
At Lotusphere this year Jeff Schick pointed out how important it is for organisations to differentiate themselves from each other. It is simply not enough to have a better product, lower price, or better service nowadays. Small businesses have the agility and nimbleness to make change quickly and it is in the area of social business that I believe they can really win – and win fast.
By making their business more transparent to their customers, exposing who in their organisation are experts in their subject matters, allowing customers to pinpoint individuals who can help them, and providing not so much a window on the company but a door customers can come through whenever they want then small business can transform their fortunes through social business.
By engaging the people you work with, and most importantly, your customers in social business you build long-lasting trust-based relationships. Sales will come not by formal proposals, and long lead-generation processes but by simply being the best darned company out there that does what the customer wants.
The old sales mantra of making it easy to buy for the customer is surely encapsulated in social business. By being truthful, trustworthy, outgoing and engaging, any business can win the friendship and trust of people they have never met and find they have much more in common than they knew – much like I did this year at Lotusphere.