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Book review – SOCIALIZED! How the most successful businesses harness the power of social

Book review - Socialized!I’ve just finished reading Mark Fidelman’s book “SOCIALIZED! How the most successful businesses harness the power of social”. The publisher offered me a copy of the book for review, an offer which I accepted with alacrity and pleasure.

This is an inspirational book. Read it for an injection of excitement. It’s also a practical book. Read it for its action plans and social business playbook, and for the many real-life stories that illustrate the pitfalls and triumphs of organisations navigating our brave new world of social media and organisational change.

First impressions

The copy on the inside cover is excellent.

It’s not about the platform, it’s about the people.

Hire people who can bend the latest technologies in innovative ways to achieve your purpose. People who will not be afraid, nor complacent, when the next new thing comes along.

I opted for a printed copy of the book rather than an ebook. It’s a pleasant hard-cover format. The cover design combines a light and airy colour scheme with an interesting, detail-filled graphic. The book is easy to hold, and feels satisfyingly smooth and soft to the touch. The fonts chosen for the content are easy on the eye. Congratulations to Mark and the publishing team on a well-presented and attractive book.

Diving in

In this post, I’d like to take you on a tour of the bits of the book that leapt out and grabbed my attention. But the book is jam-packed with information. When you read it, you’ll find plenty more sections that speak to your specific environment, whether you are already part of a social business or just want to be.

At this point, you may be wondering exactly what a “social business” is. On page xiv of the book is this definition:

“[Social businesses] are businesses that have learned the philosophy and strategy of using social technologies to create more adaptive businesses. Think of a new kind of business that’s agile enough to capture new opportunities, can change shape when confronted with threats, and can call on vibrant communities to support its initiatives.”

Mark goes on to explain that such organisations cultivate internal social networks (digital villages) as well as external ones. But how? The aim of the book is to give the reader a playbook for the social era, to answer just that question.

Getting started with a social mindset

Right on page 1, Mark compares the old and new ways of doing business. In the old way, still prevalent in many organisations, the mindset among top-level management is “do as I say”. The new way is, “I want to hear your opinion”.

Executives must recognise that, to succeed, they must harness the wisdom of the organisation they run. They must set up a cultural framework to gather and manage this wisdom. Part of that framework is formed by collaborative and social technology platforms. Mark makes this bold assertion (page 14):

Some people argue that we should focus more on developing the skills of people and not on the technology to support them, but that is completely false. Technology can be used to influence people’s behavior – it always has.

(There’s a bit of a tension here with what’s on the inside cover: “It’s not about the platform. it’s about the people”. I only noticed the contradiction when reading through this post just before publishing it. I think it’s true that the skills and technology complement each other. They’re pretty entangled, actually. Have we reached cyberpunk utopia? We’re pretty close.)

Mark also puts the interesting and persuasive notion that you need an internal social culture before an external social business will work (page 100).

Six steps towards a business case

The book goes on to present guidelines on using social tools such as Twitter and Facebook. It’s not good enough to use them as just another advertising channel. The key is to interact with customers via those channels, and to give real and valuable information.

Pages 28-36 describe how to build a case for becoming a social business:

  • Find the types of people you need (they have cute names like “social butterfly” and “quant”)
  • Define the vision
  • Find the gaps
  • Set your goals
  • Create a purpose to rally around
  • Build and present the business case

How would your company fare in transforming to a social business?

A survey on page 44 provides an interesting exercise in determining your company’s culture, and then deciding how easily it could transform itself into a social business. The book describes 5 cultural profiles, some of which will make the transformation more easily than others.

(In my own responses to this survey, Atlassian comes in as a mix between profile 1 and profile 5. Interesting – the two extremes, in terms of Mark’s assessment of ability to become a social business. Of course, as Mark points out, individual experiences differ, as do experiences in different business units within the same company.)

The story of IBM

The book tells the fascinating story of how IBM dragged itself out of a pit by revolutionising its social strategies (page 53 onwards). A large part of its success comes from the development of BlueIQ, a centre of competence for social initiatives and collaboration. The aim was to share success stories, methods and patterns, and train volunteers from other areas to become more collaborative and social. More and more people took part, and culture change was underway. Cultural change going viral!

The technology platforms

Mark lists the primary social platforms that companies use to support their digital villages: SharePoint, Jive, Yammer, SAP Streamwork, IBM Connections, with Chatter and, and Drupal (page 74).

(I was a bit surprised that Confluence isn’t in the list. I guess there’s an opportunity for Atlassian there.) 🙂

Titbits for technical communicators

If you’re a technical communicator, like me, you’ll find plenty of points in the book that ring true. Here are a few:

  • 28% of people who follow a brand on Twitter do it because they want content. 61% want to be first to know information about the brand.
  • There’s an entire section describing how “content really is king” (pages 114-7).  It’s what technical communicators know from the bottom of our hearts. Mark makes some great points about creating simple, powerful content.
  • Businesses need to “hire fantastic writers and a content creation team… Don’t skimp here. Their ability to shape the organization’s story has never been greater” (page 166).

Oh yeah. 😉

The playbook

Chapter 6 is all about developing a “playbook” and using it to drive your social business plan. The playbook outlines the strategies you want to follow. You will continuously update and refine it based on feedback and results. For me, the core of this chapter is on pages 148 to 167. Here Mark lays down the 15 best practices to follow in your social business playbook.

The social employee

Are you an employee who wants to take an active part in catapulting your company into the social business stratosphere? Some people would say that’s part of our duty to our employers now. Chapter 7 is all about the rise of the social employee, good reading for managers and team members alike.

Nothing can go wrong… go wrong… go wrong…

What happens when things go wrong? And they can go wrong in a big way, when social media are in play. Throughout the book, Mark tells stories of social successes and failures, using real life examples. For the failures, he analyses what went wrong and why, and how the organisation concerned could have acted differently. On pages 243-4, he gives a strategic synthesis of measures you can take to protect your organisation.

Any suggestions for the next edition of the book?

The book has a number of examples of “the 10 ways to do this” or “the five rules for that”. It became a little difficult to differentiate between them and to remember where in the book they occurred.

The table of contents is very high level – it contains just the chapter names. Perhaps a more detailed table of contents would help the reader gain an organised view of the content, and find specific bits again later.

It would also be extremely useful to have a separate list of all the “10 ways” etc sets. They are very valuable and it would be great to have the overview and be able to find them quickly.

Did I say “suggestions for the next edition”? Yes, because this is an excellent and timely book. It’s easy to read and packed with useful information and guidelines. I’m sure there’ll plenty of demand for it now, and for an update in a year or so.

In conclusion

Mark ends the book by saying, “I, for one, am excited about our world’s future. ” An exciting future, yes. And a bit scary. I’d recommend this book for anyone who wants to learn more about handling both those aspects of social business.

The book is SOCIALIZED! How the Most Successful Businesses Harness the Power of Social by Mark Fidelman, published by Bibliomotion, 2013.

AODC 2010 day 2: Engaging your readers in the documentation

Last month I attended AODC 2010, the Australasian Online Documentation and Content conference. Over the last few weeks I’ve been posting my summaries of the conference sessions. Now it’s the turn of my own presentation.

My presentation was called “Engaging your readers in the documentation”. Conversation, the social web, community – they’re all the buzz. OK, sounds good, but how do you get your readers involved in the documentation?

Downloading the presentation

Attached to this blog post are two PDF files containing my presentation:

Overview of the presentation

At Atlassian, we’ve been experimenting with social media and other techniques. My presentation takes an in-depth look at the tools and techniques we’re using.

We write and publish our documentation on Confluence wiki. The wiki, and in particular a Confluence macro called the Widget Connector, provide many opportunities for integrating other social media into the documentation pages. Examples of such social tools are Twitter, Flickr and Wufoo.

Even if you’re not using a wiki, you’ll still be able to apply these ideas and techniques in and around your technical documentation.

AODC 2010 day 2: Engaging your readers in the documentation

AODC 2010 day 2: Engaging your readers in the documentation

The presentation covers the following techniques and tools for engaging your readers:

  • Getting feedback from readers via comments on the documentation pages.
  • Using Wufoo forms as another feedback mechanism. You can embed a Wufoo form into your wiki page or other web pages.
  • Holding a doc sprint, where a group of people got together to write tutorials. Our focus was plugin and gadget development, so we invited the developers too. We use a Flickr photo stream in the doc sprint wiki to show the sprinters in action.
  • A few ways of using Twitter‘s hash tags, viral tendencies and 140-character limitation to their best advantage. We tweet our release notes. In one of our long procedural documents, readers can tweet when they hit each milestone and can follow the tweets to see how others are faring. Breaking news: We’re about to start encouraging people to tweet their hints and tips. We’ll embed the Twitter stream into a documentation page, so that tweeters can see their tips appearing in our documentation, and readers can see other people’s hints in real time.
  • Linking to external blog posts from within your documentation. Our “Tips of the Trade” pages link to external blog posts where our readers share their own hard-won tips and techniques.
  • Letting other people edit your documentation. Is it safe? We use wiki permissions to control who can do what. Technical writers monitor all updates via RSS feeds and wiki watches. Our developer documentation is open for editing by any logged-in user. That means that anyone can click the “Sign Up” button, get a wiki user ID and start editing the developer docs immediately. We have a contributor’s licence agreement that we ask people to sign before they get permission to update the product documentation. A Creative Commons (cc-by) licence lets readers and contributors know what copyright rules apply.
  • The idea of documentation as an emotional experience and of having a game in and around the edges of your documents. The presentation looks at a case study, Atlassian’s Here Be Dragons documentation.
  • Lots and lots of links and references in the last few slides. In particular, I’ve linked to some blog posts by other technical writers who are talking about and experimenting with similar techniques.  Anne Gentle’s book is a great source of ideas: Conversation and Community: The Social Web for Documentation. Peg Mulligan wrote about “social business, also known as enterprise 2.0″. Julie Stickler blogged on HeraTech about Agile Doc Reviews – The Documentation Sprint. Lisa Dyer writes “I suppose we’ll soon agree on a name for the era we’ve entered” in her blog post about “Business intelligence, intelligent content and devices, games, and noise”. Bill Kerschbaum asks “Did you hear the one about the user guide with a sense of humor?” Ellis Pratt’s writes on the Cherryleaf blog about “Turning technical documentation into an emotional experience (for the customer)”.

I hope you enjoy the presentation. Let me know if it gives you some useful hints and ideas. 🙂

Book review – Conversation and Community by Anne Gentle

I’ve just had the pleasure of reading Anne Gentle‘s book, Conversation and Community, The Social Web for Documentation. I highly recommend it. The book is brim full of useful information and, even better, great ideas. This blog post is about some bits of the book that were especially interesting to me. When you read the book, you’re sure to find other sections that tickle your fancy or kick-start a killer idea 🙂

Conversation and Community by Anne Gentle

Conversation and Community by Anne Gentle

The book arrived in the middle of a busy week. My first impressions were: Yay, it found it’s way to Oz so quickly! Then I opened the package and saw the cover. You can almost taste the chocolate. Those people are all interacting with each other, great picture. What sort of keyboard is that — not QWERTY? Ah, the credits say it’s Danish. Cool.

It’s all about ‘now’

What really hits you when you read the book, is that the content is very current. It refers to blog posts written just a few weeks ago! You get the feeling that you’re engaging in a conversation with Anne and the other people she mentions, right now. You could go and comment on the blog posts and still be relevant. Awesome.

The foreword, by Andy Oram, sets the scene perfectly. Great opening: “A few years ago, this book could not have been written… A few years from now this book will be unnecessary… You are fortunate to have this book at this moment, for you can lead the next generation of information providers into the era of expert/amateur interaction.”

It’s all about ideas

Here’s a tip: When reading this book, have a notebook with you. The ideas will just keep popping into your head. For example, chapter 2 is a useful whiz-through of concepts and tools in the social web. Sprinkled throughout the chapter are some neat tips. It’s well worth a read, even if you already know most of the tools and concepts.

One idea I’d like to try, is using a Twitter feed right on the documentation pages as a way of displaying tips and FAQs. I haven’t quite figured out how to get the technology to do that for me. We need a Twitter widget for the wiki — one that shows a stream of tweets rather than just one tweet. But it’s almost possible. Then our community authors could tweet tips as they work!

Heh, this idea tickled my fancy: something to try when you’re struggling to write in a casual, simple style. Stick a picture of someone you know on your computer screen and pretend you’re explaining the concepts to them. (Page 23.)

Technical writers are in there, boots and all

Anne makes some excellent points about how our skills are transferable to the social web, particularly in integrating the social network into user assistance. (Page 25.) Key to the book is the point that readers of user assistance don’t usually care about where the information came from or who wrote it, provided it does the trick. (Page 9.) Our role includes taking this idea on board and working with the broader scope of available information.

That’s a bit daunting, but the book goes on to give guidelines on how to jump in, boots and all. Page 72 describes some participation models, and the following pages have pointers to getting involved in the social media.

How about style and standardisation? Those are endlessly debatable 😉 and particularly in the less formal online / social environment. Undaunted, Anne has written up some good guidelines. (Pages 184-8.)

Working with communities is an art unto itself

Anne encourages us to get started by listening, observing and then building up our own participation slowly, before establishing a community ourselves. Once we have a documentation community, there are ways to check the social weather in the community and keep it sunny. (Page 109.)

Anne notes that we can probably expect a small percentage of contributors, and that we should value them highly. She mentions the 90-9-1 rule: 90% reader, 9% infrequent contributor, and 1% active contributor. (Page 160.) This rings true with our own experience at Atlassian, of community contributions to the documentation. It’s interesting to see the researched statistics. And we do value our contributors, very highly.

Here’s a clever metaphor cum reference to current wisdoms: “Teaching the community to fish (for information) feeds them longer than just answering questions without citing how you learned the information yourself.” (Page 137.)

Booksprints sound like so much fun, and so productive. I’d love to get involved in one. So it’s great to see some detailed advice from a book sprint diva. 😉  The book has a long section (pages 112-124) going all the way from planning, through logistics to just plain fun.

So, did I like it?

Conversation and Community by Anne Gentle

Conversation and Community by Anne Gentle

Yes! The book is easy to read, authoritative yet friendly. That must be a hard balance to strike. Anne’s command of her subject, her wide-ranging interests and her skill with language make the book a pleasure to read. For example, I love the combined precision and pragmatism of this statement:

“This chapter contains a frozen-in-time list of some terms and tools in 2009 that are related to social media.” (Page 29.)

And the interesting perspectives on social contributions to Shakespeare’s scripts and the OED, gleaned by Anne from Alan Porter. (Page 66.)

Anne has tweeted that she’s experimenting with virtual book signings. Cool idea! I’m hoping her experiment succeeds and I’ll get a virtual signing of my copy too. Go Anne!

What other people are saying

I’ve purposefully restrained myself from reading anyone else’s review of Conversation and Community, so that I could write mine with an uninfluenced mind. Next I plan to read what everyone else has to say. A quick search reveals:

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