It’s leadership, but not as we know it

The World Technology NetworkLast night I went to a truly mind blowing talk, ‘Manifesto for a New Civilization’, with James P. Clark, Founder/Chairman of The World Technology Network. I fully recommend watching the full presentation which is available here.

One of the many, many things his presentation got me thinking about is where does leadership come from within an organisation? How is this changing? What do we need to be considering as individuals, colleagues, business leaders and employees of the approaching future?

There is no doubt that we are living in a time of unprecedented and accelerated change due to digital technologies. James’ presentation attests to the notion that we’ve had more change in the past 20-30 years than we did in the previous 2,000-3,000 years of human history.

And this has vast implications for corporate organisations as we know them today. In an era of rapid acceleration, knowledge becomes a hindrance as you have more to unlearn; experience starts to work against you when the future landscape is so significantly different to the past. In this environment the traditional rewards and hierarchs of companies start to become irrelevant. Seniority and pay based on time served or wisdom accrued becomes redundant, rather ideas, collaboration, and sustainability become the new corporate currency.

The democratisation of publishing tools is driving this organisational transformation. The tools of change are now in all of our hands, not just those at the top of the company pyramid. Some organisations are already adjusting to this shift through the introduction of enterprise social networking and digital collaboration platforms. These platforms are accelerating the spread of the democratisation of new ideas and innovation within businesses; the means to create change is no longer for the chosen few but for the collective minds of many.

And this leads me back to my original question, in this future landscape, where does leadership come from within an organisation? One comment which really struck me during James’ talk was about the Arab Spring. Can you name a leader? Revolutions of the past had a central figurehead, a driving force of change – think Fidel Castro, Nelson Mandela, Martin Luther King – but we’re now moving into a era of leaderless revolutions. Could we also be moving into an era of leaderless organisations – or at least leadership as we currently understand it?

The significance of this is profound, but it doesn’t take too much of an imaginative leap to get there. People follow people and in an organisational structure where everyone’s voice carries the same weight thanks to digital technologies, where our traditional notions of knowledge work against us, and hierarchs become irrelevant, who and where will you be choosing to put your trust? In the old system of pyramids based on outdated wisdom, or in the collective intelligence of your peers?

Those organisations who survive this change will be those who have restructured themselves around flexibility and resilience, and embraced sustainability and the democratisation of information. And that goes for us as individuals too, are you ready?

The pros and cons of outsourcing your social

For many companies who are making the transition from a purely push approach to communicating with their communities to one of engagement and pull, hiring an agency to carry out social media activity can feel like a godsend, especially at campaign time.

It’s true that being social is hard work; social media admin is time consuming, running engagement campaigns take up a lot of internal resource, and creating great content can mean hiring in new people with new skills. So until we reach that place where feel confident enough to let go of some of the traditional push activity which has become less effective, take the plunge and reallocate that time to pull channels such as social, we’re always going to be increasing our workload.

Agencies can be a great way to kick start your social culture by working with you to develop your strategy and creating creative campaigns which should quickly increase your presence and engagement within the community. I’m going to write another blog on how to choose a great social agency, but my advice in a nutshell is to check out the agency’s own social media channels before you even pick up the phone. I’m amazed at the number of PR agencies out there offering to bundle social in with your traditional PR campaign contract who don’t actually have any branded social themselves. A massive red flag.

If you do decide to bring an agency in to kick-start your social or support a specific campaign you must ensure that you’re also bringing these community engagement best practices into your internal company culture; avoid the temptation to outsource your engagement activity and then forget about it after you’ve ticked that all important social box, otherwise when your agency contract comes to an end, so will your engagement.

Outsourcing your social can also mean that you could be overlooking some of the wider business benefits of being plugged directly into these channels, namely: market research, idea generation, and product development. By actively being engaged as a business, rather than via your agency, you’re able to hear firsthand  what your target communities are talking about, their challenges, what they think of your products; and have those all important knowledgeable conversations that drive tangible leads for your business.

It’s also worth remembering that the best people to be running social media within your business are not always sat in your existing marketing department. Social media touches on everything we do as a business, so it makes sense that your social media team does too (and when I say team I don’t mean that this has to be their fulltime role, it can and should be embedded within their existing one). Look for social stars in your sales department (they talk to your clients on a daily basis and really understand what makes them tick), uncover those colleagues who are passionate about customer service, and remember that social is too important to be palmed off to your most junior member of staff and then forgotten about – remember this HMV incident?

So as Maz Nadjm (Founding Director of SoMazi) points out, it can make sense to share the reins, but remember that agency collaboration must go hand-in-hand with a wider social business strategy aimed at embedding these skills directly into your organisation.


Photo credit: ‘Social Media Outposts’ by the tartenpodcast is licensed under CC BY-NC 2.0

Making the move from community management to engagement marketing

Liz 2014 close up Today I am thrilled to be starting my new role at UBM Live as the first-ever Engagement Marketing Strategist.

What’s engagement marketing I hear you ask? Well, in the words of Alan Moore, founder of SMLXL (and one of the most exciting thinkers I’ve ever had the pleasure to meet), states that: “Engagement Marketing is premised upon: transparency – interactivity – immediacy – facilitation – engagement – co-creation – collaboration – experience and trust, these words define the migration from mass media to social media…Engagement Marketing is about connecting large or small communities with engaging content to a commercial or social agenda. Rather than boiling everything down to a unique selling proposition, Engagement Marketing creates bigger ideas that emotionally engage its audience, who have a desire to participate”.

Why does this matter to us right now? One of the big industry buzzwords of the past couple of years has been ‘community’. However the idea that community is central to the success of a company or brand isn’t new, we’ve always had communities – after all they’ve always been our stakeholders; our customer, clients, colleagues, share holders since the beginning. What’s making them buzz at the moment is their connectivity to our brands; made increasingly easy and public through the rise of digital communication channels.

In the past we were fairly insulated and isolated from our communities, but now the opposite is true.  The digital revolution has democratised the business landscape; it’s given our communities a voice and it’s given them a choice – to listen or not to listen, to engage or not to engage, to find out what their peers are saying before they commit. And it’s turning the traditional notions of marketing (i.e. push, push, push) on its head.

Engagement marketing helps us to address this fundamental shift through harnessing the power of content, social media, and SEO to draw people in to our brand conversations rather than simply bombarding them with more stuff. This helps us really focus on what’s important: Listening to and being useful to the community.

I’m really excited to be able to support our UBM Live teams in their engagement journeys; connecting communities with engaging content to help drive the success of our live shows in 2014 and beyond.