Rivers of Information and Social Media

I just finished speaking at the Enterprise Software Summit on rivers of information. The idea basically comes down to the fact that blogs, RSS, and other Web 2.0 technology is changing the dominant metaphor we have for the 'Net from "place" to "flow." Jeff Nolan took some notes.

Jeff's speaking now on how he uses social media at SAP to try to get SAP's message out. He mentions a study that indicates CEOs are among the least trusted spokespeople. This has interesting implications or the rise of the blogging CEO. Jeff says it's more important to get others blogging than to get your CEO blogging. I think this is certainly true, but I also think that blogging, done right, will change the CEO. This may not get the message out, but it will help the company.

Jeff is talking about how SAP is changing the way information is created and distributed. Whereas information was formerly created in discrete, static chunks and distributed in a one-way manner via email, information now needs to be boundariless and received through subscription. The latter methods enables conversations to start.

Most confidential information at large companies isn't. It's labeled "confidential" to make the writer feel more important. Start with the assumption that nothing is confidential and then categorize appropriately.

Jeff set up an internal multi-author blog internally called "The Daily Oracle." Whenever anyone sees some news item that has to do with Oracle, they post it. This is more effective than the clipping service that SAP pays for. SAP uses this and other topic specific blogs to respond to Oracle. Powerpoints, etc. get created or changed within minutes or hours for field people to respond to Oracle's actions.

Jeff thinks RSS will absolutely change the way companies communicate internally. Wikis are essential to capturing institutional knowledge and improving productivity. SAP uses SocialText (Ross Mayfield's here today as well). Blogs and wikis can be combined to form effective project management tools.

How do you use social media in your company? Here's Jeff's ideas:

  • Lay down core building blocks, including a management commitment to be involved and guide the use. Install software (blogging and wiki). Support RSS/Atom distribution.
  • Develop external relations. Form community groups and create a federation of interested 3rd party bloggers, citizen journalists, and so on.
  • Drive content avenues. This can come from executive and employee blogs. Don't forget podcasts.

Trying to manage external bloggers like you do the media isn't effective. Find the influencer in the blogosphere. Jeff points out that Technorati shows that 241 sites link to his blog whereas only 61 sites link to sap.com. There's more to influence than incoming links, but it's a powerful indicator. SAP called up influential bloggers on enterprise software and asked if they'd like to talk more and better access to information about SAP. They don't try to manage the content, just send information. SAP will make executives available to bloggers to talk. Jeff will comment on blogs that are critical of SAP to engage in the conversation. When the criticism is valid, fix the problem rather than covering it up.

Changing the direction of the battleship takes time. There are legal challenges (your corporate code of conduct might not allow blogging). The message is not longer a top-down, managed message, but a distributed, more confrontational market communication strategy. You probably need software that isn't currently supported by your IT team. If you manage the message you'll be ignored.

C-level blogs are largely a waste of time. The untapped gold mine are the people who are direct reports to C-level people. They are smart, tactical, and have things to say.