Wiki Wrap-Up - Customer Relationship Management

Just one final thought before I drop you off at your meeting with Ross.

You’ve probably noticed that I’ve spent a good deal of time in the last two chapters on blogs and wikis in particular, and before that, on social media as a whole. The reason is that they are the contemporary tools for customer engagement. They give your company the means to converse with your customers (blogs), to work with them (wikis, blogs), and to educate them (podcasts) and through this, to enhance your brand, create loyalty where it wasn’t before, and to tap the intelligence of your actual base. That’s why there is so much emphasis on the social tools so far. They are a part of customer engagement strategy that can’t be ignored.

But now we move on to the vessels for this social networks and user communities. This is the hottest topic and the most difficult because of the misconceptions out there due to the innumerable discussions of consumer social networks like Facebook and MySpace. Rest assured, we’ll be clearing that up and . . . oh, we’re here. Meet Ross Mayfield.

Ross Mayfield is a man who knows his business and knows business. He is not only the chairman, president, and co-founder of Socialtext, but he’s also a noted blogger, thought-leader, and by his own admission a serial and social entrepreneur. Ross partnered with Dan Bricklin, the creator of the first spreadsheet program, VisiCalc, to codevelop and distribute SocialCalc, the first wiki-based socialspreadsheet in addition to the better known Socialtext wiki products. Always the innovator, that guy. Now let’s listen to what a genuine thoughtleader in the world of wikis has to say about what you should be thinking when you leave this chapter.

Mini-Conversation with Ross Mayfield:Understand What Is Different About Social Software
Traditional enterprise software is top-down, highly structured, run by business rules, and serves the goal of automating business process to drive down cost. The problem is your people don’t spend most of their time executing business process. Most of their time is spent handling exceptions to process. An exception happens not just when a design is flawed, but when the design or process is outdated because of a change in the environment. Resolving exceptions at speed is not the onlyopportunity. When the edge of an organization can sense and respond to change while learning, exceptions are the greatest recurring source of innovation.

The structure of a social software application emerges as a by-product of people using it. For example, a major consumer electronics manufacturer deployed Socialtext as an after-marketing product support knowledge base. Previously, their 5, 000 reps were using a traditional structured knowledge base. But the structure became crufty, lacked contribution outside of the primary known issues with known solutions and rigid troubleshooting steps and 17-point solutions were created by teams around it. In three months, using Socialtext, not only were reps generating thousands of pages, but 99 percent of the pages were tagged, allowing a new structure to unfold. Answers could be found through instructured search and browsing through tags, but also added with the click of the edit button, often while on a call. Time to resolution gained recurring improvement, and employee anecdotes expressed increased satisfaction also, by their measures, the average call time was reduced by 30 percent.

I should highlight one of our latest innovations, SocialCalc, the social spreadsheet we have developed with Dan Bricklin who invented VisiCalc, the first computer spreadsheet. The unique combination of wiki and spreadsheet not only enables easy linking, tagging, revision and authoring that you would expect from a wiki foundation, but lets people work with structured data in an instructured way.

Successful Implementation Requires Focusing on People
Over the last five years, we have seen the use cases evolve for social software. In 2002, it was project communication and lightweight documentation for technical groups. In 2004, the software became easy to use, so the use case shifted to business people using it as an alternative to e-mail for workgroup collaboration. In 2006, it shifted to mass collaboration, building “Wikipedia inside” knowledge sharing communities. The latest shift is to process-specific implementations, such as participatory knowledge bases for service and support. The latest shift can be described as from “above-the-flow” sharing to “in-the-flow” collaboration, where sharing is the by-product of getting work done. Our VP of professional services, Michael Idinopolus, who used to run McKinsey’s Knowledge Management practice, makes this distinction. While we have learned how to foster adoption for above-the-flow sharing, building sustainable communities is a challenge in many corporate cultures and the value proposition is more intangible. In-the-flow process-specific implementations are where we’ve found the greatest customer success.

The first metric that matters in a social software deployment is adoption. What is the rate of adoption and how fast are novices becoming experts? And the important investment that can be made is at the outset of the implementation, an investment in people. There is no such thing as collaboration without a goal. Defining the goal and getting a shared belief in it may require working with outside consultants. But at the very least, a small investment in training and coaching your people significantly increases the rate of return.

Partner Line of Business with IT
Considering that adoption is the critical success factor, people add value to the application and generate its structure, and the goals and outcomes are driven by line of business organizations need to treat social software differently. This isn’t like previous bottom-up technology like e-mail or IM that IT can simply provision as a communication utility. It is a new form of collaboration software. This isn’t like traditional enterprise software, where IT can add value by hard-coding workflow and process automation, and users fill in forms to be able to go to the next step. This isn’t like something you push out to the desktop model and provide training for individuals, because the productivity isn’t personal.

Don’t take it personally, but IT deployments of social software have high rates of failure. What’s the point of 1, 000 dead wikis that may have satiated bottom-up and buzzword demand? Pick a pilot and partner IT with line of business. Iterate together, focus on adoption toward a business goal, and learn.

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