Tuesday, May 27, 2008

Shel asked 8 other questions; I answer most of them.

I met Shel Israel (or as he prefers, shel israel) earlier this month in Orlando, although we've followed each other on Twitter for, oh maybe twice that amount of time? He's a great guy, and has a great business card that says so. I read one of his books ("Naked Conversations") and started digging back into his earlier writings.

Like this one:


1. Describe the culture of your business or where you live. What role does social media play in it?

*) American style

I work for a big/global American-based company that makes consumer and professional products. Growing up, this was a big employer in my home town; the son of one of the founders went to my high school and to my college, so I felt deep local roots when I started work. With a majority of top positions in the U.S. and a large portion of manufacturing jobs outside the U.S., the cultural feeling is different than when I started. Reading Thomas Friedman's book The World Is Flat helped me better understand what corporations will look like in the future, and what my role might be. As for social media, I'll describe impacts on my outward-facing role as a community facilitator for the Americas SAP User Group (ASUG). When I started, contacts were via email, phone calls and at face-to-face meetings. Picking up business cards was the primary method of documenting the established network. I really didn't concentrate on any social networking except trying to get the spreadsheets of the attendees at the smaller Fall events ASUG hosted. Lists of company names, email and phone numbers was a gold-mine for connecting to peers facing challenges we faced with deploying and managing enterprise software. Probably a nexus for me was sitting in a meeting with my boss, doing a conference call with colleagues in the UK, as he showed slides on a webcast, and then updated the slides in real time for them (and for me). This global multimedia meeting showed me the power of tools that I had not connected together before.

Subsequently, when trying to leverage our common challenges of converting our SAP systems to Unicode, I tried to get webcasts organized through ASUG official channels, but found budget, logistic and resource constraints hampering quick meeting organizing, so I used the resources I had to set up meetings for under 25 people cross the web. I built up an email list of like-minded ASUG contacts, SAP experts and others, scheduling sessions using ASUG's web site discussion forums for follow up. These informal meetings evolved to formally scheduled ones when SAP agreed to host webcasts on their systems. We found that exchanging ideas on the "back-channel" of webcast chat messaging has become the elevator or hallway conversations of the 21st century, where people who may never have met in person can connect in virtual space.

*) Engineering

As I work for a manufacturer, the engineering teams are the primary conduit from idea to reality. I've been in training courses with some, support others in my daily job, and chat with many in the course of the day. Since I have an engineering degree, I can relate in a professional way to the jobs they do, and could see myself in a role there one day. Without going into any detail, we use software for product lifecycle management, meaning tracking the evolution of something we want to sell from idea to being built. Teams of engineers and product design specialists around the globe share these details electronically. In this case, we are not using SAP software, so there are challenges connecting data from inside SAP to outside. I would imagine these challenges aren't much different than we'd face if we were using SAP across the board, as there are always customizations and different ways of doing business, depending on where you start, what your specialty is, and what influences drive you.

Social media between teams are webcasts, document management systems and lots (LOTS!) of email. With travel budgets impacted by rising fuel costs, I would imagine that video conferencing will grow, filling current network pipes. I've got open "to do" lists containing knowledge management opportunities and challenges.

*) New products

Google "new products" "power tools" and we're #1, and 4 out of the top 5 hits. Not bad. Urban legend is we're in the top 10 recognized brands. Could be, but whenever I say where I work the typical reaction is "Oh" as in "nice." I see quite a juxtaposition from the products consumer manufacturers create ("hardware" if you will) to the products that software entrepreneurs build. In both cases, end users ultimately determine your fate, but building and shipping software seems to have a high "turn ratio" which can sometimes be detrimental to corporate stability. I'm not talking security intrusions here, I'm talking churn like the boiler room penny stock pushers of yore, and the bubble-licious flavor of the month like so many new Holland tulips.

2. How has social media changed your business or your life (pick one or both)?

"Life? Don't talk to me about life." - Marvin the Paranoid Android, via DNA

I think webcast when I think of social media, not so much facebook or myspace. I started with a personal computer in the late 1970s and by 1983 or so had a CompuServe account. They had "CB radio" which was primitive 2 way talk to strangers, and there were numerous permutations of bulletin boards, which were store and forward messaging systems. It was connectivity to people with mutual interests all over the world, just like ham radio operators were in the middle of the 20th century. I didn't get into instant messaging then, or on IRC later when the internet grew up, but I see twitter and texting services as very similar to those earlier incarnations.

I've used facebook as a means of keeping in touch with my son at college, although he's only a mile away from where I work. Some ideas and concepts are shared easier in this media, for some reason, that aren't as easily shared in person, on the phone, or via email.

Writing blogs on SAP SDN BPX SCN has been life-enabling in a lot of ways. I have developed a number of different voices or characters, and sets of followers in each of them, from a core technical expert, to a social organizer, to an environmental voice, to being a recognizable personality (an SAP mentor) in a tremendously large crowd of people.

3. How has social media impacted your views of businesses, government, politics or education (pick one or more)?

Er, my views of each of these is pretty much the same as it has been since I was young. I probably changed or evolved my views on education the most when I was a middle school Parent/Teacher Association president, with insights into the ways that adults try to influence children, but I already had a lot of vicarious experience into education listening to my father's stories of the teachers, parents, guardians and students in the schools where he taught and administered.

4. Has social media impacted what you do in your spare time? How about other family members?

Well, I'm blogging more, spending a lot of time writing and a lot of time thinking about writing, and probably also sharing more photographs, audio and video recordings than I ever did or thought I would.

My wife has transitioned from writing poetry and short stories on the typewriter, to doing more work online, sharing content within a group ("Write Here, Write Now") that is partly on Yahoo, and partly email chains. I've spent time being tech support, including on one ambitious story where each writer was supposed to contribute with different color fonts. Try that with 8 different email clients! So, we are both online collaborators in a sense.

Weird, I just googled the book she contributed to and found the release party is tomorrow. Think I need to post this blog NOW!
ISBN: 1934074322
ISBN-13: 9781934074329

5. If you have children, or are close to young people, how does social media impact their time or opinions?

*) 1 son, in college, who bugs me regularly for texting service for his phone.
*) Scout leader role in local troop and lodge, where youth have all the answers, plenty of time, yet can't spell worth a darn.

I've noticed that youth often have a huge and growing network of friend links. I have maybe 50 on Facebook, 250 on LinkedIn, but teenagers have hundreds of friends. If these are true friends, this social base will help them later in life to be able to draw on resources as people move around. On the flip side, there is the potential for some of these tools to be turned against us, being damaged by malicious users, or becoming time drains rather than a help.

When I friended (which in the old days was probably called "befriended" but I digress) one of my son's friends, it felt a little like I was prying, but then I thought, no, I'd start conversations with these people if they were in my house or I was in their house, so starting a network connection is socially acceptable. When I've contacted a few people who were interns at my work, they have been appreciative of my reaching out. In most cases, I've tried to leave endorsements, so that others who may hire or consult them can leverage the time they spent with us as college students. I might also need for them to hire me for something someday!

6. Is there a discussion of social media where you work? If so, what are the sharpest arguments?

Business impact, return on investment. Always with the knowledge management and retrofitting/adaption/adoption planning.

I've discussed my research, which has included experimentation, and reading a couple books, like the Corporate Blogging Book, and Naked Conversations. Just like having a good story or joke you want to tell at a party, there isn't always an opportune moment or an appreciative audience to share insights with. Often, people have either made their minds up based on personal experience (or what someone else told them), or they are following a different development path. Recently, I've seen growth in professional contact management services like LinkedIn. I expect there won't be a "killer app" that persuades people, like Lotus did, or like Netscape did, but there will be a "killer meme" that just encapsulates the power of media tools more than anything else could. I don't think it will be "8 things I wouldn't tell my shrink."

7. Can you tell my studio audience an interesting story about how social media impacted business or culture.

Maybe, but it's going to cost you.

8. Additional comments

One of the hardest challenges I'm faced with is evangelizing for Wikis. It seems like the facebook/myspace and even blogs are at least known quantities, but do-it-yourself authoritative collaborative group-think websites are a different story. Dennis Howlett suggested wetpaint.com, so I've set up a private wiki space for an SAP users group team to draft material before sharing it with the world. The Stewart Mader book wikipatterns and the associated web site have been like Zen writings, simple but tough guidelines.

Keep reading, keep writing, keep editing!

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