Superstah! Lotus Connections - Customer Relationship Management

Years ago,I spent much of my time building Lotus Notes practices. For those of you who don’t know what I mean,I mean that I built groups within my company that were Lotus Notes developers,consultants,and so on. For those of you who don’t know what Lotus Notes was (and is),in my opinion it was the most misunderstood platform in history and was usually used as either a database tool or an e-mail program. Around 1995,IBM bought Lotus,and Lotus receded into the IBM netherworlds to emerge only about two years ago as the division that ran IBM’s collaboration services. But they weren’t doing just Lotus Notes on the client side and Lotus Domino on the server side. In 2007,they announced a social software suite called Lotus Connections—the sole social software (not CRM) suite that exists fully integrated. There was a second,short-lived attempt at one called Take 2,which was umbrellaed by Intel but was a group of bestof- breed tools such as Socialtext) and Six Apart’s Movable Typethat were loosely coherent,with integration coming from the web services that they each were built on.

But version 1 had a few problems—a lack of some features and functions not worth going into here because version 2 is out,and it is easily best of class when it comes to integrated social software suites—and not just because it’s the only one.

Lotus Connections–Mission 21st Century

I had the good fortune to chat with Carol Jones,one of 60 IBM Fellows (out of 38,000 plus employees) and the creator of Lotus Connections. She described to me what they did to determine what to include in the creation of Lotus Connections:

When we decided [in 2005] that we wanted to develop a social software suite,rather than guess at it,we decided to go somewhere that the tools were being used and the need was there.We went around IBM because we were using these tools all over the company. We wanted to find out what was really popular,and what we found was that there were several tools that were popular because they helped people communicate better. Our observations helped us figure this out.So going to the source, IBM employees, was the foundation for the creation of this social suite—one that I recommend you take a serious look at if you’re looking for a single suite. What is far more

fascinating was Carol’s view on the purpose of the suite,the mission for its existence:

I often think of all this stuff as serendipity. But it’s not really. We had people using the tools and it made sense for us to figure out not just what tools but why they were using them. Our perspective has always been that we’re trying to engineer accidents. We’re trying to create better odds for these knowledge accidents to occur,when just the right people connect. We do that by providing the tools and avenues for those combinations of people to come together.

Suite Features and Functions
I’m going to spend a bit more time with this suite than a lot of the other applications throughout the book because,aside from its “Superstah!” status,it is an excellent representation of the kinds of enterpriselevel features and functions you have to be looking for (with that notable omission later) when you start thinking through your investment in the social CRM technologies you’re going to be playing with. First,a good view of what they have
Suite Features and Functions
This is a typical business profile,aimed at a professional audience.

Profiles
This is one of the core components of the suite. It was originally developed because of the creakiness of the internal IBM application Blue Pages,which tracked employee activities in an HR sort of way. But this is far beyond even the profiles of Facebook or LinkedIn in the way it deals with its profiles. What makes it stand out is that it incorporates an integrated approach to profiles.

Typically,as those of you on Facebook or LinkedIn (and others) might know,you create your own profile,provide basic user information,upload a photo,and then identify your specialized interests and tag them.The end.

The Lotus Connections profile is far richer and designed specifically for enterprises,
not consumer-side social networks. Not only does it take all that rich information you’ve provided,which you control,but it adds some aggregation capabilities that you won’t find in standard profiles,such as the accounts/customers you work with and the communities you’re engaged with. Even more robust than that,it links the part of the profile you own to your human resources–controlled information—your job description,your availability within the confines of your enterprise,your expertise,your history with the company (such as what you’ve produced),what projects you’re working on,your company-sponsored training. It also covers reporting structure,department,and location (including time zone). The profile is not only richer but vastly more accessible. Plus if you care to,you can create customer membership communities (see below) that use standard profiles à la Facebook.

It’s also customizable. For example,you can create personas or types (whatever you want to call them—I don’t care nor do the conventions of the application),such as full-time employees who will show their reporting chain or consultants who have no reporting chain.

Imagine this scenario:
I need to find some expertise that’s available in a specific domain—say someone to help me develop a new social networking feature set. I can use social tags to not only find the expertise but to find the available expertise within the company and to see when and what they are doing. Plus I have the ability to then query them and their manager(who is part of this Lotus Connectionsprofile—but wouldn’t be if it were a Facebook clone) and get the time set and the work done.

The initial version’s major weakness was the lack of social tagging. The new version includes social tagging. You can tag yourself or someone else. What’s very cool here is that you can display the tags as a tag cloudor a list—your coolness quotient choice (guess which is the cooler way?)—on the individual’s Profiles page,which means you can be found fast if you are associated with the search topic.

If you tag someone else,these colleagues’ (though a tag doesn’t necessarily create a collegial situation) tags can be used to have your home page track their feeds with new bookmarks and blog entries.

Communities
These are effectively “group profiles,”according to Carol Jones. What you can do with a singular profile you can do with a community—meaning access expertise,find collaborators,tag information,and communicate via e-mail,web browser,or in deference to their own product,Lotus Sametime. As with profiles,you can create your own bookmarks (the Beamers call them “dogears”) and carry out activities—more on that later. These are communities of interest andpractice,just like others out there—with forums that can use threaded discussion to have conversations on topics of interest. Most important,especially in light of their big whole,the Communities component allows integration with supported wikis so that any wiki operating with web standards will be able to be accessed,shared,and edited through the community it is associated with.

One final cool feature of this component comes when you buy licenses to Lotus Sametime Advanced—their instant messaging client. You can start a real-time chat from within a discussion thread in a user group within a community (you push the first valve down,the music goes round and around . . .) and you can capture the chat for viewing later.

Blogs
This is blogging within the corporate firewall. What makes this interesting is that it’s not just a tool for outreach to customers,it’s often the way that younger employees prefer to communicate. Some,according to Carol Jones,see it as a way to record their career. So this is a strongly customizable tool,that “errs to the geeky side. It’s not high on aesthetics.” But the administrative features are strong. This is probably the weakest feature of the entire suite,but still can do the job.

Dogears
You know what a dogear is,don’t you? That’s when you mark a page of a book by bending a corner of it down onto the page. Why do they call it a dogear? I have no idear—I mean,idea. In cyber-parlance,this is a bookmark. This component is actually one of the most interesting and has the best name. The idea is that you can bookmark something interesting,ranging from a piece of web content to an internal memorandum,and then share the bookmark with someone of likeinterests—which is determined by the profiles and communities that are extant to the company. This opens up the means to discover other bookmarks qualified by those of similar interest. So if I dogear a web page that is about “Loving the New York Yankees” I can then share that and find out that someone who accessed that particular dogear had four of their own dogears on the same topic,right at the point of the bookmark. So not only do I have access to the content,I know from whence it came.

The navigational choices are extensive too—tags,links,individual profiles. Plus I can multitask (oh boy! my favorite thing in the world to do) by adding a single bookmark that will be part of dogears,activities,and communities simultaneously. As new ones come up they can be accessed through an RSS feed.

The key to this component is the ease of tagging that it provides. When you tag something it actually prompts you (“it” being the tagging deity). So for example,if I type “CRM” as a tag,up pops other places that CRM appears as a tag and the other tags that the CRM tagged piece has attached—so context and relationships make this a rich experience.

Activities
“outcome-based social networks”,these are social networks that exist for a single purpose that,when fulfilled,ends the useful life of the social network. They are tactical in nature since,really,you could define any social network that way if you chose to. What IBM/Lotus Connections does here is exactly that. These are short-term collaborative efforts that are put together for a specific tactical reason—such as a project. Let’s say you were writing a journal article with two other authors. The article’s subject was privacy,and therefore it had to go through your legal department. Do You Have the Ring? Tools for Customer Engagement 145 It also needed to have facts checked and other related tasks. You would put together an activity around the journal article that would invite you,your fellow authors,a corporate attorney or two,and researchers into the activity. In fact,the IBM Innovation Jam,put together from IBM employees,customers,partners, consultants,
and even employee family members to figure out investment strategies,is a perfect example. They were an ad hoc group that was given access to a workspace that would monitor tags,persons involved,date/time stamp,revision history,file type,and so on—a mini-wiki environment that lasted about five months. What made this really amazing was its scale. In its first three days,in this environment,it generated and registered 46,000 ideas with 160,000 participants. But,it ended with the investments that emerged from this effort. The way this works is that as the new activity is carried out,an RSS feed drives knowledge of the activity tothe participants—much as PBworks did for me when the CRM 2.0 wiki was edited. I was notified of the changes via e-mail.

When the activity is complete,the group is disbanded,permissions rescinded,and the results archived. Simple and rather neat,don’t you think?

But this also leads to the unusual decision that IBM made to not include wikis in the components—or podcasting capabilities—though you can integrate with
independent versions of either. While I do think this is easily the best social software suite out there,their use of rich media is a little limited. Luckily the integration capabilities make it less than a major problem.

IBM certainly gets it. Now they can ship it.

Mini-Conversation with Paul Gillin:Three Key Elements of a Social Media Strategy
Paul Gillin is a writer,speaker,and online marketing consultant. He specializes in social media and the application of personal publishing to brand awareness and business marketing. Paul is a veteran technology journalist with more than 23 years of editorial leadership experience. His first book,The New Influencers,was published in 2007 and his second book,Secrets of Social Media Marketing,was released in the fall of 2008. His website is www.gillin.com and he blogs at www.paulgillin.com.

There are nearly a dozen different kinds of social media tools,ranging from blogs to social networks to shared bookmarking services to video podcasts. Chances are that your objectives require a combination of tools to address different audiences and situations. Here are three underlying principles that apply to all social media interactions.

  • Start with a strategy Not every tool is appropriate for every purpose. For example,blogs are well-suited for delivering opinions,but not for brainstorming or customer support. Social networks are terrific for customer dialogue but are difficult to focus and control. Online video is a superb way to deliver some kinds of messages,but it lacks interactivity.
    Start with a strategy and then choose a combination of tools that fit your objective. For example,a product blog combined with a podcast and video series is a good way to introduce a new product. You can then hold a press conference in Second Life.

  • Don’t talk,listen Customers are sick of being talked at and that’s why they’ve embraced social media as a means to reach out to each other. If you view these tools as another way to force a message down people’s throats,you will only make them mad. Social media is all about discussions between people,not messages from institutions. Invite feedback at every opportunity,respond to both compliments and complaints,and demonstrate that you care about what customers think.

  • Make the experience personal Designate people from all parts of your organization to engage in social media interactions. Set guidelines and policies but give them freedom to use their own voices. Let them speak in the first person,tell their own stories,and share their own opinions. Show your customers and prospects that there are human beings working at your company. Your customers will form tighter bonds with people than they will with corporations.

Wait! We don’t end here. Thomas Vander Wal,the father of folksonomies,has just entered the room and there is a three-takeaway mini-conversation coming along right now.

Mini-Conversation with Thomas Vander Wal:Social Tagging–Old Concept,New Service
Social tagging is not exactly new as a concept,but in practice the focus and modifications to it in the past few years have really twisted it into a service that finally provides good value. In the past,many services included tagging (including free tagging—not just focused on preconceived keywords and categories). The services did not provide for holding onto or account for individual’s perspectivesand contexts. Tools like del.icio.us started changing this model and providing what many individuals had been asking for for years:their own tagging tools as part of the whole (it was a regular request for CompuServe forum file sharing in the 1990s).

Focus on Letting People Tag as They Need,Manage What They Tag
The change in social tagging that has occurred in the last few years that needs to be adhered to and retained is putting and keeping the focus on the people who are doing the tagging and letting each person who wishes to tag have that opportunity. Each person must have the ability to see and manage what they have tagged. Based on organization priorities and guidelines,what the company shows to others may not be what all the taggers have tagged. Too often tagging is being limited to what is allowed,rather than what the individual needs.

The key is people are putting tags on objects like photos or other products and related information,that help put that object and their relationship to it in their own context,which then provides someone reading the individual’s tags a look at the natural perspective of the tagger.This allows the tagger the ability to identify alternate uses,get value,use their own vocabulary and create emergent terms,as well as providing their own bond to the object. This personal bond in their context can help them more easily find the object again when they want and need to so do. This freedom of association provides a great value to the person tagging,but also to those who own,manage,and share the object.

Listening Has Incredible Value
Many social media and social web services encourage engaging the customer. Social tagging has its best value in listening. Not only listening,but really hearing what is being said and learning to embrace the differences of understanding,context,and perspectives. While engagement is good,listening provides the ability to connect on the customer’s terms. Listening allows the provider of the documents to learn broader contexts rather than just identifying fans and hoping the people will echo a message and marketing pitch. Listening means being able to read the tags and understand the context in which the tags were produced. If you do that,it’s insight into the minds of the taggers.

Understand and Embrace Many Perspectives and Contexts
Listening and hearing from this perspective provides a foundation for deeper and broader understanding as potentially embracing a wider variety of perspectives and contexts. The terms and uses expressed in the tags may be positive,connective (means to tie in external ideas and alternate uses),or highlighting a need for improvement (as well as market segments that will not be happy with the offeringno matter what is done). The various perspectives provide the means to modify and extend the product in the near term as well as in future iterations. There is a broad array of social web and social computing options that allow for organizations with products to interact with their customers (current,potential,and future),but few allow for the ability to easily and deeply gain access to customer’s thinking around the product that social tagging provides. This perspective insight and ability to capture broad context is really valuable if you can provide some framework around how the tagging will be done.


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