the business of social media

I’m giving a talk tomorrow at work at an event jointly hosted by Warwick Business School and WMG in our Lab. I am trying to calculate the value of the social media sector in a number of ways – just looking at the number of new businesses it has spawned is quite something. Lots of new business out of our social posts, tweets and activity – and companies still musing about ROI to their own activity. Beginning to think they should be paying us directly for all that new intelligence they are garnering. Hmmm.

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….three years on.

It’s been a while.  I am very grateful to a few people nudging away to get me back into writing.  Even reading my own blogroll tells me a lot about how times have changed.   I have been Professor of Digital Media and Innovation at WMG, University of Warwick for almost three years, albeit working part time.  I’ll be blogging about my work and the digital media and innovation landscape from now on.  But first the credits!  First thanks to Daniel Bennett a PHD candidate at Kings College, London who asked me to review a chapter of his PHD thesis about War reporting and BBC Blogs.  Second to Dr. Tim Jones, who asked me to step in a co-author a chapter in the forthcoming book “Growth Champions” to be published by John Wiley early in 2012. Third to the Berkman centre for Internet Studies whose blogpost round-ups keep me informed and excited by new work in this field all over the world.  Why thanks? With time and money short there seem to be fewer and fewer people writing and blogging in depth with their thoughts.  Facebook and Twitter have changed the day to day landscape of communications beyond the graphs of early analysis. So to review in depth work like a PHD chapter or two on the history of the BBC and Blogging or to contribute to a discussion about what makes certain companies excel in Innovation leadership forced me to step back from the everyday hurlyburly and think about the last five years , or 10 years or in the case on my chapter on Apple , 35 years!  More of which to come in time.

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social media for innovation at the BBC (and elsewhere)

We’re trying out Yammer inside the BBC to create conversations outside of email. As we are always on the look out for better ways of communicating across collaborations inside and outside the BBC’s firewall and because we test a lot of tools opinion about which might be best for us is, of course divided even in our own community.

So I read with interest on Ethan’s blog that Telefonica in Spain have gone one step further. They use Yammer but they have also introduced an internal video sharing service.

Researchers working on projects get two minutes to explain their work to their colleagues – some break the rules and run long, but most as well-behaved, and it’s possible to get the gist of most projects with just a few seconds of video, making it far easier to surf through than a huge document repository. (I assume they’re heavily tagged and annotated to make them highly searchable.) Using Yammer, 350 members of his (Carlos Domingo, who runs the R&D unit) team share ideas on a Twitter-like network that’s closed to the company, and encourages employees to share what they’re working on and what problems they could use help with.

Now that’s what I call useful. I may have to suggest it back at the ranch. I have always thought that learning to collaborate and communicate well inside the organisation (“everyone can speak to everyone ” should be one of the mantras of any creative company) made it a lot easier to go down the open innovation route.

Companies which were born as digital natives have less of an issue with this it seems. Google put their video conversations about their research online .- Google roundtable has Researchers and Engineers talking about their R&D and their Tech talks are there there too – on You Tube, of course. But they also post women@google talks and authors@google and musicians@google talks amongst other things.

Euan Semple at the BBC lead us down the path of more open communications when he introduced our internal wikis and blogs way back in 2002/03. I remember that as a complete breakthrough. Places where we could share documents and actually reveal what we were doing and perhaps even discuss that with peers around the organisation, it sounds like nothing now, but it was huge. That paved the way (another post for another day) for our external blogs (the project I Iead on the innovation side ) and staff blogs in 2005/06. By the way the guidelines for BBC staffers blogging were all written up internally and collaboratively on a wiki masterminded by Nick Reynolds (and now published externally too)

BBC Backstage got through it’s own beta testing and launch at the same time which was no accident.

You’ll find lots of talk at the moment about opening up the BBC further through partnerships of one kind of another but these are and were , I think, necessary preconditions.

In the past you would have said the BBC really communicates what it is about to the public only via its programmes as well as via press releases, annual reports, consultations and complaints the historic tools of corporate communications.

But now many staff on official blogs and personal blogs offer additional insight into what is going on behind the scenes in terms of how we do our jobs, how the BBC works, how we make decisions and importantly who we are. That’s incredibly important for collaborations and partnerships of any kind – knowing who you are doing business with, or talking to and being able to talk to them creates a virtual circle of information leading to understanding and participation being able to be used effectively

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picnic08: Charles Leadbeater and Clay Shirky. Boulders and Pebbles

I noticed at this conference that I got most from the sessions where there was room for new conversations to take place between the speakers after their keynotes or presentations in the one-on-one exchange between them , intersected by questions from the floor. I wonder too if it is the time when speakers themselves can think new thoughts? I have two examples of this from Picnic08 .

The first from my own talk when my CD and powerpoint became corrupted and I had to speak without slides which will be the subject of another post.. the second in the final moments of Charlie Leadbeater’s talk when Clay Shirky asked him some questions and you had two great minds on stage thinking together – thinking live, thinking as performance.

Charlie in one section of his talk , captured here , talked about mainstream media organisations as Boulders, and individual content creators as Pebbles. His argument which built very elegantly suggested more than strongly that the Pebbles will have the future and that Boulders could never understand the agility, creativity and sheer potential generated by the pro-am, the user-generated and the unleashed creative potential of the network.

And what’s more, he argued, the Boulder (mainstream media) could never manage creatively enough to harness this explosion of creativity (I am paraphrasing here so please do correct me if I am wrong) . The landscape of the beach was changing and this was a direction that was now unleashed. But in the Q&A with Clay Shirky Charlie talked about his earlier meetings with Business keen to harness the creativity of the Pebbles and who asked him how best to harness the energy and to mange their output?

Rocks, Pebbles and Boulders by SixSixSith

Rocks, Pebbles and Boulders by SixSixSith

This posed a bit of a conundrum, for me at least. On the one hand the future of creativity and agility was in the hand of the pebbles who are free to network and grow their interconnectedness, on the other the needs of business to harness such creativity in order to get output. So I made an observation from the conference floor which I hoped might move things on from this either /or dialogue. I identified myself as both a Boulder and a Pebble. I work in a Boulder, but I am also a Pebble I write my blog, I contribute to other blogs and in other ways with my more individual creativity and output. And what’s more I work in my Boulder to encourage more Pebbles to interact with us and our Boulder to become more permeable – and in this respect and now I am now pushing at an Open door.

So isn’t the landscape more beautiful if you have Boulders and Pebbles on the beach together ? Isn’t the question rather about what is the creative or dynamic type of leadership needed in the networked world to harness the strengths and creativity of both and encourage the exchange – rather than assert the two camps , with the one on the path to triumphing the other.

Clay picked up the theme and contextualised it in terms of governance and management: people need a framework in which to be creative or innovate – the blank page does not always help them. He also talked about his analysis of the Linux Kernel report and how even Boulders can fund people to produce work that is valuable to the wider eco-system and enable the Pebbles to become stronger (my paraphrasing but for a proper summary of that work see here . And so, whether Boulders or Pebbles, the issue is of governance and framework setting – creative management in a way if such a thing can exist. I think Charlie agreed with this – while there are lots of examples he cited of people coming together in networks to do things together there needs to be a spark or a catalysit – and it seems what we may be talking about is the new definition of leadership, or creative leadership in the networked work place, or the networked world.

What I do know is that the next morning Clay came back to the platform and told us that after that talk and exchange he had torn up his prepared talk and started again with something new – I blogged that at the time. So perhaps the new had been allowed to emerge in those moments of thinking aloud and live – those moments at conferences that so easily get lost to the schedule but which produce lots of new value.

But getting back to creative leadership the session at Picnic that certainly made me happiest was watching and listening to Itay Talgam talk to a packed hall about creative leadership in the form of the symphony conductor. I couldn’t have taken notes so spellbound I was by his dissection of the meaning of the body language of the various maestro (maestri?) he showed us. Of course if you go to a classical concert more likely than not you will see the back of the conductor’s head and shoulders and not his face. But Itay turned it all around with some clips, and stories and lead us into an understanding of what such leadership could be best demonstrated by Leonard Bernstein. Ethan Zuckerman’s description of the talk is terrific, as is the one by Masters of Media. At the end we were left watching a clip of Bernstein conducting without moving his body or his arms. The expressions on his face, a raised eyebrow or an expression of pleasure or suffering were enough to communicate all he needed to after all the work he had done with the orchestra in advance. Just one look and he had them where he wanted them, and they collaborated to give him, and us, what we wanted to hear. No better end to a day of discussions around collaboration and leadership, and boulders and pebbles.

Here is an interview with Itay from Picnic08, followed by a Leonard Bernstein clip (with hands!)

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Picnic08: Green Challenge winner announced

Winner has been announced and it’s Eben Bayer and Gavin McIntyre, an inventor team from the United States, offer sustainable ecological alternatives to conventional synthetic building materials.  Capra J’neva and partner Emilie Fetscher of the United States  invented easy-to-use consumer solar panels and were awarded a runners up prize.  There will be a lot of press to follow – I think they chose wisely..

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Paying attention to Africa : Ethan Zuckerman @ Picnic08

Trying to blog while Ethan is speaking proves that he can not only write at least twice as fast as I can, but he can speak as fast as he writes. So this will certainly not capture it all.

We don’t pay much attention to Africa – but if you look on Google news you will find ten times more news for countries outside Africa than countries inside Africa. Media attention map by a Dutch firm – shows Africa consistently falling off the map in this respect. But paying attention does matter. In November 2005 someone from the Malawi Times was passing through a village when he was shown a windmill that a kid had built and hooked up to generate power. It made enough power to power his parents house. It was blogged in Malawi then was picked up by AfriGadget - then there was an invite to speak at a conference which was picked up by international press. What this has meant up meaning is that people have now raised enough money for this young man to go to one of the best schools in malawi. His whole life has been transformed by the fact that someone did pay attention. how much more are we missing like this?

In the past lots of well meaning white guys have been talking about Africa – but the good news is that there will be fewer of us in the future and I want to introduce you to the world of African Bloggers and I am going to talk about Kenya.

There was a media blackout for a couple of day during the run up to the last elections in Kenya except fo the blogs , so you had an IT specialist going out with his camera and blogging. As things got harder and harder during the reporting of the election another blogger had to switch to updating from her phone. mashada a lively bulletin board site got really nasty during the election – lots of hatred but the guy who ran the site took it down as he got tired of moderating ethnic conflict and put another one up called “I have no tribe” and that started another discussion all about being Kenyan. Ushahidi.com set up after Kenya Pundit who moved from Kenya back to South Africa to be with her family said she was worried people would not be able to follow what was going on in the election process – and so a group of people got together and helped her set it up taking input via sms. You can find voices who do reflect what is going on. We do have aggregators. Now we have the Africa 2s – the Africa that goes to shopping malls. there is now a group of people who have enough disposable income to go shopping, and I would prefer to think of them as producers than consumers – moving swiftly towards the future. And its not the shopping mall that is the sign of the future but the mobile phone. I can’t emphasise enough how this is transforming Africa. Now interesting African problems can be solved that you guys do not need to solve. – eg cash accounting in Ghana. take your money , you buy a phone card , you get the code but don’t use it. You phone someone in the village give them the code and take my credit of $20 – now you have the credit, give $19 to my mother. So now mobile phone services are setting up. I wish I could pay for my taxi here in Amsterdam with my mobile phone….

Then Ethan talked about a Knife sharpening bicycle from AfriGadget – the guy who runs this stand makes $10 a day – that puts him in the Kenyan middle class. We hack what we have. In Africa a bicycle can become an ambulence. Block and Track an anti-theft device invented by a young man with no formal electronics training …During recent elections in Zimbabwe each polling station posted the number of votescast centraly and so they knew they had the numbers. They (mobile phones) have the ability to fix election systems too.

This infrastructure has expanded faster than anyone thought. Who is making money? In some case it is Africans. Someone built a mobile phone infrastructure in DFC while still at war , sold it and made money. We in the west have made money from Africa by taking stuff out. The way to make money in Africa now is to build stuff up. Biggest problem in Africa now is cost of power. Need to build . We tend to think of Africa in terms of Aid – how can we help. It’s not wrong but it’s incomplete – we need to figure out how to do infrastructure. China is looking at this from a different perspective. China is focussing on infrastructure because they want to get stuff out. Both think they are robbing each other, probably quite a good partnership. But the people who are going to build the content are the re diaspora. Africans who leave to get their education and then go back – and build up colleges – eg Ashesi college.

If Africa is surprising it’s just because you are not paying enough attention.

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preparing for the digital future: Ofcom’s experimental site

Just catching up on Ofcom’s proposals for stage two of the PSB review and noticed, apart from the proposals themselves, this “experimental” page where you can leave your comments alongside the proposals.  There are other ways too of responding formally.  But I’ll be interested to see who leaves comments here and how many.  There are lots of things we do at the BBC which could also benefit from this kind of approach to guage the views of our viewers and listeners in more informal ways.

On this experimental site we encourage you to leave informal comments alongside the Executive Summary of Ofcom’s Second Public Service Broadcasting Review – Phase Two: preparing for the digital future, published on 25 September 2008.

Alternatively, you can download the full consultation document, and/or respond formally to the consultation (closing date 4 December 2008). You can also follow the debate on the PSB Review blog.

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