From what I've seen, the main objectives of online social networks in companies are: to facilitate idea-sharing around a theme or topic (e.g. “Our Brand”); help users find out more about their peers; form useful insights to solve particular challenges; and for the network itself to become a useful repository of resources (ideas, inspiration, files, people) for participants.

However, the technology itself won't guarantee these results - it needs to be managed or curated effectively. Here are 20 subjective criteria I've used to help evaluate contributions to these networks:

1. Relevance to the stated objectives of the network
2. Poses questions to the group
3. Sparks discussion and comments
4. Enhances a lecture, discussion, debate or theme related to the purpose of the network
5. Makes a relevant statement
6. Responds to criticisms as well as compliments.
7. Builds on the ideas and contributions of others on the network.
8. Acknowledges the contributions of others.
9. Shares unexpected insights
10. Stories - especially from personal experience.
11. Recommendations to peers
12. Empathy - readability; humour; use of formatting; respect for other perspectives
13. Lists e.g. “Top 10…”, “Best ways to…”, “Our favourite”
14. Thought is given to topic before posting
15. Creativity or originality of ideas or the way they’re expressed
16. Clarity of expression.
17. Well structured arguments.
18. Mixes opinion and data.
19. Uses graphics to illustrate ideas
20. Contributes to the learning experience of others on the network

What you want to ultimately see is that the group is co-creating a knowledge ecosystem - so that if you want to explore any idea that catches your fancy further, you could find out who the contributors to it are.

In his book, “The Wisdom of Crowds”, James Surowieki reveals that the smartest groups are those that allow space for people to individually form and express ideas, independent of the group, which can then be “aggregated” into more cohesive solutions. This is one of  the key advantages of using the online network as opposed to discussing everything in person: it allows space for more ideas around a particular topic to be expressed simultaneously.
Social Gestures

So much of what drives social media platforms such as Twitter and Facebook basically comes down to social gestures by people who want to connect with others, or add value to something bigger than themselves. From product reviews to wiki edits, millions of people are benefitting from this mass of small social gestures online.

It's interesting for businesses to note that massively complex systems and information empires can be driven by something other than money. Very few social media sites pay people to participate. People use online platforms to build relationships and contribute to communities. Essentially this is a new form of economic production beyond the two classic pillars of economics, the firm and the market. Yochai Benkler calls it "Peer Production".

I’ve noticed that my social gestures over the years - blogging, chatting, uploading, editing - have accumulated into a kind of Social Equity. The result is more exposure, higher trust, more business, and ultimately financial reward.
Thus each social gesture becomes an investment.

Many businesses are already benefitting from the social equity of their employees. I think it’s important for businesses to recognize these people within their ranks and enable them to continue rather than shutting them down.
AuthorDave Duarte
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Companies that have access to better quality information make more profitable decisions. This is the finding of a recent McKinsey Global Survey entitled: "How companies make good decisions".

In the world of Marketing, there are many people willing to offer advice and opinion, but how do you know what's actually worthwhile paying attention to? The answer is more about having an info-filtering and decision-making process than about knowing which guru's blog to read.

I think that The 5 Principles of Evidence Based Management (via) could serve as a useful guideline for marketers and managers operating in fast-changing environments
1. Face the hard facts, and build a culture in which people are encouraged to tell the truth, even if it is unpleasant.
2. Be committed to "fact based" decision making -- which means being committed to getting the best evidence and using it to guide actions.
3. Treat your organisation as an unfinished prototype -- encourage experimentation and learning by doing.
4. Look for the risks and drawbacks in what people recommend -- even the best medicine has side effects.
5. Avoid basing decisions on untested but strongly held beliefs, what you have done in the past, or on uncritical "benchmarking" of what winners do.

This approach also compliments the "Value Creation in a Wild Wired World" model, which favours an iterative, collaborative approach based on on-going engagement and application of  feedback and evidence.

Update: Jacques Rousseau, who convenes UCTs "Evidence Based Management" course, has just put up a blog post about the subject entitled "Teaching EBMgt: developing better managers, or educating critical thinkers?".
nvohk bannerI thought of this concept when my friend Tim emailed me about nvohk  (pronounced "envoke"), a crowdfunding and branding initiative applied to clothing.

In theory it's a great idea - 30 000 people each put forward $50 for a year's membership in nvohk inc. For their $50 they get a "founders t-shirt", get to vote on stuff like logo design and advertising decisions, get discounts on nvohk t-shirts, and split 35% of the profits between them. It works for the company because each t-shirt owner then has a vested interest in helping the brand succeed, and passing on work of its success.

Where I think the company could improve its offering is to start connecting members and create an online space, like a Ning social network, for them to discuss their investment in public with each other and the project founder, Brendan Lynch. This would increase trust and interest, and make it a bit more like the original concept, a proven success model, on which I believe it was based (probably unknowingly) - the South African Stokvel.

Stokvels, according to The Beehive, "...have been around in South Africa for many years. They are a good way for people to help motivate each other to save, and many stokvel or savings clubs are like social clubs where members also help each other in ways other than with money. Regular stokvel meetings have become a social highlight in many communities".

The internet can allow ad-hoc communities to form around virtually anything - the initial social object could be saving money, but then extend as people seek other ways to connect with and help each other. In the business case, such as with nvohk (or to quote a more familiar South African example, Verity), I believe that the investors want the project to succeed, and some of them would have at least enough interest in it to want to chat with other investors with the same interest via a convenient virtual platfrom like the official website of the project.

I think the concept of the digital stokvel has great potential to be applied to brand campaigns. Watch this space for more case studies to come.
AuthorDave Duarte
8 CommentsPost a comment
Blank Bottle WinesI just recieved an interesting email from the owner of Blank Bottle Wines, Pieter H. Walser, describing some of the marketing/customer-engagement tactics they've used successfully lately.

1. Mystery wine. "I sold a few thousand bottles without telling anyone what’s in the bottle. There were 10 cases up for grabs for the closest answer. Two months later I revealed what was in the bottle. 125 people wrote back with comments, guessed the cultivar, vintage etc".

My comment: Good idea, this gives people who know their wine the opportunity to show off that knowledge by correctly guessing its characteristics. It also gives people something to discuss around the wine, which (at least in my case), would make me more likely to take it along to dinner parties.

2. BLANKbottle™ Premium white released without price: “Instead of setting its price, I decided to let my loyal clients decide. I sent out 20 cases of “Moment of Silence” without payment or price, leaving it up to them to pay me what they thought its worth! Pricing suggestions reached up to R70, and most were prepared to pay around R50/bottle. As BLANKbottle™ was created to over-deliver on quality; I set the final price at R40". i.e. He crowdsourced the price:)

My Comment: Good idea, following the same principle that RadioHead successfully applied with In Rainbows. However, I think the execution was a bit half-hearted by limiting it to only 20 of his loyal customers. Perhaps Pieter should have left the price people chose to pay open to suggestion for a few more weeks, as this would have created more buzz around his product.

As with his previous wines, “Moment of Silence” leaves you in the dark about the cultivar and year of vintage. To uncover the lineage of “Moment of Silence” or any of his other wines, you need to go to his website where you will find the full story behind your BLANKbottle.

Pieter is sending me a bottle to try, I must admit that the small incentive did encourage me to write this blog post. I'm such a sucker for freebies sometimes. Aren't most bloggers?