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    The Other One Percenters

    The entire '99% vs. the 1%' is now a well established concept (thanks to the 'Occupy' movement), or method of describing in very broad terms the income, (and some might say opportunity), disparity that exists in the US economy. When you hear these terms, you immediately understand the concepts, take your own position on the merits of each point of view, and sometimes self-identify with one group or the other.Let's hug it out

    But recently I read an interesting piece on the AdAge Digital site about a different kind of 1%, (that was an awkward transition, admittedly), specifically the 1% of a company or a brand's social media fans that seem to actively engage with said company or brand. The article, titled 'Study: Only 1% of Facebook 'Fans' Engage With Brands', recounts a recent piece of research conducted by the Ehrenberg-Bass Institute that claims to show that only about 1% of the self-identified 'fans' of a brand on Facebook, (certainly not the only social platform, but indeed the largest), actually 'engage' with the brand by commenting, tagging, sharing, etc. actively with the brand and the content.  The vast, vast majority, the other 99%, simply identify as fans, get exposed to some of the brands' content, and continue on with whatever else they were doing.

    While seemingly offering a really low return on investment to marketers, at least according to the study's authors it doesn't paint a totally bleak picture. From the AdAge piece:

    "I don't think it's a bad thing," said Karen Nelson-Field, senior research associate for Ehrenberg-Bass Institute who describes herself as a "Facebook advocate." "People need to understand what it can do for a brand and what it can't do. Facebook doesn't really differ from mass media. It's great to get decent reach, but to change the way people interact with a brand overnight is just unrealistic." 

    In this understanding of the marketing and media worlds, social is just another media channel useful for its reach rather than any notion of engagement.

    While this article and the study it refers to are in a strict sense focusing on consumer brand engagement, I think they offer some food for thought for the Human Resources and Recruiting professionals who are increasingly looking to social platforms like Facebook and Twitter to create interest, conversation, and dare I use the word again, engagement for their own purposes. The main point, that an engagement level of 1% might be the baseline is instructive as HR pros create their forecasts and plans. 

    But the second point the AdAge piece brings up is even more thought provoking -  namely whether or not social platforms like Facebook are truly brand engagement platforms, or just another marketing and messaging channel like newspaper ads, company web sites, or large job boards.  I know we like to think that with social all or at least many of the traditional rules no longer apply, but this study (and others), suggest that maybe the change is not happening so fast.

    What do you think? Does the 1% number hold up in your experience? And does it even matter?


    One Problem with Online Communities

    If you have not subscribed to Graph Jam yet I suggest you stop reading this post immediately, and head over there straight away. Graph Jam, a collection of normally amusing and occasionally devastatingly funny graphical interpretations of some of life's little struggles, usually provided a few moments of amusement to help you get through the day.

    A few days ago, Graph Jam had a killer graph about online support forums, one that could be more broadly applied to any online community that organizations could create to further their objectives for candidate engagement, brand building, constituent outreach, or whatever. So first off, take a look at the graph and see if it resonates:

    funny graphs - God Forbid You Post Something Helpful
    see more Funny Graphs

    A biting and kind of true to life observation about many of the purported 'communities' that exist online today, be they for customer support or designed for other purposes. Communities, forums, fan pages, LinkedIn groups - it doesn't really matter what the platform is or the type of technology that underpins the community, if the exchanges of information and value become completely one sided, then you really don't have a real community by any definition. You have something, it just probably isn't something you envisioned when you set out down the path of crowdsourcing, community engagement, or whatever cool and trendy descriptors you attached to the effort.

    I think the lesson here is more about commitment. If you create an environment, invite stakeholders of any sort to the party, and expect it to develop into a wondrous kumbayah Kool-Aid drinking festival of fun and value creation; you'd better be prepared to do the hard and time-consuming work of ensuring that the value creation and consumption is a little more equal than in the amusing pie chart depicted on Graph Jam.

    Community as a term is flying around fast and furious these days. It probably is a good idea to check on yours to make sure it actually is a community, and not a 'I have the same issue too', bulletin board. Or even worse, a mailing list or contact database that you've just re-branded as a 'community.'


    Traffic, housing choices, and commitment

    A couple of weeks ago I posted about an interactive map/tool for the San Francisco area that was developed (at least in part), to help people understand the decisions and tradeoffs related to their choices and opportunities for work and housing. Simply put, the tool helps you assess the costs and commuting times and options associated with Living in Location 'A' and working in Location 'B'. Some of these dynamics and tradeoffs are changing of course, but still for many jobs, the requirement for employees to be physically present in an office or other work location is a fact of life, and will remain so probably forever.

    Decisions about where to work and where to live are never easy matters, but for some fortunate folks like C-suite executives or National Basketball Association head coaches, (yes, another sports reference), the decisions are a bit easier, as their comparatively more lucrative compensation packages provide more options and flexibility in terms of housing choices. Let's face it, there are not too many neighborhoods that an average CEO or NBA coach would feel were out of reach.

    That is what I was thinking about this morning when I read a piece from the online Orange County (Ca.) Register about new Los Angeles Lakers Head Coach Mike Brown, and his decision to buy a home in a neighborhood called Anaheim Hills.  Only having been an occasional visitor to Southern California, that headline did not really resonate with me, but digging in to the piece reveals a bit more about the potential consequences and ramifications of Brown's decision:

    According to Google Maps, (Brown's new home) that’ll be 45 minutes to practice without traffic (but an hour and 20 minutes with traffic) and 43 minutes to Staples without traffic (but an hour and 40 minutes with traffic.)

    Brown is sacrificing proximity to his Lakers work to be close to Santa Ana’s Mater Dei High (emphasis mine). That’s where son Elijah will play basketball and son Cameron will play football

    Everyone, even the occasional visitor to the LA area like myself, knows or at least is subconsciously aware of LA traffic, and the way in which it effects work and family life in that area. For new Lakers Head Coach Brown, who has a contract paying him (according to reports), $18.25M over four years, to elect to live in an area that will almost certainly present pretty significant challenges and stress simply getting to work has raised at least a few questions amongst supporters and media that cover the team.

    Could it be that Brown, recently fired as the head coach of the Cleveland Cavaliers despite being named the league's Coach of the Year the prior season, is well aware of the total lack of job security that comes with being an NBA coach, and thusly elected to choose housing that was more in line with his non-work or family life? NBA coaches are notoriously known as incessant workaholics, and the league is rife with tales of coaches sleeping in their offices, missing important family events, and generally devoting themselves to the sport and their teams. I am not saying that is the right or intelligent approach, but it just has been that way for a long time.

    Perhaps Brown represents a shift from that old-fashioned and unhealthy kind of approach to life as an NBA head coach, and by choosing to live closer to the center of his family life he is signaling that he sees that balance or fit between the two as being just as important as success on the court. If so, that is to be commended I think.

    But I do wonder if the Lakers organization sees it the same way, and if they are looking at their new $18M coach who potenitally will be frequently stuck on the freeway, navigating LA's notorious traffic jams to try and get to the game or to practice, when it seems at least from the outside looking in that he had lots of other options.

    What do you think? Should the Lakers or any organization care or get involved on the personal choices their leaders make about these kinds of things?

    How far away from the Arena is too far?



    Giving it all away. Sort of.

    The sudden surge in popularity of the Q&A site Quora, and perhaps to a lesser extent the online community of experts being developed at Focus have once again led many to evaluate and assess the value and future of open, public, and community powered knowledge repositories.

    Where other attempts have been made with varying degrees of success, (Yahoo! Answers, LinkedIn Answers), these new entrants, in particular Quora seem to have captured, at least for the moment, the interest and support of an influential subset of participants (most apparent in the technology space).

    From many accounts, the quality of contributors and information found on Quora is unusually high, and in comparison to prior attempts at more broad Q & A sites like Yahoo!, the recent adoption and activity on Quora seem to have captured the attention of a well-connected and active user community.

    Participation in open and public forums like Quora and LinkedIn Answers is often a recommendation made to job seekers, as their subject matter knowledge, reasoning ability, and the opportunity to be noticed and to forge connections with other industry or domain experts can all be seen as beneficial to a job search, or to the establishment of a professional identity or brand.

    No doubt for many, the built in audience and reach of sites like Quora or LinkedIn offer individuals the chance to be seen and heard by large numbers of relevant people, much more so than can be reached by the launch of a new personal blog, or even by simply posting an online resume or professional profile. 

    But for others, in particular for established professionals in a given field, the motivation to participate and contribute to public knowledge portals seems quite a bit different. Some may feel obliged and happy to simply share their insights openly, and willingly; driven simply by the satisfaction derived from adding value to the larger community in which they operate.  Some others might see these platforms in a kind of competitive manner; seeking to leverage them to establish their place in a virtual pecking order of sorts, a process made more acute and apparent when their specific contributions can be compared and contrasted against other well and lesser-known experts.

    Most online professional community and networking effort is either directly ('please hire me', 'buy my company's stuff', or 'book me for a speaking gig'); or indirectly ('check out my new post on leadership', 'here's a great piece on productivity apps'), aimed at convincing or at least influencing the intended audience to do or feel something positive towards the contributor. And that makes perfect sense.  We all need to get paid, whether or not that payment is in hard dollars, or in the more amorphous currency of reputation and influence. Either way, the check always comes.

    And I suppose that is the problem I get with sites like Quora or even on LinkedIn. I find it hard to read the individual contributions without thinking about the 'sell side' motivations, (or potential motivations) of the contributors.  Maybe that is just a weakness in my ability to distinguish the 'sell' from the content, but either way, these sites can easily degrade into the geek version of the high school homecoming queen contest.  A few popular, good looking, and well connected people trying to convince the rest of us how fantastic they are.  

    I suppose at the end of the day, if you really want to contribute to the body of knowledge, you'd write or contribute to a Wikipedia page.  Everyone reads those, and no one knows who writes them.



    Care to share?

    In thinking on the conditions necessary for a vibrant and valuable online knowledge sharing platform or enterprise social network, it seems that the following three components all need to exist for sustainable, meaningful, and reproducible success:

    One - Contributors

    People have to want to contribute, and they have to be given all the needed time, resourFlickr- clappstarces, technical training necessary to that end.  Some of the top barriers to individual team members from contributing have to be assessed, and strategies implemented to better enable contribution.

    Some of the most common barriers are technical ('I do not understand how this software works'), cultural ('Why would I want to share this information with anyone else?'), and fear-based, ('I am not comfortable posting content for the entire company to see').

    Two - Consumers

    Two - People have to be willing to ask the questions, usually in a public manner.  This is very different than the way they typically have sought information in the past, a face-to-face discussion,  a private phone call, or a personal email.  Publicly posting a question on a company forum or wiki page potentially exposes the employee to embarrassment, and some studies have suggested that the desire to avoid looking uninformed or incompetent to be a powerful inhibitor of both asking questions as well as providing content.

    But clearly if there are not enough 'seekers' of knowledge and information in the community, the platform becomes more a stagnant content repository and less an active community.  The simple asking of questions should generate helpful answers, and once people have seen that the community members do indeed provide

    Three - Comments (and ratings)

    People have to be willing to rate and evaluate contributions, and to have their own contributions also evaluated.  Great content needs a way to get 'surfaced'.  Users must have the ability to provide comments, vote up or down, and give ratings to the content that is contributed by the other members of the community.  The best content then becomes easier to find and those contributors get recognized by the community as experts, and sources of insight.

    When any of these are missing

    Think about what happens in absence of any of these requirements.  Obviously without a significant number of employees participating in generating content and sharing their expertise, the community will stagnate quickly, people seeking information and answer will quickly give up, and the entire project will be dispatched to the dustbin of IT or HR failures.

    If not enough employees go to the community to seek answers, then contributors will quickly lose interest and enthusiasm for creating content, and eventually the community will simply house some basic, static type information, and not much else.  The process of users asking questions of the community serves two purposes. One, to get the user the anwser he or she needs to their issue, and two, to serve to generate more discussion and collaboration that often leads users to actually create new sources of knowledge.

    Lastly, if consumers and contributors are not comfortable or honest about evaluating content on the community, then as the volume of contributions grows, it becomes difficult for information seekers to find the 'right' answers, the 'best' contributions, and the 'experts' in the community. Not all contributions and contributors provide equal value to the overall community. The community becomes a much more effective tool when the best content and expert members can be easily identified.

    In some future posts I will go into some detail on how some of the barriers and enablers for all three areas describes above.  It is important for organizations to think about these three requirements as they consider and deploy software for community building and collaboration.